German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Ecotourism, nature tourism

Ecological tourism is a further development of the concept of environmentally compatible or environmentally friendly tourism. Since in German language use, environmental compatibility tends to have an anthropocentric focus and be restricted to the human environment, even though in a wider perspective intact natural systems and an environment suitable for wild plants and animals are equally essential, the focus has been broadened within ecotourism to encompass ecosystem interaction as well. The aim, especially from a scientific and NGO perspective, is to achieve &quotecologically responsible tourism&quot.
In English, the term "ecotourism" first came into use towards the end of the 1980s. "Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well being of local people" (The Ecotourism Society 1991). In Spanish, by contrast, the term "ecoturismo" may simply mean an excursion into the countryside.

Chumbe Island nature reserve (© Michael Pütsch)
The picture shows Chumbe Island nature reserve.

The WTO (2000) emphasizes the experience of nature: "Ecotourism is practised in relatively undisturbed natural areas, for the main purpose of admiring and learning more about them".

"Ecotourism is sustainable tourism in sensitive areas; it contributes to financing nature conservation" (Gesellschaft für technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), the German technical development cooperation agency, 2001). In development cooperation, ecotourism is regarded as a tool to promote regional development and support the management of conservation areas. Many conservation areas would not have been established without the prospect of wealth creation through tourism, or would be unable to survive without tourism revenue.

Ideally, if this term is to be used at all, "ecotourism" should denote a form of tourism in semi-natural areas which offers an ecologically compatible experience of nature, promotes an understanding of nature, contributes to the conservation of nature and culture and is also economically viable and beneficial to the local population.

Market observers criticize the term as an empty phrase which misleads the public, as ecotourism is often used indiscriminately to market any type of travel which takes visitors into natural areas.

In order to guard against misunderstanding and misuse of the term, the term "nature tourism" has been introduced in tourism theory. "Nature tourism" offers nature - or at least a natural setting - as a backdrop for a wide range of tourist and especially sporting activities, e.g. diving, climbing, aero sports, survival, expedition and adventure tourism. It does not necessarily imply any nature conservation or protection goal which is why there is some justification for the criticism voiced about this form of tourism that it is merely a way of marketing the natural environment.

Within the various market segments in this broad spectrum of nature tourism, "ecotourism" is the one which promotes practical implementation of the ecological model.

Last Change: 22/01/2020