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Sustainable tourism? Ecotourism? Agrotourism? Community-based tourism? Can you no longer see the wood for the trees? Read more about the various sustainable ways of travelling here.

There are several terms that are used to describe tourism with respect for nature and culture. The most famous are sustainable tourism and ecotourism. All terms have a different meaning. Read on this page what the different terms mean.

We all now know what sustainable energy means. Sustainable tourism, on the other hand, raises many question marks. Is sustainable tourism camping, back to basic and expensive? All wrong. The image of sustainable tourism mainly lies in the alternative, green corner. Unfairly. Sustainable tourism is the future and therefore belongs to all of us. There are several definitions of sustainable tourism, but the most commonly used is that of the World Tourism Organization:

“Development which meets the needs of present tourists and hosts while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity and life support systems. ”

The following quote, written by Lyndon Baines Johnson, is on a sign at the world famous Bryce Canyon National Park:

“If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it. ”

In summary: sustainable tourism is tourism in harmony with nature and the environment, and the local population at the destination. In this way, they can reap the benefits of tourism instead of falling victim to the negative consequences. It is a misunderstanding that only small-scale tourism can be sustainable. Sustainable tourism is applicable to all types of travel, from mass tourism to cultural tourism.

Sustainable development includes the three Ps: People Planet Profit. Care for nature and the environment, socio-cultural aspects and good working conditions can be applied within any business sector, including tourism. Sustainable tourism is a necessity to be able to manage tourism and to preserve nature and culture. 

Sustainable tourism and ecotourism are often seen as the same thing. However, there are differences. The following definition from The International Ecotourism Society is the most common definition of ecotourism:

“Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people” 

Ecotourism focuses on nature; sustainable tourism is applicable to all forms of tourism. The term ecotourism is most widely known. As the term is not protected, this label is used in both a suitable and unsuitable manner for various travels. Ecotourism is a marketing tool: it is promoted by many companies, but not always implemented in practice. A good example of this are the eco hotels that just dump the waste behind the hotel. What do you mean, eco? When done properly, ecotourism can contribute to conservation. Natural areas are losing surface area due to housing construction, agriculture, the timber industry and the hunting of animals. The only way to save nature is to give it an economic value. Ecotourism (small-scale tourism in nature) is the means to preserve nature in its original state. If nature reserves are protected and small-scale ecotourism activities take place, the surrounding residents can earn money by charging entrance fees, showing visitors around and offering accommodations and restaurants. In this way, the local population is committed to their source of income, nature. Therefore, ecotourism is the way to protect natural areas, rather than more harmful industries like agriculture and the timber industry. Read more about the history of ecotourism here and more abour ecotourism in practice here

Community-based tourism is also referred to as “village tourism” or “homestays” in destination countries. There is no set definition, but Responsible Ecological Social Tours (REST), a Thailand based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) defines community-based tourism as follows:

“Community-based tourism is tourism that takes environmental, social and cultural sustainability into account. It is managed and owned by the community, for the community, with the purpose of enabling visitors to increase their awareness and learn about the community and local ways of life.”

The best way to return tourism profits to the local community around a project is to involve this community in the development and management of the project. This is called community-based tourism. In fact, all forms of sustainable tourism should involve the local population, as local involvement is one of the prerequisites for sustainable tourism. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in practice.

Community-based tourism can arise from two situations: an external organization (e.g. NGOs), comes up with the idea to set up a tourism project, or the local community initiates a project itself. When the community itself comes up with the idea for a project, there is often a problem of lack of knowledge and expertise. Asking for help from experienced organizations can be a solution.

Tourism imposed from the outside can actually result in a lack of a sense of responsibility within the local community. In practice, however, community-based tourism is managed by an external organization, at least in the initial phase.

What does community-based tourism consist of? A local community is ideally involved not only in the management and decision-making of a project, but even more so in the implementation of the idea. Local people are ideally suited as guides, accommodation managers or transporters. Precisely because they know the region well and have been living there for a long time, they are experts in their tourism product. Not only does tourism have a direct effect on the local community through the jobs created in souvenir sales and tours, but tourism also takes guests to hotels, restaurants and taxis. Even a person who is not directly involved in the travel industry can benefit from a project in their village. For small-scale projects, the tourist often pays a fixed amount that is deposited in the communal pot and on which a project of public benefit is paid. For example, schools, sanitation systems or cattle baths can be funded from a tourism project and benefit the entire population around a project.

Other positive effects of tourism on a local community could be that traditional values ​​and culture are being rediscovered and revalued, and that young people are less likely to leave their village for the big city, where job opportunities beckon. Of course, tourism is also a good opportunity to strengthen the position of women in the community. Women are good restaurant keepers and souvenir sellers; this gives them an opportunity to earn their own income.

Less desirable effects are the increase in waste left by tourists and the westernization of local culture. The number of tourists that can visit a community without being harmful could best be determined by the community itself.

Marketing is important in community-based tourism. Small villages are often not easy to find and therefore need publicity. This kind of tourism benefits from organized travel; a stand-alone project has less chance of visitors than a number of projects included in a trip. To make an organized trip interesting, it is important that each project has a characteristic feature to distinguish itself from other projects. This creates an attractive, varied product that will attract more tourists than a project in itself.

Pro poor tourism is also not a fixed definition, but is described by the Ecotourism Resource Center as follows:

“Pro Poor tourism is set up in developing countries as a means to improve the local economy for local people. It enhances the linkages between tourism businesses and poor people, so that poverty is reduced and poor people are able to participate more effectively in tourism development. The aims of pro-poor ranges from increasing local employment to involving local people in the decision making process. Any type of company can be involved such as a small lodge or a tour operator. The most important factor is not the type of company or the type of tourism, but that poor people receive an increase in the net benefits from tourism. ”

Agrotourism literally means rural tourism. Given the large-scale urbanization, tourists increasingly want to take a look at rural life during their vacation. A visit to farms is a must. An overnight stay on a farm completes the experience. Click here for a special agrotourism region in Croatia.

The term geotourism was coined by the National Geographic and its definition is as follows:

“Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place: its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.”

Honduras has even developed a geotourism strategy. If you want to read more about this, click here

More information about geotourism can be found here.

For a lot of people, tourism has been a way to (re-)discover yourself. Ancestry travel (also called DNA tourism, heritage travel or genealogy tourism) is the ultimate type of tourism for discovering your roots. Over the past years, it has become more and more popular to learn more about one’s heritage by doing a DNA test. Services such as MyHeritage, AncestryDNA and LivingDNA are examples of companies where people go to learn more about their past. At first people tried to find out more about their past by for example looking for birth certificates, but since DNA tests are gaining popularity, ancestry travel has truly boomed. 

Spartan holidays is a new trend in tourism that advocates totally disconnecting from technology in order to truly enjoy a holiday. Spartan holidays combine the idea of a digital detox with minimalist living, whereby you travel with as little as possible and only pack a few necessary accessories. 

 Regenerative tourism is “creating the conditions for life to continuously renew itself, to transcend into new forms, and to flourish amid ever-changing life conditions” (Hutchins and Storm, 2019) – through tourism. It sees the world as alive, not a machine – and as being part of nature’s living systems – like indigenous communities never lost (Earth changers, 2020). 

‘Regenerative tourism defines success as more net benefit (after costs have been accounted for, all waste eliminated, and all damage restored), and more personal and institutional capacity to adapt, be resilient, creative, collaborative etc, while providing a greater and richer sense of meaning for guests and hosts’ (Pollock, 2019). 

Nano-tourism describes a critique to the current environmental, social and economic downsides of conventional tourism. Nano-tourism, as opposed to conventional tourism, is a locally oriented, bottom-up alternative. Defining nano-tourism runs twofold: by finding and learning from existing experiences and by identifying and creating new site-specific case studies (Aljoša Dekleva & Tina Gregorič, 2014)

The concept and practice of alternative tourism arose from a response to the impact of mass tourism and as an expression of rebellion and search for adventure (Dernoi 1981). It involves tourism that respects the values of local people and nature, favoring encounters and exchanges and building experiences (Smith and Eadington 1994).

‘Conscious Travel takes a holistic, integral approach to tourism development designed to maximise net positive benefits and ensure guests, employees, businesses and places flourish’ (ConsciousTravel, n.d.).

Ethno-tourism is a specialized type of cultural tourism, defined as any excursion which focuses on the works of man rather than nature, and attempts to give the tourist an understanding of the lifestyles of local people. (Bolnick, S. (2003)

Last chance tourism is the type of tourism to destinations which are known as ‘visit before it’s too late’. These destinations are endangered and could drastically change in the near future. Some destinations are endangered because of natural disasters, a lot of others because of mass tourism and global warming. For example, certain coral reefs are endangered because of divers that destroy them or because of water pollution caused by humans. Another example of an endangered destination is Venice, because the city is expected to sink by 2100 if nothing will be done to fight global warming (Varley, 2018).

Besides the nature preservation scope, which is a common trait for all tourism that aims at environment compatibility, as well as human health protection, this type of tourism has other purposes: on one hand, social purposes (respect for customs, traditions, social and family structures of the local population), and on the other hand, economic purposes (equitable revenue distribution, tourism offer diversification). Soft tourism sets itself away from the artificial and impersonal forms of mass tourism (Juganaru, Juganaru & Anghel, 2008). 

Equitable tourism can be defined as a series of criteria that focuses on residents and environment respect, meetings between tourists and locals as well as sustainability of tourism progress for the local communities. 

Equitable tourism is for example about:

– Tourist holidays: realized by consultation with local associations and the local population, collaboration and joined effort for holidays elaboration;

– A fair remuneration of local partners, achieved by total transparency of the tourism products price mechanism;

– Commitment to a durable relationship with local populations: the improvement of social and economic conditions at tourism destinations. This includes training of tourists to be responsible (Juganaru, Juganaru & Anghel, 2008).

Peace tourism involves visiting places which have a special meaning because of their association with notions such as peace-making, peaceful conflict resolution, prevention of war, resistance to war, protesting war, nonviolence and reconciliation. These associations can refer to the past as well as present, and to national as well as international contexts (Van den Dungen, 2018). 

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