academic environmental studies   macalester college
Environmental Studies

Effects of Ecotourism on Citizens and the Environment

Ecotourism Overview
Effects of Ecotourism

Earth Watch

References & Links

Comments & questions to:

Effects of Ecotoursim on Citizens and the Environment


    In 2020 global tourism is forecasted to reach 1.56 billion international arrivals[1]. Therefore ecotourism businesses and other “green vacation” institutions such as Earthwatch should be seriously evaluated as soon as possible because of the exponential growth of the tourist industry in the near future.  Earthwatch and ecotourism businesses are better than regular, consumer driven, wasteful, and environmentally inconsiderate forms of tourism that are currently most popular.  Making this a slightly more economical argument, Earthwatch and ecotourism businesses are important to investigate because tourism will be the largest business sector in the world economy[2].  It supports over 230 million jobs over 10 percent of the gross domestic product worldwide[3].  According to Anthropology professor Sonia Patten at Macalester College who teaches Anthropology and Tourism, “Tourism is the second largest industry in the world, second only to war.”  For the world’s 40 poorest countries, tourism is the second most important source of foreign exchange, only after oil[4].  If tourism becomes the enormous global industry as forecasted, then it is better to have environmentally conscience forms of tourism than to have no environmental conscience form.  With this in mind, ecotourism could be beneficial if global tourism is inevitable. 

    There are many institutions that flirt with the idea of ecotourism and eco-scientific volunteer vacations and others that offer more substantial ways to get involved in environmental conservation and preservation efforts.  Earthwatch, which specifically states that it is, “not tours, not ecotourism, not adventure travel[5]on their website, is after a substantial amount of research not entirely different from ecotourism despite their desire to distance themselves entirely from this industry.  However it must be noted that Earthwatch does differ from ecotourism in one very important aspect: Earthwatch directly involves citizens in the collection of scientific data rather than mere observational experiences given to travelers on ecotourism trips.  Evaluating the benefits and detrimental effects that ecotourism and Earthwatch may have upon tourists going on these trips and the environment determines whether or not a specific ecotourist’s vacation’s benefits outweighs it’s negative effect on the environment.

[1] World Tourism Organization

[2]Belli, Brita

[3] World Travel and Tourism Council

[4] Fact Sheet: Global Tourism by the International Ecotourism Society

[5] Earthwatch Frequently Asked Questions

Ice Cave

Figure 1: View through an ice cave in Alaska. Charles Winters, SUNY-Oneanta on Earthwatch expeditions

Ecotourism Definition and Principles

“Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people[1]”. 

  The following are the five key reasons that ecotourism initiatives are supported by[2]:

1.      they provide a source of financing for parks and conservation;

2.      economic justification for park protection;

3.      economic alternative for local people to reduce exploitation of conservation areas and resources;

4.      constituency building which promotes conservation; and

5.      a movement for private conservation efforts;

[1] International Ecotourism Society

[2] Brandon, Katrina

[3] The International Ecotourism Society

Turtle Traps set up in salt marshes off Barnegat Bay in New Jersey  Hal Avery

Figure 2: Turtle traps set in salt marshes off Barnegat Bay in New Jersey on Earthwatch expedition. Photo Hal Avery. 

Last updated:  2/2/2006


Macalester College 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105  USA  651-696-6000
Comments and questions to