Sustainable tourism is about respecting and supporting the local environments and natural spaces of the places we travel to. So that means we should go on nature tours, correct? The answer is, not always. If we are considering a nature holiday in which we get closer to wildlife and wild lands, we have to be careful of what activities are taking place, and whether or not animals are being exploited for human enjoyment.
So what are the concerns with some nature tours? Let’s first look at the natural spaces we may travel to. Unspoiled destinations may not stay that way for long. Accommodations needs to be built, restaurants opens, traffic increases, and water supplies are used. All of these have an effect on local ecosystems and wildlife.
Sometimes we want to visit the most pristine and wild areas in the world. Places like the Galapagos Islands and Everest come to mind. But the very nature of increased tourism can turn these pristine places into literal human waste lands. On Mount Everest, significant efforts have been made to remove empty oxygen tanks left on the mountain, but litter is still considered a serious problem on the mountain. On the Galapagos, invasive species have outgrown native plants. According the Charles Darwin Foundation, there are 748 introduced plant species, compared to the 500 native plants on the island.
For animals, sometimes our very presence in their backyard can have adverse effects on them; often times so subtle that we may not even know it. For example, when an animal senses your presence, their heart rate may increase, which may cause stress to the animal. And recently, it has become a tourist attraction in some parts of the world to ride on elephants or take pictures with tigers. These animals are often exploited, and sometimes even abused, such as being fed drugs so that they do not attack humans. Furthermore, these kinds of activities are both unsafe for both the animal as well as the tourist.
But of course we are not recommending that you stay away from nature tours. Sustainable and responsible tourism is meant to inspire, and one of the ways this is accomplished is by being in nature and close to wild animals. But research must be done. Does the travel company you plan on going with have an animal welfare policy? Are they doing their part to protect the environment? Are they actively participating in any conservation projects? These are questions you may want to ask. For more on how we at FairAway Travel look at potential partners, please check out our tourism policy page as well!