Issue - October 2008

October 2008

What is ecotourism? Is this kind of tourism in Bolivia? Why? Who gets involved in ecotourism? How important is it to be responsible with nature and small communities? more...

October 2008


Catriona Knox

Imagine a perfect holiday in the depths of the Bolivian rainforest. Your plane glides to a smooth halt on the runway, a welcome feeling after 24 hours in the air. The local taxis outside the airport look as if they belong in the scrap metal dump, but luckily your hotel has sent an air-conditioned Toyota to pick you up. You are shown the sights of the area by a guide from the hotel. He is from England which is lucky since your knowledge of Spanish does not stretch much beyond “Hola”. When your camera is full with snaps of monkeys and babies in aguayos you return to the comfort of your hotel, take a welcome dip in the pool and a long hot shower. For dinner you head to a restaurant with delicious Spaghetti Napolitana and a bottle of Chardonnay.

This may sound like a luxurious break, but when we consider the consequences of this type of tourism on the community, it might not seem so positive. Think of the last holiday you took. Did you meet any locals? Learn anything about the foreign culture? How much water or fuel did you consume? Did you support any local people or businesses?

There is another way to be a tourist. Ecotourism is a branch of the tourism industry focussed on reversing the trends of conventional holidays and leaving positive impacts on the areas visited.

According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of local people.” The focus for ecotourism therefore falls into two principal areas: the environment and the community. “Environmental tourism” refers to organisations focussed on natural conservation whereas projects geared towards helping local people are usually labeled “community tourism”. Terms such as “responsible tourism” or “ethical tourism” are also used to refer to the same idea. Responsible travelers should ensure they aid conservation of the natural surroundings they explore, but also be respectful and aware of the local people whose homes they enjoy.

What are the advantages of ecotourism?

Ecotourism holds benefits for the environment, local communities, and tourism companies alike.

Environmental tourism conserves natural resources and uses income from its visitors to promote environmental conservation and awareness.

Community tourism projects create financial opportunities by employing local staff and encouraging tourists to buy local products. If local people fill managerial positions as well, the industry provides a means of empowerment by which a community can improve its own economy without outside aid. If managed responsibly, the infrastructure built for tourists can be shared with the entire community. For example, improved roads, healthcare outlets, or electricity and water systems initially constructed to encourage tourism can have obvious benefits for locals too.

What are the problems with ecotourism?

Unfortunately, the “ecotourism” label is often misused as a marketing tool for tourism companies which in fact do not represent good examples of responsible operators. “Greenwashing” is the term given to companies such as these which spend more money on advertising their environmental label than actually undertaking eco-friendly practices.

Another common criticism of ecotourism is that it usually fails to take into account the large scale fuel consumption required to reach the holiday destination. Flights across the world or long trips in cars leave huge carbon footprints whose environmental consequences often far outweigh any positive impact the rest of the visit might have on conservation.

Most travelers think of a holiday as a self-centered activity, a few weeks or months focused on self-enjoyment. But although this is of course the chief purpose of most holidays, it is important to realize how much of a positive impact tourism can make at the same time. Our differences may seem insignificant, but a single tourist’s investment can change an individual’s life and make a genuine impact on a local community.

Reducing your footprint on the areas you visit does not have to take away from the quality of your trip. By contrast, endeavoring to help and understand local communities can greatly enhance your traveling experience.


Squeezed between a mechanics workshop and a busy street corner in the centre of Cochabamba, the office of TUSOCO is easily overlooked. But this small, unobtrusive building and its four dedicated staff represent one of Bolivia´s most important community tourism groups...

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