Ecotourism is not just for a safari in Africa, a trek into the Himalayan mountains, or an adventure in the Amazon jungle.
Tour operators around the world, including those located in large cities, can find ways to save the environment and support their local community through conscious efforts at ecotourism and an environmentally friendly policy that benefits the company and the tourists it serves.
We have created an simple set of guidelines which tour operators can follow to create an ecotourism policy that is easy to implement. Choose the criteria that are relevant for your tour operator business and start receiving the benefits of ecotourism.
Benefits of Ecotourism for Tour Operators
Creating an ecotourism policy for your travel company offers many different benefits that we hope inspire you to get started.
- You can earn more money by acquiring new clients that are searching for environmentally responsible tour operators.
- Your company can achieve an improved image and a competitive advantage with a clear ecotourism policy.
- You save the environment one tourist at a time
- You help support your local community and conserve the attractions and local environment that in turn support your business.
Management & Planning
- Create a clear goal – What do you plan to achieve with your ecotourism policy?
- Training – All staff should receive relevant training regarding your ecotourism policy and be able to communicate and implement your plan both within the organization and with tourists.
- Keep it realistic – Make sure you can implement the various parts of your ecotourism plan.
Natural attractions are very often the most sensitive attractions that need the most attention and conservation.
- While visiting protected areas such as a national park make sure your tours comply with all the rules and regulations. Guides should ensure your tourists are also clearly informed about the rules as well.
- If your tour involves wildlife or a safari make sure the guides clearly inform the tourists about the rules of conduct.
- Tours involving water, such as snorkeling or boat tours, should be conducted so that there is minimal disturbance to the local aquatic fauna and marine life.
- When utilizing trails for hiking, safaris, cycling, off-roading, or other tours, make sure to use only marked paths.
- If available, give your tourists a chance to support the attraction with a donation to help with maintenance and conservation.
- Tours involving campfires should try to utilize existing fireplaces and the tour operator should try to organize wood in advance. Fires should be properly extinguished and the ashes scattered to minimize the chance of a forest fire.
- Guides should be trained on environmental issues which focus on minimizing impact to the environment. Guides should properly instruct tourists on how to minimize impact.
- Try to promote a recycling policy where all garbage is properly collected during the tour and disposed of.
- Guides should be trained to give additional information about the local wildlife and habitat of the natural attraction to improve the experience for tourists.
Historical attractions require experienced guides who can bring these attractions to life with interesting stories and facts.
- Guides should try to link the past to the present and show how the history of the attraction and local culture have affected life in the present.
- Create special tours that visit underdeveloped historical sites with a chance for tourists to donate for reconstruction.
- Ensure tourists don’t touch, disturb, or remove historical artifacts, even if it is approved by the local government.
- While visiting a religious site make sure tourists abide by local etiquette regarding behavior and dress.
Cultural attractions give tourists a chance to be immersed in the local culture and heritage while supporting the local community.
- Include a chance for tourists to experience local dance or music through cultural shows or events.
- Give tourists the opportunity to learn more about the attractions they are visiting and the local culture surrounding the attraction. This could include a local guidebook, video, or additional information from the guide.
- Ensure local cultural etiquette is followed including dress, language tips, and where it is not appropriate to take photos.
Purpose Built Attractions
These are special attractions constructed for tourists to enjoy including water parks, theme parks, museum, or even a submarine ride.
- Try to choose purpose built attractions that support the local community (local staff, discounts or free entrance for locals, etc.).
- Choose attractions that make an effort to conserve natural resources (examples include water conservation, energy conservation, and recycling).
- Look for attractions that offer tourists a chance to donate to support the attraction or local community.
- If the attraction is free try to find ways that tourists can donate
- If the attraction is located in a community, try to find ways tourists can interact with the community including spending time with a local resident or visiting local shops and cafes.
As transportation is a key element of just about all tours, minimizing CO2 emissions, noise, and soil contamination are some major factors to consider when developing your ecotourism policy. Not only can you help the environment but you can also reduce your overall transportation costs with a smart transport policy.
- Make sure to carefully plan your tour routes to minimize fuel usage, congestion, and noise in small communities.
- Utilize a GPS system or Online maps to plan your route more carefully.
- Choose the right vehicle for each tour group, maximizing the seat usage for each group.
- Use a two wheel drive instead of four wheel drive where possible.
- Offer guests a bicycle tour on trips of a few kilometers where appropriate.
- Use public transportation wherever possible to reduce carbon emissions
- Make sure all your vehicles are properly maintained and serviced according to manufacturer standards to reduce pollution, leaks, and unnecessary noise.
- Ensure your local mechanic is properly disposing of used engine oil that can harm the local environment.
- Check your tires often to be sure they are at the correct pressure. This will help reduce fuel consumption tread wear.
- Remove extra weight (including roof racks) from your vehicles to reduce fuel consumption.
- Start the engine just before you are ready to depart instead of wasting fuel by idling. The engine will warm up faster this way.
- Practice accelerating and braking gently, keeping to posted speed limits, and changing gears early to limit fuel consumption. Auto Express magazine found that doing this you can save between 10 to 33% on your fuel costs.
- Conserve fuel by running the heat and air conditioning only when the passengers are inside. If the tourists are on an excursion turn off the vehicle and start it when they group returns. The time to cool or heat the vehicle is only a few minutes.
- In heavy traffic that is not moving for more than 3 minutes it is best to turn off the vehicle to save on fuel.
- While visiting rural areas make sure to take the main designated roads and avoid secondary roads that might damage the ecology of the area.
- Monitor fuel consumption of your vehicles by comparing fuel use against distance.
- Properly maintain and service your boats to recommended manufacturer standards.
- Check for leaks that can pollute the water including fuel, oil, heavy metals, or paints.
- Make sure to give your tourists adequate places to dispose of trash and recyclable materials so it doesn’t end up in the water.
Everyone gets hungry on a tour and this is a great chance to support your local community and give something special to your tourists.
- Try to offer your tourists cuisine that offers a taste of the local food specialties and culture
- Choose a locally owned business that purchases more than 65% of their food locally or grow their own fruits or vegetables.
- Offer for drinks, snacks, and lunches that are from local suppliers and producers.
- Give your tourists a chance to buy some local food to take with them to eat later.
Shopping & Souvenir Considerations
- Offer your tourists a chance to buy souvenirs at the attractions they visit
- Offer your tourists locally produced handicrafts rather than mass produced souvenirs
- Create a more interesting shopping experience for your tourists by offering a variety souvenir choices from different vendors to support the local community.
- Tell your tourists when haggling is appropriate and give them proper information on the costs of souvenirs while also ensuring local sellers receive a fair price. Many tourists are afraid of hard sell tactics and some well placed advice from the guide can help them to make a purchase.
- Give your tourists a chance to meet the locals who create handicrafts to learn about how they are produced, or try making it themselves. This also helps increase souvenir sales.
- Guides should tell the tourists what souvenirs are locally produced and give advice about the recommended gifts, handicrafts, and souvenirs worth purchasing.
Best Practices for Guides
- Ensure all guides are properly trained and use best practices to avoid harming local attractions and wildlife
- Guides should always communicate clearly to the tourists about local customs, guidelines, etiquette, and cultural norms of the location.
- Make sure all guides are responsible and protect the local environment.
- Get feedback about your guides to ensure they are following best practices.