(CNN) -- Ecotourism represents a set of principles that have been successfully implemented in various global communities, and are supported by extensive industry and academic research. The following definition of ecotourism, established by TIES in 1990, is the most widely used and recognized definition of ecotourism: "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people" (TIES, 1990). Ecotourism is an important and growing segment of the global tourism industry that is making significant positive contributions to the environmental, social, cultural and economic well-being of destinations and local communities around the world. Furthermore, ecotourism has provided an impetus to assist in greening the tourism industry on many fronts.
Ecotourism advocates for the well-being of local people, and requires that it "provides direct financial benefits and empowerment for local people," as stated in the following principles of ecotourism: Principles of Ecotourism (TIES, 1990) - Ecotourism is about connecting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:
Ecotourism, when properly executed based on the above principles, exemplifies the benefits of socially and environmentally sound tourism development described in the article as "community tourism." The terms community-based tourism and community-based ecotourism are commonly used to describe the type of tourism that, recognizing the significant social, environmental and economic impacts tourism can have, primarily focuses on tourism's benefits to local communities. "Community tourism," therefore, strongly aligns with ecotourism, which fosters responsible practices where the local community significantly participates in the development and management of tourism, and empowers local citizens to utilize natural and cultural resources in a sustainable manner. We urge all the readers of this article to learn more about the positive contributions of the global ecotourism community, and to join us in our efforts to stop green-washing (or the irresponsible use of the terms green, eco and sustainable) in travel and tourism through education on principles and benefits of ecotourism, advocating sustainability.
Founded in 1990, TIES is the world's largest and oldest ecotourism organization, serving as a multi-stakeholder network of ecotourism experts, professionals and practitioners in over 90 countries. With the goal of uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel, TIES is dedicated to promoting ecotourism, which is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people" (TIES, 1990).
Through membership services, industry outreach, training and conference programs, TIES helps organizations, communities and individuals promote responsible and sustainable practices in travel and tourism that benefit the environment, communities, destinations and visitors. A non-profit and non-governmental educational organization, TIES is a leading source of unbiased knowledge and advocacy in ecotourism.
TIES' mission is to promote the principles of ecotourism by:
Creating an international network of individuals, institutions and the tourism industry;
Educating tourists and tourism professionals; and
Influencing the tourism industry, public institutions and donors to integrate the principles of ecotourism into their operations and policies.
As part of our efforts to educate consumers about responsible travel choices, TIES, along with several other global institutions and organizations such as the United Nations Environmental Programme, United Nations Foundation, Rainforest Alliance and the United Nations World Tourism Organization, has been working on developing a global process evaluating the effectiveness of certification mechanisms that clearly set apart sustainable from non-sustainable forms of tourism. (See: www.sustainabletourismcriteria.org for more information.). Special workshops on this subject will take place at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference 2008 (ESTC 2008), held from October 27-29, 2008, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (www.ecotourismconference.org).
In partnership with Rainforest Alliance, TIES has also developed an advocacy campaign entitled "Your Travel Choice Makes a Difference," which is designed to help and empower consumers with helpful information that guides them towards responsible travel choices with detailed recommendations on how to make alternative travel choices, and to avoid leaving negative marks on cultures, economies, and the environment. More information on the "Your Travel Choice Makes a Difference" campaign is available here.
Using TIES' definition and principles of ecotourism as guidelines, we continue to serve as an unbiased source of information and resources on ecotourism and responsible travel, and seek to promote a well-researched message about what ecotourism stands for. For further information on TIES and our initiatives, please see our Web site.