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Eco- or Sustainable Tourism

Ecotourism, a relatively recent addition to the English language, has been defined as travel to natural areas to observe and learn about wildlife, tourism that refrains from damaging the environment, or tourism that strengthens conservation and improves the lives of local people. The latter two definitions could also apply to sustainable tourism, which has a wider scope than ecotourism and pushes for improvements in everything from city hotels to cruise ships. Whereas proponents of ecotourism believe it has the potential to conserve nature by providing economic opportunities for the rural poor, who are responsible for much of the deforestation in the tropics, sustainable tourism advocates note that all tourism has the potential for negative impacts, and they push for improvement across the entire industry.

If you define ecotourism as tourism that contributes to conservation and community development, then ecotourism is always sustainable tourism. However, not all sustainable tourism is ecotourism, since tourism businesses located far from natural areas can and should implement sustainable practices. The list of hotels certified by the Costa Rican Tourism Board's Sustainable Tourism Certification program, for example, ranges from award-winning eco-lodges to city hotels that have made improvements such as installing sewage treatment systems and switching to energy-saving lightbulbs. For conscientious travelers who are looking for close contact with nature, sustainable may not be enough.

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