Over 700 million people a year travelled internationally (2003) and Travel and Tourism is a $1.5 trillion industry in North America, with and expected 50% growth over the next decade. The industry also provides employment to about 230 million and creating about 10% of total global employment, making it the world's largest employer. In over 60countries it is the number one export industry, and in 150 countries it is in the top five industries.
Consumer's travel choices affect the social and environmental impact of tourism. Direct impacts include emissions from cars and planes, degradation of natural features by heavy visitor traffic in national parks and beaches, and excessive consumption of energy and resources. Tourism can have less obvious impacts including the loss of cultural identity, economic dependence on foreigners, changing economic disparities within a community, and increased consumption of goods not produced in the community (as locals adopt consumption patterns of visitors).
On the other hand, tourism can improve conservation, by providing both funds and motivation for conservation, enhancing the standard of living in nearby communities. Tourism can also impact the mindset of visitors, making us aware of the h environmental, social, and cultural impacts in both the communities we visit and the one we return to live in.
Sustainable tourism is a shift in the direction of traditional travel and tourism, by making optimal use of environmental resources, respecting the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, and finding ways to expand socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders in the community. In the Dominican Republic for example, resorts feature local beers, and alcoholic, and food and also provide daycare for their housekeeping staff's young children (which is good for the women, since their work is often a distance away from their home, and good for the resorts since it extends the worker's careers beyond the time they would traditionally get married and start having children). In Costa Rica, all resorts have and many towns provide separate bins for waste and for recyclables.
The World Tourism Organization finds that one challenging aspects is the need to certify operators, since it is difficult to establish standards and certification schemes which can be adopted worldwide. The International Ecotourism Society ("TIES") also provides a list of ecotourism associations, many of which provide some sort of certification. It's important to make sure that the business (tour operator, hotel, etc.) that you use is certified by a reputable body, or has some other way of proving its environmental practices.
Heightened awareness of the environment has increased interest in travel to natural areas, making it the fastest-growing sector of the tourist industry. "Ecotourism" and nature travel are estimated to constitute about 20% of current leisure travel, up from about 2% in the late 1980s.
Ecotourism differs from sustainable tourism in that it focuses specifically on travel to natural areas, but it should still encompass principles of sustainability. Unfortunately, many operators simply adopt the word "ecotourism" but fail to implement sustainable principles. Travellers should look at the practices of the company you choose.
Ecotourism destinations in Canada include cross country skiing resorts, visits to the Northern Lights, dog sledding vacations in the Rockies and the Yukon, and hiking or biking along the country's many trails, including the West Coast Trail, the East Coast Trail, the Bruce Trail, and the Transportation-Canada Trail. Wildlife destinations include many of Canada's unique ecosystems including seeing polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, wild buffalo in Wood Buffalo National Park, birdwatching at various bird nesting grounds and migration stop-overs, whale watching on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and visits to the country's various national parks.
Not sure what to look for? Check out "10 ways to tell if your eco-lodge is really eco!" from Responsibletravel.com.
The 10 myths about responsible travelling (Responsible Travel.com)