The Darker Side of Eco-Tourism
by Grace Frenzel (ES Major Class of 2016)
On the site listing career possibilities for graduates of the Environmental Studies department at SUNY ESF, you can find Eco-tourism Specialist as one of the options. Eco-tourism is defined as vacations that bring people to places around the world with ecological significance, such as rainforests, coral reefs, or savannas while causing as little disturbance as possible. It is traditionally thought to be a valuable way to travel while simultaneously learning about conservation and sustainability around the world. I, however, have come to conclusion that Eco-tourism has many downsides for the environment and for the people living in the areas we “first world travelers” have identified as pristine natural habitats.
The obvious dark side of any sort of travel is the greenhouse gases produced during transportation. Many self-proclaimed environmentalists are careful with their carbon footprint, but with the eco-tourism industry growing so rapidly, it may be that they can justified the huge number of emissions they produce on their plane ride to Costa Rica. Countries have also uprooted native peoples in the name of eco-tourism. In Africa, the government is pumping money into national parks as they are predicted to be such lucrative tourist attractions that they are kicking out people living on the land that will become national park territory. Eco-tourism, in my opinion, is also likely to start as a way to respectively observe plants, animals and phenomena, but the natural succession will surely lead eco-tourists and eco-tourism companies to further and further invade natural habits, thereby damaging them. On top of that, since most of these visits take place in developing nations, there may not be an effective way to police what is named “eco-tourism.” Greenwashing is likely to follow: companies labeling themselves as eco-tourism venues for profit, when what they are doing to not fit with the principles of the industry.
People deserve to witness earth’s beauty, but many measures need to be taken to ensure that it is not at the expense of our home: the earth. As long as we are smart about it, there may not be need for concern over the future of eco-tourism. My solution is that this industry needs to be taken over by careful and intelligent Environmental Studies majors from SUNY ESF.