What is Environmental Tourism?

A. Martin

With increased awareness of the fragile nature of our planet and its beauty, it is not surprising that there has also been an increased demand for travel to unique and remarkable environments around the world, known as environmental tourism. This is the phenomenon of increasing travel to places of environmental interest. It is travel that focuses on the ecological surroundings of the destination, which is generally a place overflowing with natural beauty and wonder.

Voluntourism, a form of environmental tourism, could involve cleaning up after an oil spill.
Voluntourism, a form of environmental tourism, could involve cleaning up after an oil spill.

Environmental tourism can include travel to unique and endangered areas, such as the Galapagos Islands. In addition to visiting places for its uniqueness, many people engage in this practice as a “voluntourism” mission — this is a form of tourism in which people travel to a destination for a short period of time to volunteer in some capacity. In the case of environmental voluntourism, this means traveling to an ecologically fragile part of the world to offer assistance in repairing it — such as cleaning an oil spill.

Environmental tourists engage in outdoor activities.
Environmental tourists engage in outdoor activities.

The concept of environmental tourism is that people will become more engaged with the ecological and sociocultural concerns of the world through firsthand experience, and thus be more active in conservation and making change. The idea evolved in the late 1980s along with growing consumer awareness of issues surrounding conservation and consumption. Not only is environmental tourism an adventure into the wilderness aimed at helping save the planet, but it also expands the profitable travel industry to developing countries where jobs are scarce and economies are struggling. Although the objectives of this type of tourism are well meaning, there are consequences that arise from the practice.

Environmental tourism packages might offer aerial tours of scenic locations.
Environmental tourism packages might offer aerial tours of scenic locations.

When people travel to places that have historically been disparately inhabited, the presence of increased and new populations inevitably impacts the environment and the culture of the location. The first impact on the environment comes from getting to the destination. Travel to remote locations where wildlife thrives can be costly to the environment using more fuel than that of an ordinary vacation, at times. Lodging and living are further strains the local environment. Constructing new lodging often means destroying a natural ecosystem and bringing a Western lifestyle to a developing country often means improper disposal of the increased amounts of waste. In a sociocultural sense, environmental tourism can present a problem with the displacement of people and their resources as well as impede and endanger their daily customs by introducing new difficulties and cultures.

Therefore, in an effort to more effectively achieve the goals of environmental tourism, a focus on responsible and sustainable tourism has been added to the concept. To this end, more regulation for developers is implemented; education is encouraged for travelers; and growth management is employed. With these measures, local communities have more control over the conservation of their surroundings and culture while continuing to reap the benefits of environmental tourism.

Environmental tourism can focus on the preservation of certain areas of wilderness.
Environmental tourism can focus on the preservation of certain areas of wilderness.

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Discussion Comments


I'm an environmental science student focusing in conservation biology. There are quite a few environmental tourism/fellowship opportunities for those looking to help the environment.

I am actually in the process of applying for an eco fellowship in Australia. I am hoping to get into the Cape Otway Center for Conservation Ecology. If I get the fellowship, I will spend a week at their lodge learning about conservation ecology and working with many unique species.

Besides their fellowship, I know the center does photography tours, and offers other environmental tourism options. There are also many other ecotourism tours, activities, and accommodations all over Australia, and the world. The options in Australia are certified so that you can be sure they are really environmentally friendly.


Environmental tourism can have the added effect of creating more sustainable economies in places where if it were not for environmental tourism, resource exploitation would be the only other economic driver. Environmental tourism can replace mining, logging, and commercial farming in environmentally sensitive areas. Environmental tourism can preserve natural and cultural diversity by offering travelers a window into a new world in a non-intrusive way.

Many developing nations are turning to environmental tourism to create a sustainable industry that requires minimal development. Environmental tourism has become a significant segment of the tourism industry, and the segment is growing very fast. To ensure that environmental tourism is ecologically sustainable, regulatory programs have been developed that set criteria for what can be considered ecotourism. This can help consumers to know that their programs earth friendly vacation is really as advertised.

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