History of ecotourism

Ecotourism has a history that is continuing to grow as more travelers look to travel with an eye on environmental conservation and more countries sustainably incorporate these travelers in their local economies and environments. Although ecotourism has a relatively short history, much has occurred since the term first made its appearance in the dictionary less than 40 years ago.

As long as people have stood on two feet, they have been traveling. Since the dawn of time, people have traveled for reasons relating to war, religion, trade, education, relaxation, leisure, entertainment and more. In the classical world, it was mainly the privileged elite that had the means to travel for amusement or entertainment. Indeed, the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all established infrastructure such as roads, seaside resorts, and maps to facilitate travel throughout the ancient world.

With the onset of the industrial revolution, however, traveling or touring became available to the masses. Railroads, improved roads, cars, domestic air travel, and other modes of transportation all made traveling accessible to large amounts of people, and with it the motivations for travel also began to change. As tourism became a formalized industry, people could choose from an assortment of travel options. You could take a day trip to the beach a few miles up the road; you could get in a bus to travel across state lines to take in a ball game or see a relative that had since moved away; or you could jump in an airplane to go on safari in the African jungle.

All these possibilities had not always been available to people living in the world of yesteryear. As people began to take advantage of these exciting and unique opportunities associated with the industrial revolution, the not-so-hidden cost of such opportunities began to become known. Air pollution, deforestation, mass extinction of species, global warming, and sea-level rise have all more-or-less been popularly attributed to the many after-effects of the industrial revolution.

Ecotourism was first conceptualized in the early 1980s as a type of travel for people who wanted to learn about different and exotic environments without causing the environmental harm or damage associated with other forms of tourism. It became an official term in 1982 when it was recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary, and read thusly:

ecotourism, n. ... Tourism to areas of ecological interest (typically exotic and often threatened natural environments), esp. to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife; spec. access to an endangered environment controlled so as to have the least possible adverse effect.”

Ecotourism gained momentum in the 1990s with environmental conservation and recognizing the planet an exhaustible resource becoming a mainstream consideration. Today, ecotourism continues to grow as more people travel with environmental consciousness. In 2002, the United Nations declared it the year of ecotourism, and in 2003 the Center for Responsible Travel is formed. Since that time, ecotourism has become a $263 billion industry, with a 65% growth rate from 2009 to 2013.

IOI’s passion is to empower isolated communities to grow in a sustainable way through educational travel. Therefor, they take the concept of Ecotourism one step further. Creating stewardship for the environment, they engage with their host communities through educational and social development projects.

Going on an educational adventure with IOI will guarantee you an unforgettable, immersive experience through homestay accommodations and service learning projects and civic engagement. Throughout, the academic component supplements the experience with background in culture, environmental and social aspects of the local community.

By Kevin Bulger, Intern and Guest Blogger