What is ecotourism? And how to choose ethical ecotourism activities
Imagine visiting a popular island destination to find broken beer bottles scattered along the beach, the water a murky blue color, and bars and restaurants outnumbering the trees. Not exactly your idea of paradise, right? If this is the first stop on your Thailand holiday, you may try to ignore the pollution as you enjoy the warm weather and couple nights of partying...but, what if every beach you visited was like this? You’d probably be disappointed. So much so you may never come back to Thailand.
A scenario like this is exactly what happens when ecotourism is ignored. Restaurants, bars, hotels and other businesses ignore their environmental impact and destroy a beautiful landscape in their quest to make a few bucks. Sadly, this is happening all over Thailand and in many countries across the globe. So what can you do about it? When it comes to ecotourism, Thailand visitors simply need to understand how their presence makes an impact. Here’s what you need to know.
What is ecotourism?
The International Ecotourism Society now defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education".
As you can tell from the story of the beach above, tourism by its very nature affects the natural environment. While an unspoilt beach is undoubtedly attractive to the tourism industry, it doesn’t take many hotels before you’re left with the bleak image in this blog’s opening—a beachfront that bears no resemblance to the paradise that attracted those businesses in the first place. So, how do ecotourism providers differ from operators who don’t consider the environment?
They prioritize the environment when providing a service.
For example, ecotourism operators work hard to ensure their activities aren’t detrimental to the environment. They may design buildings that complement their surroundings, construct low-rise structures that are hidden beneath the tree-line, and follow environmentally sound procedures when it comes to energy generation, waste disposal and recycling.
At Flight of the Gibbon, we not only try to make as little environmental impact as possible, but we also support and nurture the environment. In fact, the company was founded to protect a pair of wild gibbons that had been caged and left for dead. Today, these endangered animals can still be found swinging through the treetops around our rainforest ziplining course, which is just as pristine and beautiful as the day we opened back in 2007.
So it’s just about conserving the environment?
You could be forgiven for thinking that so long as they’re offering to change the bed sheets every other day and feed kitchen scraps to the neighbour’s chickens, you’ve found an ecotourism provider. But you’d be wrong. Ecotourism goes beyond the physical landscape and actively promotes activities that offer support to the local community with the end result being a synergy effect. Often community members are involved in the consultation process and setting up of ecotourism businesses, and they work closely with founders to deliver programmes that support local populations long after opening night. At Flight of the Gibbon, we do just that.
We work closely with Mae Kampong ecotourism village to provide the locals a consistent source of income, which enables them to preserve their traditional way of life while sharing their experience with travelers. The result is an authentic Thai experience that benefits both locals and travelers.
How do I know I’m supporting an ecotourism provider?
The best way to ensure you’ve chosen an ecotourism provider is to do your homework and ask questions. Find out what their policies are; most hotels for instance will have a card stating they’ll wash towels only if you ask them to. But are they just paying lip service to ecotourism principles? Ask whether a tourism provider works with their community, supports nearby conservation projects or funds local education programmes. In other words, try to find out whether ecotourism principles underpin what they do.
As for Flight of the Gibbon, we regularly spearhead conservation work in the region. Several times a year, we host tree planting events where we reforest woodlands around Chiang Mai, planting 15 to 30 thousand saplings. What’s more, a significant portion of our profits go to ecotourism conservation, local charities and ecotourism education. To keep up with all our ecotourism efforts, we employ a full time conservation director to ensure we’re having a positive impact on the environment and Thailand’s beautiful, yet fragile landscape.
What can I do to support businesses with clear ecotourism goals?
You’ll need to do your research before you travel and choose carefully which operators you give your money. Often you’ll find information about their policies on their website or blog, but if not, ask. Chat to them via social media or talk to them before signing up for tours. And above all, when you find a good one, promote them!
As you can probably tell, Flight of the Gibbon deeply cares about the environment we are so lucky to work in every day. Our pristine location is part of what makes our ziplining experience so special, and we are grateful to share it with our guests. And the best part?
When you book a ziplining tour with us, you’re helping us continue our conservation efforts to preserve Thailand’s gorgeous natural environment. So if you’re looking for a ziplining operator that supports ecotourism, Chiang Mai’s Flight of the Gibbon has its heart in the right place.
Of course, we encourage you to ask questions about our environmental practices, plans and accomplishments. To learn more about our ecotourism efforts, get in touch at email or call us at +66 53 010 660.