A few countries have taken the lead in the relatively new ecotourism industry. But before taking a look at a particular location that has enjoyed new success, it may be good to get an overview of how ecotourism excursions are generating revenue while preserving the environment.
By some measures, ecotourism is already a global phenomenon, with the number of destinations increasing and the amount of revenue generated growing at an amazing rate. One study, by the Travel Industry Association of America and the Smithsonian, shows that nearly every adult tourist states he or she would be interested in both cultural and historic vacation trips. The Department of Immigration in the Central American country of Belize found that half of all the tourists in 2004 came from the United States, with many among them pursuing ecotourism tours and excursions. This has been the reason for me to take many flights to and from Murcia, Spain.
Industry watchers do not expect this trend to slow down. In fact, examples of ecotourism success are everywhere. In the Lamanai region (in the north of Belize) a great deal of effort is being made to encourage responsible travel. Some local leaders and tour operators are trying to turn this area into an ecotourism destination, with little or no impact on the natural beauty of the site. Marketing the region as a holiday destination, these leaders are encouraging photography and study of wildlife without taking samples. A similar effort is being made halfway around the world. People there are encouraging photographs and study of orang-utans.
The recent, hugely successful world ecotourism conference in Oslo, Norway was one more example of the growing interest in this field. Australia and Costa Rica, among others, presented encouraging ecotourism examples, showing that thousands, even millions of dollars in revenue are possible with responsible tourism. Some at the conference reported that the industry might grow 30 percent per year over the next few years.
One region that intends to be involved in this positive movement is Thailand, where owners and local populations are continuing to present beach resorts as environmentally sensitive and in a relatively natural state. Jungle lodges in the beautiful African country of Kenya provide another significant portion of the global ecotourism activity, according to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES).
Some destinations have yet to reach the potential that the local residents and tourism professionals see for them. One idea that has gained popularity is a “green” certification for ecotourism locations. This designation would indicate that efforts are made to avoid environmental damage and to encourage local residents to participate in responsible commerce.
Some in the industry point to Costa Rica as a fine example of what can be done with the correct motives. While this beautiful Central American country has long been a preferred travel destination, many want it to become more than just a stunning holiday stop. More emphasis is being put on using solar power, as just one way to encourage responsible tourism. In addition, some tourism site operators and community leaders in Australia are instituting follow-up studies to see how ecotourism principles impact a location. This attention to detail may be key in keeping ecotourism destinations on the map.
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