What You Need to Know About Eco-Tourism

Just because it says "eco" doesn't mean it is!
two women with backpacks and travel gear

We at EcoParent had some questions about the eco-tourism industry. For answers we turned to the very knowledgeable Jonathan Foster, Executive Director of the Gros Morne Institute for Sustainable Tourism located in spectacular Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

EP: What is the difference between eco-tourism and sustainable tourism?

JF: You will quickly find thousands of web pages with definitions and terms that are similar but sure to confuse any sane traveller; and just because you see “eco” on something doesn’t always mean it is a true eco-tourism product! From my own perspective eco-tourism and sustainable tourism share many of the same principles such as a focus on environmental conservation, creating some meaningful point of contact between visitor and local and ensuring that the tourism business is locally profitable and can sustain itself into the future. The International Eco-tourism Society defines eco-tourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” In my view eco-tourism is really a segment of Sustainable Tourism. Sustainable Tourism is therefore much broader going beyond just eco-tourism and really encompassing the whole tourism industry by providing a set of guidelines and criteria that seek to create a balance between the environmental and socio-cultural impact of tourism while creating economically viable business enterprises locally. As the Parks Canada and Tourism Industry Association of Canada state, “It is tourism which is viable over the long term because it results in a net benefit for the social, economic, natural and cultural environments of the area in which it takes place.”

EP: Is green tourism regulated?

JF: There is no one overriding regulatory body for green tourism worldwide. What we currently see are a number of different certification programs that exist on a somewhat international (but more or less regional) basis that are voluntary in nature. They provide set criteria and grading schemes that businesses must meet in order to gain the award or certification.

What to Know Before You Go

  • Do you have a sustainability or environmental policy?
  • Do you have any policies or codes that govern your operations? Examples could be codes of ethics for how visitors interact with wildlife, water usage for gardens and lawns, etc.
  • Are you a member of any green or eco-certification program?
  • Have you won any awards for your green efforts?
  • Do you support any local community or environmental projects?
  • What will I learn about the local culture? How will I interact with the culture?
  • Do you use local foods and products? How are they grown, processed or fished?
  • Do you employ local people? Do you provide training to support local people to advance in your business?
  • Where is your company headquarters? If outside of the region how do you ensure the local community benefits from profits?
  • How do you monitor these practices?