According to the International Ecotourism Society, Ecotourism can be defined as, "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people." Most ecotourism experiences are aimed at helping people to foster an appreciation of the environment, the conservation of wildlife, plants and resources, and respect and understanding of native peoples.
The field is socially important because it provides a way for people to travel responsibly, and to learn about and respect the environment of these natural places. Ideally, Ecotourism professionals organize and execute an experience for travelers that demonstrates local environmental sustainability and cultural sensitivity. Besides being tour guides, Ecotourism professionals also travel to other countries and help the local people in ecologically-sensitive areas to set up their own ecotourism programs. Programs which are well-run can help to conserve natural resources, and can be an incentive for local people to preserve their resources, rather than exploit them.
The Academic Requirements
Ecotourism students study the basic aspects of tourism, such as the cultural, social and economic importance of travel, hospitality, ethics, and business. Then, students will look specifically at ecotourism, including sustainable development, environmental issues, outdoor and nature-based education, and ecological business. Students learn about natural resources, environmental history, conservation and community growth and development, as well as the practical aspects of ecotourism, such as planning trips, wilderness training and safety, and financial and business management.
Sometimes linked with recreation management programs, Ecotourism students can also expect that travel and on-site training will be a part of many programs. This could be in exotic locations or in local, state and national parks, forests and wilderness areas.
Here are some courses that we've seen:
- Group Dynamics for Ecotourism
- Green Event Planning
- Risk Management and Legal Liability
- Natural Resource Assessment and Planning
- Intercultural Communications
- Wilderness & Remote First Aid
- Environmental Education
- Outdoor Skills and Low-Impact Techniques
- Tourism Marketing
- Natural Resource Policy and Administration
- Forests, Conservation and People
- Cultural Anthropology
- International Forestry
Ecotourism graduates usually work for either a private company that runs tours, or a government-run or public institution, such as a national park or outdoor education center. Those with experience in the field can manage or even run their own ecotourism business, which can be very rewarding. There are also opportunities to work abroad in exotic locations. Working in the ecotourism industry can be very exciting, and it is rewarding to know that you are educating people about the environment by immersing them in nature. Of course, the job can also be dangerous, and the hours can be demanding. For example, if you are working on a three-week hike through the jungle, you have to be constantly vigilant of danger for your hikers.
Job seekers should be aware that much of the work in ecotourism is seasonal. People with degrees have a better chance of landing a more secure job or being able to use their skills in different jobs during the off-season, so it really is a good idea to get a four-year degree if you want to make a living doing ecotourism. It is very helpful, and sometimes essential, to be fluent in a foreign language.
Here are some job titles that we've seen, including some of the organizations that offer them, all of which included a requirement for experience in Ecotourism:
- Wilderness Leader (Adventures Cross-Country)
- Adventure Education Instructors (Outdoors Wisconsin Leadership School)
- Traveling Trainer (Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics)
- Ecotourism and Community Based Tourism Adviser (VSO)
- Environmental Education Instructor/Naturalist (Blue Ridge Outdoor Education Center)
- Community Environmental Educators (SPW International)
- Tour Leader (G.A.P. Adventures)
- Junior Travel Counselor (G.A.P. Adventures)
- Groups Coordinator (G.A.P. Adventures)
- Australian Marine Sciences Association, "Ecotourism"
- Big Volcano Ecotourism Resource Centre
- Conservation International
- Ecotourism Australia
- Environmental Careers
- G.A.P. Adventures (Special thanks to Glenn Tosten for extra input!)
- Griffith University, Program in Ecotourism
- Hocking College, Ecotourism Program
- International Ecotourism Society
- International Ecotourism Society, Current News
- North Carolina State University, Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management
- Nova Scotia Community College, Truro Campus, Ecotourism Program
- Outdoor Network, Job Listings
- Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology, Certificate in Ecotourism
- Texas A&M University, Department of Recreation, Park & Tourism Services
- The Green Directory, Job Listings
- United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), "About Ecotourism"
- University of Florida, School of Forest Resources & Conservation, Ecotourism Concentration