A form of tourism involving visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas, intended as a low-impact and often small scale alternative to standard commercial (mass) tourism. Its purpose may be to educate the traveler, to provide funds for ecological conservation, to directly benefit the economic development and political empowerment of local communities, or to foster respect for different cultures and for human rights. Since the 1980s ecotourism has been considered a critical endeavor by environmentalists, so that future generations may experience destinations relatively untouched by human intervention. Several university programs use this description as the working definition of ecotourism.
Generally, ecotourism deals with living parts of the natural environments. Ecotourism focuses on socially responsible travel, personal growth, and environmental sustainability. Ecotourism typically involves travel to destinations where flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions. Ecotourism is intended to offer tourists insight into the impact of human beings on the environment, and to foster a greater appreciation of our natural habitats.
Responsible ecotourism programs include those that minimize the negative aspects of conventional tourism on the environment and enhance the cultural integrity of local people. Therefore, in addition to evaluating environmental and cultural factors, an integral part of ecotourism is the promotion of recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation, and creation of economic opportunities for local communities. For these reasons, ecotourism often appeals to advocates of environmental and social responsibility.
The term 'ecotourism', like 'sustainable tourism', is considered by many to be an oxymoron. Tourism in general depends upon and increases air transportation, contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions from combustion placed high into the stratosphere where they immediately contribute to the heat trapping phenomenon behind global warming and climate change. Additionally, "the overall effect of sustainable tourism is negative, where, like ecotourism, philanthropic aspirations mask hard-nosed immediate self-interest."
Ecotourism Society Pakistan (ESP) explains "Ecotourism is a travel activity that ensures direct financial support to local people where tourism activities are being generated and enjoyed. It teaches travellers to respect local cultures of destinations where travellers are visiting. It supports small stakeholders to ensure that money must not go out from the local economies. It discourage mass tourism, mass constructions of hotels, tourism resorts and mass activities in fragile areas". For many countries, ecotourism is not simply a marginal activity to finance protection of the environment, but is a major industry of the national economy. For example, in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nepal, Kenya, Madagascar and territories such as Antarctica, ecotourism represents a significant portion of the gross domestic product and economic activity.
Ecotourism is often misinterpreted as any form of tourism that involves nature (see Jungle tourism). In reality, the latter activities often consist of placing a hotel in a splendid landscape, to the detriment of the ecosystem. According to them[who?] ecotourism must above all sensitize people to the beauty and the fragility of nature. They[who?] condemn some operators as greenwashing their operations: using the labels of "green" and "eco-friendly”, while behaving in environmentally irresponsible ways.
Sustainable tourism does provide the answer. Unfortunately it is to the wrong question. Rather than effectively addressing the complexities of tourism impact, what it is actually achieving is the considerably easier task of answering the question - 'How best can we cope with the criticism of tourism impact?' - as opposed to the impact itself. In essence then, the solution has been conjuring up an intellectually appealing concept with little practical application. One that satisfies the immediate short-term wishes of some of the main protagonists in tourism's impact debate, avoids sacrifices and enables behaviour in much the same way as before - but with the veneer of respectability and from a higher moral platform. For eco-tourism, read ego-tourism. We are more concerned with maintaining our status, massaging our own egos and appeasing our guilt than with addressing the actual issues involved.
Subsequent publications have elaborated upon egotourism.
Ecotourism, egotourism, responsible tourism, jungle tourism, and sustainable tourism have become prevalent alternative tourism concepts since the mid-1980s, and ecotourism has experienced arguably the fastest growth of all sub-sectors in the tourism industry. The popularity represents a change in tourist perceptions, increased environmental awareness, and a desire to explore natural environments.