Chances are good that if you have looked into booking an African safari vacation, you have encountered the word “ecotourism.” This term can be confusing since it is used in many different ways by different organizations.
At its heart, ecotourism refers to a method of travel that minimizes your negative impacts on the environment and local communities. Many also include education as a necessary component of ecotourism; they believe that visitors to a region should learn about the local ecosystem and the lives of the people that live within it. Whereas normal tourism may seek to change the appearance of a destination to make it more of a pleasure-focused experience, ecotourism intends to transform the perspective of travellers by introducing them to new ways of thinking, living and acting.
Abiding 100 percent to the principles of ecotourism is tough in our consumer-focused economy, especially given the impact of our growing populations around the world. Yet, many ecotourism safari tours split the difference by minimizing their impact on the environment, promoting conservation causes and enlightening travellers while still providing a comfortable experience.
Ecotourism Definition and The Importance of Education
The concept of ecotourism has been defined in many different ways by different organizations. These organizations themselves even shift the definition over time to reflect the goals and realities of ecotourism.
Perhaps the best definition comes from The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)
Ecotourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.
TIES only recently solidified education’s role within their definition, but they have a good reason for it.
People who adhere to ecotourism principles believe that anyone who visits a destination should not just enjoy the exact same comforts they find back home, nor should they be presented with the same simplified “cartoon” version of the locale they might see on TV. Instead, the goal is to momentarily share the life of others there, including both the local people and animals.
By understanding more about how the Maasai people in Tanzania maintain their nomadic traditions, for instance, you can see how the lives they lead are a conscious choice that brings them satisfaction. You can also learn about their history of strict conservatism and dedication to the rights of living beings, including their refusal to eat game and birds.
Similarly, learning about the unique beauty and characteristics of the white rhino can help you understand why it is so important to prevent their extinction.
Most public parks and private organizations in Africa now have a dedicated conservation component to their operations. Instead of trading off the sanctity of their ecosystems and preferred lifestyles for the sake of tourism income, they adapt their visitor programs to have a minimal impact and include significant educational components. Additionally, many of the proceeds from visitors are now donated to wildlife programs or used to directly fund operations like animal rescues.
For instance, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya uses funds generated by visitors to support innovations and advancements in wildlife protection. These funds help them do things like pioneer the use of aerial drones and image-recognition AIs, which track wildlife movements and detect poachers before they can make their move.
Learn Some of the Three Best Ecotourism Safari Tours to Try
Africa is rich with organizations and programs offering transformative ecotourism experiences. We will cover three of the most interesting examples in our next post for you to take a look at.
You can also find many other ecotourism-related experiences within our curated African safari tour packages. Start planning your trip today with our helpful suggestions, and contact us if you are interested in custom ecotourism safari tours to match your interests.
Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui