Tourism, though existing for centuries, has seen a sudden spurt today due to improved means of travel and communication. It has become a popular leisure activity and has contributed a lot towards the development of an economy. Infact, some island nations like Mauritius, Hawaii and Bermuda thrive on tourism. While the advantages of tourism are numerous, it also has some negative impacts on the environment and its inhabitants. Large scale destruction of forests and natural areas to build hotels and shops, depletion and contamination of ground water, plastic and other artificial waste accumulation, and endangering of local animal and human population are becoming some of the major drawbacks of tourism. To offset this negative impact, 'Eco-Tourism' was developed in the 1990's by leading environmentalists and conservationists.
MEANING AND PRINCIPLES
Eco-tourism involves travelling to tranquil and unpolluted natural areas. The main purpose behind this activity is to learn about these areas and also work towards preserving and conserving them. It requires a traveller to be well informed about the place he is planning to visit and also contribute towards the development and welfare of local people.
Those who participate in eco- tourism should follow the following principles and guidelines set by The International Eco-tourism Society:
• Minimum impact on the local environment
• Attempt to build awareness and respect towards local culture and populace
• Direct financial benefits for the local people rather than the middleman like hoteliers and tour companies
• Contribute towards conservation
ON AN ECO-TRIP
Traveller should be aware of the local news and current events while undertaking an eco-tour. He should learn to speak a few basic words of the local language (thank you, sorry, hello, etc). In nutshell, a tourist has to approach his eco- destination with the desire to learn and observe rather than just watch and enjoy.
All tourists need to respect local traditions and etiquette. They should remember that they are just visitors. There are many customs and traditions which may be different to their own but not inferior. Tourists need to wear respectable clothing that do not offend the local culture and also request permission before taking photos. Eco-tourists need to set an example to other tourists by their behaviour and deportment.
All visitors should avoid unnecessary display of wealth. Jewellery and accessories should be minimal. According to experts they create a barrier between the visitors and local community and inhibit interactions. Tourists should not hand out sweets, coins, cloth or other items as they serve to corrupt the local populace and create a begging mentality where none existed before.
The resources in an area visited by tourists are under a great deal of pressure already. An eco-tourist should try to reduce the personal consumption of items like water, food and transport. For example, a luxury hotel in the middle of a forest takes more resources to build and maintain than a small inn. It is better to opt for the latter. Tourists should not hunt endangered or threatened species or harvest rare plants for consumption or as a leisure activity.
An eco-tourist must aim to have minimum impact on the environment due to his visit. The ‘Leave No Trace' rule should be strictly followed. Not only should he/ she not throw rubbish but should also remove litter that others left behind. Plucking of plants, leaves and flowers is a strict no-no. It is necessary to be aware of local endangered threatened species so as not to purchase souvenirs made from their skin, feathers etc. This is illegal too!
Tourists must use local transportation, guides, inns, restaurants and markets. This creates job opportunities for the locals who in turn will work towards preserving their environment and desist from destructive habits like logging, hunting or poaching. It will also prevent them from immigrating to major cities.
Eco-tourism should not end with the tour. Eco-tourists need to follow through the commitment to conservation, in everyday life. They must share their experiences with others to foster a greater understanding of the world.