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Telling the ECO Tourism Tale
by Anne Loehr

Just about anywhere you go these days, it's "green" this and "eco-friendly" that. But what exactly is Eco tourism? According to the Centre for Eco Tourism, it was a man named Hector Ceballos-Lascurain who first coined the phrase back in 1983. And he did it in an attempt to describe "nature-based travel, to relatively undisturbed areas, with the emphasis upon education." Fair enough. But to simplify things still further we've come up with a simple 'green' acronym:

E-environment and
C-culture
O-orientated travel

That said, eco tourism is also all about a more insightful, mindful and participatory way of travelling. And, about the experiences to be enjoyed from a more natural and culturally sensitive environment.

Eco tourism is also synonymous with supporting and sustaining both the local culture and its environment for the benefit of future generations. As well as coming up with more immediately viable economic options for the host areas TODAY.

In its original form eco tourism was purely nature-based, the adverse impact of tourism on the local culture having been, temporarily, over looked. However, it quickly became apparent that when trying to create a new tomorrow for tourism, to focus on wildlife and natural environment alone, simply did not work. It was also swiftly illustrated that in those countries where the local communities where actively involved in the eco tourism decision-making process there was that much higher a success rate, especially in terms of profit. As a result, today's eco tourism embraces the synergistic approach.

Now that we understand what eco tourism is all about, let's take a look at some of the questions it raises for the eco sensitive traveller. Questions such as: How do I choose an Eco tour? How can I make sure I book an Eco lodge? And how do I select an Eco destination?

According to The International Eco tourism Society (TIES), when choosing an Eco-tour, you should first of all ensure that your travel company:

  • Builds environmental and cultural awareness through education, activities and pre-departure information.
  • Minimizes impact on the environment and local cultures.
  • Provides direct financial benefits for conservation and the local culture.
  • Supports local businesses and service providers.
  • Offers site-sensitive accommodation.
  • Respects local culture.

As to selecting an eco lodge here are just some of the pointers that have been devised to direct you to a lodge that is genuinely eco-friendly, whilst also being comfortable and pleasurable too.

Ideally the good eco lodge should: Provide comfortable rooms and common areas that reflect local design and heritage.

In Kenya, good examples are: Desert Rose and Sabuk, both of which have been built with this in mind. Lewa Downs is also famed for its exquisite woodwork, while Ol Malo's design work incorporating natural rocks, old wood and local artistry is visually stunning.

Offer a natural setting that has been carefully preserved while retaining much of the indigenous landscape.

In Kenya, Mukumuruji in the Shimba Hills is an excellent example of integrating the natural landscaping into the structure and positioning of the building.

Use local, sustainably harvested and/or recycled building materials.

In Kenya: Shompole, Il Ngwesi and Ol Donyo Was are all good examples of how this can be done to excellent effect.

Purchase foodstuffs from local farmers, ranchers and fishermen. Use renewable energy and environmentally sensitive water and waste disposal systems.

In Kenya: Dream Camp in the Masai Mara is a fine showcase as to how to make optimum use of alternative energy in an eco-lodge.

Offer many opportunities for interaction with local owners, managers, staff and guides.

In Kenya: Forty percent of Rekero in the Masai Mara is owned by members of the Masai and Ndorobo tribe with sixty percent being owned by the Beaton family. Many other eco lodges in the area lease their land from the local tribes and allow them to benefit from their natural assets.

Employ and train local workers.

In Kenya: Loisaba and Eselenkei are star performers.

Offer a variety of excursions and educational materials on local natural and cultural sites. Support and be supported by the local community and businesses.

In Kenya: Campi ya Kanzi offers some illuminating excursions which benefit substantially from their well-informed local guides.

Your ideal Eco Lodge now chosen, how about the destination? The ideal destination should include the following:

Plenty of protected landscapes and recreational areas, such as bike paths or beach areas that are shared by locals and visitors alike.

In Kenya: The Nairobi Safari Walk is a wonderful place to visit; on a Sunday afternoon, you'll see all walks of life there!

Thriving, locally owned, lodges, hotels, restaurants and businesses that provide genuine hospitality and motivated, friendly staff.

Evidence of local control over tourism development that prevents harm to the environment or to local well-being. Local festivals and events that demonstrate people's ongoing sense of pride in their environment and cultural heritage.

In Kenya: The Laikipia area has an excellent association that allows this to happen.

So now you know. And equipped with that knowledge you should be able to ensure that the next time you go on holiday, you go GREEN. But not literally….

For more information on eco tourism, why not visit The International Ecotourism Society's website at www.ecotourism.org or Eco-resorts at www.eco-resorts.com

Eco-resorts markets tailor-made, eco-friendly adventure safaris in Kenya and Tanzania. They include: camel trekking, cultural immersion and wildlife walks and are designed to suit all budgets and preferences. A percentage of all Eco-resorts profit goes in support of East African community and conservation projects, such as local schools, clinics and orphanages.

Contact:
Anne Loehr
Email: anne@eco-resorts.com
Fax US: 1-801-991-7410
Fax Kenya: 254-122-32191
Tel. Kenya: 254-122-32161
Address: PO Box 120, Watamu, Kenya

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