Conscious tourism: What is sustainable tourism, ecotourism and responsible travel?

More often than not, when we talk about conscious tourism, sustainability or respect for the environment we tend to use similar terms, although they do not mean the same thing. That is why, it is appropriate to differentiate them in order to understand the meaning of responsible travel.

The differences and similarities between sustainable tourism, ecotourism and responsible travel

Conscious tourism encompasses sustainable tourism, ecotourism and responsible travel. Its purpose is to benefit the local community, while respecting and protecting the environment. Let’s see what each concept consists of and what is the relationship between each one of them.

Ecotourism, respect for the environment

Ecotourism is nothing new, but it has become one of the most popular options in the last few years. This approach to travelling proposes enjoying nature, respecting the environment and encouraging the circular economy. From the sixties, the concern for the negative effects of industrialisation on the environment increased.

  • Natural environment. This tourism focusses on destinations predominated by unspoiled nature and protected areas. The idea is for the tourist to not disturb the natural habitat and wildlife.
  • Minimise the environmental impact. Ecotourism is a responsible tourism model that focusses on sustainable development. It emerges as a response to minimise the impact on the environment and promote the local community. This promotes employment and the sale of local products and services.
  • The leadership of Spain. Supply in Spain is as extensive as it is varied, according to National Geographic, our country has some of the most important destinations in the world, such as Baiona (Galicia); Berguedà (Catalonia) or Noja (Cantabria), inter alia.  

Sustainable tourism, the environmentally friendly model

This tourism model benefits the local community, protects its resources and reduces the negative impact on the environment, the economy, and society. In this case, it’s not just about the natural environment, because it encompasses urban and rural destinations. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) has set the key elements required to reach this new tourism model:

  • Optimize environmental resources. First of all, it mentions caring for the natural environment and the conservation of natural resources.
  • Promote local culture. Respect for the traditional values of the host communities is one of the pillars of sustainable tourism.
  • Distribution of wealth. Another one of the claims is the equitable sharing of socio-economic benefits in order to ensure the survival of activities, promote stable employment and reduce poverty.

​Responsible travel, ethical tourism

Responsible travel implies responsibility and commitment to the environment. Therefore, it takes into account the impact of the tourism activity at present as well as in the future. In addition, it considers actions that encourage investments to promote projects that benefit local communities.

  • Social commitment with the environment. Travelling responsibly involves a commitment with the environment, as well as holding the agents involved accountable in order for the impact to be positive.
  • Ethical and cultural approach. Responsibility is the only way to go forward towards sustainability. In order to achieve this, the Administration, businesses and people must take responsibility for their actions.
  • Responsible decisions. When a traveller makes a decision and takes a sustainable action. For example, choosing a vegan restaurant, respecting fauna and the local ecosystem, riding a bike to move around.

In conclusion, conscious tourism is an emerging trend that responds to the negative impact of mass tourism. It is a way of travelling that involves protecting the cultural and environmental heritage, while balancing economic wealth for the benefit of the local community.