Ecotourism is defined by the IUCN as “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local people”.
According to the Nature Conservancy, tourism to natural areas is only considered ecotourism if it:
- Involves conscientious, low-impact visitor behavior
- Is sensitive towards, and appreciates, local culture and biodiversity
- Supports local conservation efforts
- Sustainably benefits local communities
- Promotes local participation in decision-making
- Educates both the traveler and local communities
The growth of ecotourism creates significant opportunities for both conservation and local communities. In particular, ecotourism can provide revenue for the protection of natural areas and income-generating opportunities for local communities.
Ecotourism reliant on healthy waterways
In the United States, recreation and tourism are billion-dollar industries, with around 30 million anglers generating over one million jobs and more than $45 billion in retail sales annually. Healthy, intact ecosystems are essential to the viability of both commercial and recreational fishing. Healthy waterways also support diverse wildlife that in turn provides numerous ecotourism opportunities: in the Chesapeake Bay region wildlife watchers spend around $3 billion annually on trip-related expenses and equipment. This estimate does not include job creation and multiplier effects from these activities. Overall, recreation and ecotourism is a large economic force whose foundation is reliant on the maintenance of healthy watersheds and the protection of open spaces.
However, an increase in tourism numbers to sensitive natural areas without appropriate planning and management can threaten the integrity of ecosystems, potentially leading to significant environmental degradation. For instance, increased tourist numbers can impact local water quality and availability for consumption. To prevent degradation of watersheds and unsustainable water use, the International Ecotourism Society recommends tourism businesses respect everyone’s right to water, as well as local laws and regulations regarding water resources and implement steps to reduce their water consumption. In addition, as the tourism industry is a key stakeholder it should encourage and support local and national government regulations for the sustainable management of water resources. This will ensure sustainable economic growth as well as the environmental health of water and aquatic ecosystems.
Ecotourism is a multi-billion dollar industry reliant on healthy waterways. Tourism businesses can lead the way in protecting water resources by supporting regulations and saving water in-house.