Ecotourism is nature-based tourism that includes environmental education and awareness programs and is conducted by the principles of environmental sustainability. National Ecotourism Strategy Australia, Department of Tourism, Canberra, 1992.
Why is ecotourism growing in popularity worldwide?
The greatest volume of demand for nature tourism in the countries that supply tourists is noted in North America and Western Europe (primarily Germany), as well as in Australia and New Zealand. In some countries, the demand for nature tourism in the domestic market (e.g., Thailand, Indonesia) is also of great importance.
Based on surveys of tour operators and tourists since 1989, American researchers have noted both the rapid growth in the number of tours undertaken with cognitive purposes and that among them, nature tourism is the most popular.
According to various estimates, the number of ecotourists in the world increases by 7-20% annually. Thus, ecotourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global tourism industry.
According to American researchers, the growing demand for ecotourism is determined by three main factors:
- general growth in the volume of tourism;
- the increasing popularity of “special interest travel;
- The growing public attention to the problems of environmental preservation.
In turn, the overall growth of tourism is due to population growth, rising incomes and employment, shrinking workweeks in many parts of the world, and the increasing globalization of world economies and societies.
The demand for “special interest travel” is based on one important trend. As a result of scientific and technological progress, the industrialized countries of the West have already reached a stage where “the driving force behind economic growth is not the desire to consume more goods, but the desire for ‘lived experiences and experiences'” (American Demographics, in Ziffer, 1989). Therefore, in recent times tourists have increasingly sought a form of travel that would contribute to their personal growth and enrich them with new knowledge about nature and man.
The “fashion” for outdoor recreation and the increasing concern for health and fitness has forced people to rethink how they should spend their vacations. By this time, many traditional “beach and resort” areas have reached the “saturation point”; tour operators began to offer new exotic places and types of recreation to customers who want to be away from the bustle of the city. Hence the unprecedented popularity of tours with an “educational component”-from cooking lessons in France to “spiritual treks” in Tibet.
The rise in attention to environmental issues is perhaps the most important factor behind the demand for eco-tourism in recent decades in many Western countries. Tourists are in a hurry to see wilderness areas that may disappear from the face of the earth in a few years. Recently, many of them are seeking not just to be bystanders, but to make a personal contribution to their preservation. They recognize the link between tourism revenues and conservation, and they are very attracted to the idea that their visit contributes to the protection of unique natural areas or the development of local settlements. And it is the “host” countries that can and should create the appropriate opportunities and conditions for this.