Arenal Observatory Lodge Waterfall, Costa Rica, (c) Eric Rock

This is a guest post by Anne-Marie Pritchett, a freelance writer, storyteller and idea girl who has lived in six states and two countries. She has a great passion for sustainability and dancing in the rain. She writes handwritten letters to her parents and believes that music can connect souls.

A sector of tourism, ecotourism is travel to natural areas that provide environmental, cultural and economic benefits to local communities and host countries. It’s about harmoniously interacting with the local people, customs, languages and ecosystems and improving the welfare of the local community.

Ecotourism is the fastest growing market in the tourism industry and continues to flourish, according to the World Tourism Organization. At an annual growth rate of 5 percent, it accounts for 11.4 percent of global consumer spending.

Eco-tourist destinations are places where visitors can immerse themselves in the local culture while respecting nature and the geographic area’s local traditions.

What Makes It ‘Eco’

At the center of ecotourism are the fundamentals of sustainability. The EcoTourism.org handbook defines sustainable activities as three main aspects of a community:

• Environmental: The activity minimizes any damage to the local land including its flora, fauna, water, soil, energy use and contamination.

• Cultural: The activity revitalizes the social structure of the community and does no harm.

• Economic: The activity continues to contribute the well-being of the community. Businesses don’t destroy the local resources on which it depends.

This is referred to the “triple bottom line,” which means a business must be run in such a way that doesn’t destroy natural, cultural or economic resources and benefits the local community.

Ecotourism empowers communities to achieve sustainable development. It aims to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the earth.

How to Spot an Eco-Lie

“Green is no longer just a trend, it’s a way of life,” says the executive director of Hotel Sales and Marketing Association International Foundation, in a CREST report. Ninety-six percent of Condé Nast Traveler readers agree that hotels and resorts should be responsible for protecting the area they operate in.

This expectation often leads to businesses deceptively making false claims about their involvement in ecotourism. It’s called “greenwashing” and should be avoided at all costs. Travelers need to be wary of companies, products and services that use eco or sustainable as a marketing tool to attract customers.

How do you spot these eco-lies? Do your research and ask hard questions. Ask tour operators and hotels questions about their environmental protection practices. Ask how they support conservation and how many employees are local residents. Also, ask if they’ve been certified.

The Center for Ecotourism and Sustainable Development aims to reward businesses that extend positive impact, have a special focus on conservation, benefit local communities and educate visitors. By giving these businesses credible outside recognition through certification, they will become leaders in sustainable travel and be pacesetters for other businesses.

Remain Safe at Home

Often, ecotourism takes travelers to destinations that have no electrical grid. Cellphones, laptops and everything digital is no good there. You could be kicking back in a hammock near your ecolodge in Costa Rica while identity thieves or home invaders are stripping you clean. Here are some general tips on how travelers interested in this type of off-the-grid adventure can protect their information while on vacation.

• Before you leave, install a home security system that is being monitored by a reputable security company.

• Get identity theft protection so someone is monitoring your private information 24/7.

• Let banks and credit card companies know of your travel itinerary.

Ecotourism provides opportunities for personal growth and allows travelers to bring economic benefits to local communities while helping with conservation efforts. If you’re an adventure traveler seeking an authentic ecotourism experience, check out Natural Habitat Adventures’ wildlife and nature-focused expeditions.  Nat Hab partners with World Wildlife Fund and has given more than $2 million to WWF’s global conservation efforts to protect some of the most precious yet imperiled locations on the planet.  Nat Hab was also the world’s first carbon-neutral travel company, paying to offset the carbon emissions of all of its trips.

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