Sustainable tourism or ecotourism? They are not the same thing: here is the difference

Elizabeth Smith

Mass tourism has caused very serious damage over the years, even destroying ecosystems and natural landscapes. But there are alternatives, namely ecotourism and sustainable tourism. Here is what they are and the difference between the two terms.

If assessing the impacts of tourism is a challenge, educating tourists is even more so. Mass communication since the 1990s has created more harm than good for local communities. This, by selling what would become a new necessity: travel.

People travel for a variety of reasons. Most of the time travel is for migration, holidays or somewhere in between. The concept of travel evolves with historical processes, new generations and of course globalisation.

But what are the problems of this phenomenon? And how can we know the impacts of our travels?

Tourism: what is travel and who are travellers

Travel is defined by as:

“The going from one place to another place, mostly distant, for pleasure or necessity, by private or public means of transport (or even, but nowadays rarely, on foot).”

This definition is loaded with meanings. Starting with the fact that it is driven by an initial verb that emphasises the value of moving and not just reaching the destination. Hence the term traveller, which is the person who makes the journey.

The substantial difference between the tourist and the traveller lies essentially in the approach of the person to the new environment. Willingness to integrate with a new culture, respect for diversity, open-mindedness and constructive judgement.

Obviously not all people who travel begin with these premises. Those are the tourists.

The birth of tourism and its importance for economy

Tourism is a highly advanced sector that in recent years has come to cover a large slice of a country’s GDP.

Since the mid-1990s, a tourism boom has broken out. Which has seen travellers as a potential source of entry and the opening of new jobs.

In fact, the attractions that were (and are) advertised were directed to the still unspoilt naturalistic destinations of the less industrialised countries. While in the already industrialised countries, the main dish was to stimulate the appetite for culture, comfort and technology.

Tourism: the other side of the coin

A few years after this boom in the mid-1990s, new associations began to emerge to defend the territory, local economies and communities that were beginning to experience the first negative effects of tourism.

The local balance is altered and in reality, unlike the premise of economic growth, very little is left for local communities. On the contrary, the exploitation of tour operators is a system now adopted worldwide.

Sustainable tourism and ecotourism

Very serious repercussions have been observed in just a few years in terms of an increase in extreme natural phenomena, environmental contamination and alteration of ecosystems. This has impoverished communities and the resources they draw on, sometimes creating serious damage to primary goods.

Hence a new concept related to tourism. But also to lifestyle in general: sustainability, or the satisfaction of one’s own needs without compromising those of future generations. Moving without causing repercussions is practically impossible, but the damage can be reduced considerably.

Sustainable tourism examines the environmental, social and economic impact of tourism on local communities and territories.

Then came ecotourism, which along the same lines creates a kind of travel model that encourages people to choose naturalistic destinations and respect the environment. The choice of means of transport, products to consume, and tour guides are examples of what a person who chooses ecotourism is required to consider.

Read also: What are “ecovillages”, an increasingly popular way for sustainable living

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