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Current Definitions in Tourism

Problem Diagnosis

Today a wide variety of terms is used to describe the type of responsible –or more common: sustainable- leisure offered. Nevertheless, most often the different terms are used for pure marketing reasons, without properly presenting its actual meaning. The main reason is lack of consensus or consistency in definitions of terminology, which hinder concerted efforts to promote sustainable tourism. There is no universally agreed-upon definition, set of criteria, list of indicators, or single recognized seal or certification system for sustainable tourism.

Of all terms in use, ecotourism is currently the most popular and best known term. However, like other terms with the prefix ‘eco’ (eco-friendly, for example) its use as marketing tool has led to the watering down, or ‘greenwashing’, of the original meaning.

In 1998, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) reported that ecotourism and all nature-related forms of tourism accounted for approximately 20 percent of total international travel. Sustainable tourism is also one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry and is estimated to be growing at anywhere between 7 to 30 percent per year.



Although sustainable tourism, ecotourism, and nature-based tourism differ by definition, they are often used interchangeably. Another term becoming rather popular is the term responsible tourism.


Due to its completeness, Equated EcoLodgic prefers to use the term sustainable tourism of which ecotourism is a sub-set


For the purpose of proper understanding these terms are defined as follows (source: World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) / the World Tourism Organization (WTO)).


Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism in natural areas is a broad vision that fuses the concept of sustainable development with the tourism industry. It attempts to balance a variety of economic, socio-cultural, and ecological concerns at international, national, and local scales.

Sustainable tourism, as defined by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the Earth Council, “meets the needs of present tourist and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life-support systems” (WTTC/WTO and Earth Council 1999).

A review of leading publications since 1995 reveals that there is worldwide agreement, on the components of sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism:

1. Contributes to conservation of biodiversity.

2. Sustains the well-being of local people.

3. Includes an interpretation / learning experience.

4. Involves responsible action on the part of tourists.

5. Is delivered to small groups by small-scale businesses.

6. Requires lowest possible consumption of non-renewable resources.

7. Stresses local ownership and business opportunities for local, i.e rural, people.


The term ecotourism has been widely adopted and used to attract a new and growing number of environmentally and socially conscious consumers and to open new, unexploited destinations. But ecotourism is much more than this, in which its most used definition has been officially adopted in over 30 countries around the world and by many other international institutions to signify a tool for conservation and an instrument for sustainable development.

In the course of time inconsistency in defining ecotourism has evolved, due in part to the many stakeholders involved in ecotourism, all bringing their own perspectives and motivations. Many stakeholders have created their own or adapted a published version to meet their needs or understanding of the term. This has lead to each region and sector developing its own standards.


While many other definitions exist, for the purpose of clarity EqEL supports the vision that ecotourism is a subset of sustainable tourism.

Ecotourism is “…environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features - both past and present), that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations” (IUCN, 1996).

Nature-based Tourism

Nature-based tourism has been defined as representing the full range of tourism activities and products taking place in natural areas, particularly in parks and protected areas, but including all wildlands where nature has been conserved, such as indigenous lands.

Nature-based tourism can be either large-scale or small-scale and is defined by its destination: nature. It is simply tourism taking place in natural areas.

Statistics are beginning to emerge from the tourism industry about this growing business sector, and relevant agencies worldwide are devoting resources to protecting their natural heritage through the study and promotion of alternatives to mass tourism.

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