Ecotourism Benefits Environment, Supporters Assert

Advocates of nature-based travel say that ecotourism has had an enormously positive influence on environmental conservation in recent decades. Since ecotourism became popular in the early 1990s, they say, global awareness of environmental issues has grown substantially. One of the reasons people are currently paying more attention to environmental issues is that ecotourists become educated on their trips, supporters contend. Once they return home, travelers share their stories and experiences with friends and family, sparking those people's interest as well, proponents say. "A lot of what we talk about our conservation programs, our community involvement programs--a lot of it has to do with guest education," says John Lewis, who runs an ecotourism lodge in Costa Rica.

Many proponents of ecotourism reject charges that they engage in unsustainable environmental practices, such as disposing of sewage incorrectly or polluting the land and air. While supporters concede that a handful of nature-based tour operators do not abide by the guiding principles of ecotourism, they assert that the vast majority of ecotourism companies are extremely responsible as stewards of the environment.

Many advocates of ecotourism insist that a quota system for visitors should not be implemented. They say that for many impoverished regions of the world, ecotourism profits represent one of the biggest sources of foreign revenue. Given those circumstances, restricting the number of visitors would deprive local residents of their economic livelihoods, supporters contend. Proponents also assert that countries blessed with stunning natural environments should be entitled to use those areas as a source of income. " based on tourism," declares Rocio Martinez, president of the Galapagos Islands' chamber of commerce on the. "We should take advantage of our natural environment to reap the benefits of tourism."

Regardless of whether ecotourism operations are corporately owned or run by local residents, profits earned from nature-based tourism are routinely recycled into nearby communities, proponents insist. Among other things, they say, tourist dollars help fund public education, develop transportation and health-care infrastructure, and support environmental conservation programs. Furthermore, backers say, residents living in or around ecotourism destinations benefit from ecotourism because the industry provides them with steady, well-paying jobs running tours, constructing tourist facilities or staffing hotels and restaurants.

In order to encourage more ecotourism outfits to become environmentally friendly, some supporters suggest that tour operators be provided with incentives to promote sustainable nature-based travel. Those backers point to British Airways PLC--a company that annually distributes "Tourism for Tomorrow Awards" to environmentally sustainable tour companies around the world--as proof that the private sector can help bolster the public profile of responsible ecotourism companies. Indeed, proponents say, recent recipients of the British Airways awards have seen a notable increase in business activity. David Bellamy, a well-known British environmental activist, asserts that providing awards to certain tour operators helps "turn the spotlight on tourism that doesn't cost the earth."

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