Eco-Tourism: First a Movement, then a Trend, now a Thriving Industry

Travel with conscience

By Renee Fortune

If you’ve kept abreast with popular culture trends, you’ll most probably have heard the term, ‘eco-tourism’ bandied about in your social circles. In broad terms, eco-tourism refers to low-impact or responsible travel that involves the conservation of the environment and the sustenance and well-being of the local communities. One definition suggests that, “eco-tourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel.”

You may be surprised to know however, that what is often referred to as a travel trend has its roots in the ecological movement of the 1970s. This particular time of history saw the emergence of activists from all over the world, dedicated to the cause of conserving the earth’s natural resources and raising awareness around environmental issues.

The movement gained momentum gradually and has experienced a boom in recent years due to increased awareness around climate change, environmental degradation and social ills like poverty and joblessness.

Today, the industry is predicted to be worth over $180 billion and is forecast to reach over $300 billion by 2027.

Eco-tourism is conscious travel, and eco-tourists endeavor to explore the world with as little negative environmental impact as possible. This starts at a level as granular as how tourists travel between destinations within a country, and considers aspects like the carbon emissions of the chosen vehicles of transport and how roads are used. It’s also about being respectful of the indigenous cultures and landscape, and supporting local artisans within surrounding communities – people who historically have been undermined by traditional travel.

Eco-tourists consider where they buy their souvenirs from, how those goods are made, whether they pay a fair price for them and who manufactured them. In a sense, it can be said that ecotourism is a partnership between travelers and the custodians of the natural environment to conserve, preserve and protect.

Allow this list to spark your wanderlust for responsible travel:

3 Top Eco-Tourist Destinations


While it may not have topped the charts when it comes to the most visited locations in the world, Rwanda is fast becoming an eco-tourism hotspot. Thanks to the work of conservationists like the late primatologist, Dian Fossey, an increasing number of conscious tourists are developing an affinity for critically endangered mountain gorillas. In Rwanda, you can visit the mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park – 10 gorilla families reside in this lush, green paradise which is a protected environment.


Eco-tourism plays a vital role in the socioeconomic condition of the island of Madagascar, home to the indigenous Malagasy people and an abundance of wildlife that needs to be protected and conserved. As one of the world’s poorest countries, the island relies on support from international visitors to stimulate the local economy and incentivise the government to protect natural areas and ensure that their most-loved species, lemurs, have a protected habitat where they can thrive. Eco-tourism is also a powerful vehicle for job creation, opening up opportunities for Malagasy people to become tour guides, restaurant owners and staff, and tour company administrators. For many Malagasy people, the money they make during the island’s busiest periods, sustains them and their families for the entire year.


The Utria National Park in the department of Chocó is home to some of the rarest birds on the planet, and is one of Colombia’s eco-tourism must-sees. The Park also has immense social and cultural significance, with its residents still living according to ancient customs and traditional practices. Colombia has made significant strides towards promoting a greener economy. It is home to a world-renowned bicycle path system that takes tourists on a tour across the city in a way that produces the least amount of carbon emissions. In Bogota, one of Colombia’s most well-known attractions, roads are closed to cars on Sundays, allowing people to explore the streets freely, safely and with as little environmental impact as possible. There are also a number of opportunities to use your travel experience in Colombia as a chance to volunteer and support a local cause like organic farming, wildlife projects and community upliftment.

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