Celebrate cultural values, diversity and heritage

The manner in which we carry out tourism can significantly impact a location. Ecotourism is a new type of tourism that has emerged with the growing demand for a respectful way to travel. As defined by Ecotourism Australia, “ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation. Ecotourism aims to preserve the integrity of the destination”.

While environmental preservation is a vital component of ecotourism, it is important to stress its impact on the traditions of a location. Ecotourists are looking to understand the region and its culture. Court Whelan discusses the search for “authentic”.  They wouldn’t travel to India to experience what we do in Australia, but to experience life in India. This means that the preservation of the culture and diversity that makes up the region is not only preserved, but allowed to flourish.

Culture is a blend “of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving”. It is easy to forget that culture is not only made up of physical representations, but of psychological components as well. The attitudes and values of a culture are just as important, if not more, than the physical. It’s important, as Ecotourists, to understand and remember this fact when traveling.

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Standardization is becoming a common problem among tourism locations due to the rise of tourism and the need for something familiar. These travelers directly contrast with the goals of Ecotourism. They are willing to only go so far outside their comfort zone. This puts pressure on regions to standardize accommodations, food locations, and other areas to make tourists feel comfortable. This is why when you are traveling through Indonesia you could stumble across a McDonald's.

Tourism, when conducted properly, can allow a region to maintain their practices. Standardisation threatens local cultures to alter the way they carry out certain processes. An example used by Court Whelan was carving canoes, “When a village realises that it’s easier to use machetes rather than wooden spikes to carve a canoe, or to buy matches instead of using a bow drill to make fire, the natural progression is to lose touch with the more “primitive” method and replace it with the newer way of doing things.  When ecotourists pay to be a part of and witness a canoe-making ceremony, they are incentivising the preservation of knowledge and therefore helping a culture retain tradition and heritage”.

We strive to follow the UNWTO Code of Ethics while we travel. By traveling in a manner that is conducive to the Code of Ethics, we are traveling as Ecotourists. For example, within the Code of Ethics, Article Four states; “Tourism activity should be planned in such a way as to allow traditional cultural products, crafts and folklore to survive and flourish, rather than causing them to degenerate and become standardised”. While assisting in fostering the growth of an economy, we are celebrating the culture that makes up the region.

By training locals and allowing them to run their own tours, they are allowed to demonstrate their culture in the most authentic way possible. Instead of an outsider making an attempt to understand and decide how to portray these cultures, natives to the region are making these decisions themselves. They are then able to preserve and allow the most important parts of their lives to flourish. In turn, they are able to use the profit made to safeguard their practices and heritage. This level of control creates a mutual beneficial relationship for both the locals and the tourists visiting.

Local artisans can benefit from Ecotourism while assisting in maintaining local diversity and cultural heritage. By creating artwork and items that are representative of their heritage and practices, travellers look to buy these items to have a piece of their trip to take home with them. This is not only bringing in business and growing the local economy, that item is a representation of that locations, further preserving the cultural heritage.