Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ecotourism: Promoting Responsible Travel

Over the last decade or so, ecotourism has boomed. Defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people" by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism has been growing at a rate of 20 to 34 percent per year-and for good reason. Ecotourism allows you to visit some of the world's most beautiful-and remote-locations.

A subset of ecotourism is eco-luxury travel. "You can either go to Africa and be a backpacker or you can have a $10,000 tour," says Claudia G. Green, Ph.D., director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at Pace University in New York. "The higher end traveler wants to be responsible, but is not going to give up comfort." These travelers enjoy all the comforts of home, personal service and elegant accommodations. Wilderness Safaris, for example, houses its travelers in luxurious tents, with en-suite bathrooms. Some of its African camps have pools and spa services.

Eco-luxury travel appeals to a sophisticated traveler, someone who wants to see some of the world's most beautiful places without making an impact on the environment. Eco-luxury experiences are popping up in exotic and remote locales all over the world, from Namibia and Botswana in Africa to India, Chile and even Pakistan. Green says that up-and-coming destinations include Gabon, Laos and Bhutan.

In addition to minimizing the impact on the environment, a goal of eco-luxury travel is to improve the welfare of the local people and promote the protection and conservation of the environment-and statistics show that it's accomplishing this goal. TIES reports that while 80% of the money paid for a traditional tour goes to airlines, hotels and other international companies, eco-lodges hire and purchase locally, investing as much as 95% in the local economy.

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