What Is Conservation Travel?

Emily Daw

Conservation travel seeks to improve or conserve the destination's local ecosystems, culture and economy. Environmental aspects of conservation travel include traveling in ways that are minimally invasive and that provide economic support for conservation efforts. Some may also involve environment-related volunteer work. Cultural conservation travel seeks to be involved with and support local communities rather than foreign-run tourist companies.

Woman waving
Woman waving

Many companies advertise environmentally friendly travel in order to attract conscientious customers, but responsible travelers should be wary of "green-washing" — promoting products and services as environmentally friendly that really are not. A truly environmentally conscious touring company should minimize the group's effect on the local ecosystems by hiring guides who are trained in low-impact tourism and traveling in small groups. It should also put customers in hotels that conserve natural resources by recycling and using low-energy lighting and climate control.

Occupying a middle ground between volunteer work and vacation is a type of conservation travel that sends participants to wildlife reservations or other sensitive areas. The participants may collect data about the ecosystem, such as animal populations and habits, while also experiencing local cultures and customs. These volunteer tourist programs are often open to non-specialists, but those with background knowledge about zoology are especially needed.

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Even travelers who do not go through conservation travel companies can minimize their impact on the environment through responsible behaviors. They can reduce the waste they leave behind by using refillable water bottles and choosing products that contain minimal packaging. When traveling in rural areas or on nature reservations, travelers should be sure to stay on designated trails and to carry out all trash, including personal sanitation items, such as toilet paper.

Travel that focuses on cultural conservation is often compatible with environmental conservation. A major emphasis in this type of tourism is making sure that money spent stays within local communities rather than going to foreign or national companies. Spending money on locally produced goods and staying in locally owned hotels improves the community's economy and helps reduce exploitation of workers. Sometimes cultural conservation travel also includes tours of "authentic" cultural homes and villages, but the presence of tourists often inherently reduces the authenticity of these tours. Making friends with local people is often a better and more sustainable way of getting a feel for local culture than taking tours.

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