Eco-tourism is booming in recent years, offering ethical and environmentally friendly options for those who want to explore the natural world while minimizing human impact. Companies offer eco-tours that might be anything from a trek through the Amazon to a hike up an extinct volcano. Deciding what part of the world you want to explore is the fun and easy part, but once you’ve figured out your budget and where you want to go, how do you choose the right eco-tour?
Here are a number of tips to consider when planning for your environmentally friendly vacation. Choosing an eco-tour isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it to keep these guidelines in mind as you make your decision.
Do your research
Make sure you really look at a tour company’s offerings and reputation before you book. A good way to get a sense of what people think of a tour company is through sites like TripAdvisor, which provide a free space for people to write their honest opinions about their experience with a particular tour or tour company. If you know someone who has been on an eco-tour before, ask for his or her opinions, too.
Don’t assume “green” buzzwords tell the whole story
Because eco-tourism is only becoming more and more popular, many companies try to get in on the trend by labeling their offerings as “green” or “eco-friendly” when their practices in fact don’t actually match up. Here again is where additional research can help – and it’s ok to call the tour company directly to inquire about their green practices. Asking questions about how and why they practice environmentally friendly tour operations can help inform your decision.
Look into local organizations
Some areas of the world actually have guidelines on what constitutes an eco-tour, and what standards or practices a tour company has to maintain in order to qualify as environmentally friendly. A quick search should be able to tell you if such a tour board exists, and you can use their standards to compare against the offerings of a tour company you have in mind.
Opt for smaller tours
Any tour company that advertises an eco-tour for big groups is being environmentally irresponsible. The more people that trek out into nature, the greater potential there is for damage to plants and animals. Smaller groups leave less of an impact on the environment, and they also provide a more enjoyable experience, so be sure to look into tour sizes before you book. Again, it’s ok to call the company directly to ask about this if the information is not on their website.
Investigate the accommodations, too
Often, eco-tours are totally immersive experiences that give you an opportunity to stay overnight in a natural environment. If this is the case for the tours you’re looking at, you should check to make sure that your lodging options are also environmentally responsible and sensitive to the local community. Attributes like sustainable building, natural materials, and a lack of disruption to the ecosystem are important considerations.
Be aware of the wildlife
If your tour involves an animal sanctuary or an environment in which you may encounter wild animals, make sure that your tour operator isn’t going to offer or promise interactions with the animals. Any tour that advertises a chance to pet or feed local wildlife is not being responsible and actually poses a danger to the animals by risking them becoming reliant upon human assistance.
Find out how the tour company gives back
One of the central tenets of responsible ecotourism is that the tour company gives back to the community and contributes to the conservation of the environment. Whether that’s through donating a portion of their profits to preservation efforts, or hiring locals to help empower the community, make sure that your chosen company is actively helping out in some way.
If you take these factors into consideration when choosing a company for your eco-tour, you’ll be able to find a tour that’s truly environmentally friendly and ethically responsible to the ecosystem and people they interact with. Don’t forget to pay it forward after your trip, either! Your honest reviews about the company will help others make their decisions, too.