Ecotourism originated in the 1970s and 80s in the midst of the environmental movement. Growing environmental concern mixed with discontent around mass tourism led to an increase in demand for nature-based experiences.
Ecotourism can be defined as ‘tourism that focuses on conserving nature and educating visitors on the local environments and natural surroundings’. It is one of the overlapping components of sustainable tourism, the other being Ethical tourism (Responsible tourism).
With an ever-growing interest in environmentally conscious travel and activities, many places are offering more eco-friendly destination packages to attract visitors whilst preserving their nature. We’ll explore and highlight a few eco-tourism activities across four different European countries.
Ireland is one of the greenest destinations in Europe. The Greenbox, an ecotourism project that ran from 2006-2009 was able to establish and promote the northwest of Ireland as an eco-tourism destination highlighting the area’s offer in terms of clean natural resources. Sustainable Travel Ireland grew out of this project and, in turn, continues to promote and train Irish businesses around responsible and sustainable tourism.
Ireland has a plentitude of remarkable landscapes that can be found all throughout the country. The Cliffs of Moher are extremely popular with visitors who come to see the vast beauty of the cliffs over the Atlantic Ocean. Further south, hikers enjoy the Ring of Kerry, which is a 179-km-long circular route that takes travellers around the Iveragh Peninsula, the lakes of Killarney and other unique places.
Crete has gained legendary status for its healthy lifestyle due to a diet made up of homegrown seasonal produce rich in vegetables and fruits. Enagron village in Crete, known as an ecotourism village, incorporates all traditional aspects of Cretan life for visitors to experience and learn from. Some of its activities include hiking excursions around the village to learn about the history of the area, traditional cooking lessons on the Cretan diet and botanical walks.
Crete’s thriving agriculture and livestock rearing helps the island to not be completely dependent on tourism, allowing ecotourism projects like that of Enagron village and other similar initiatives around the island to flourish.
We don’t impact on nature, but nature impacts on usRomsdal Aktiv
Norway is a leader of ecotourism initiatives. Political leaders have encouraged their citizens to respect and preserve nature. One of Norway’s greatest, well known and popular attractions is the Geiranger Fjord.
Tourists can choose a cycling tour around the fjord, go hiking or admire its beauty from a boat. Romsdal Aktiv, situated in Åndalsnes, is one of the first ecotourism companies in Norway providing nature-based and responsible activities since 1982. They continue to offer various local rivers and fjord-based activities as well as cave visits.
Romania’s Ecotourism Association (AER) aims to improve Romania’s ecotourism services that contribute to the conservation of nature and sustainable development. Eco-Romania provides an abundance of eco destinations across Romania with activities such as cycling tours, river rafting, horseback riding, and trekking around the mountainous area of Ţara Dornelor.
The Transylvanian Highlands provide rich biodiversity, historic fortified churches, and a traditional lifestyle that visitors can experience. Eco-Romania shares a unique way of experiencing the various luscious and green destinations Romania has to offer by giving visitors to their website close-up virtual tours of the diverse locations creating a feeling of physically being there without leaving your home.
The benefits of tourism based on eco-friendly activities that minimize the impact on natural environments are far and wide, not only for visitors and the natural surroundings but also for local communities who thrive on their land being unchanged whilst receiving better sustainable economic opportunities.
By Marijke Everts, Europeana Foundation
This blog is part of Europeana’s Discovering Europe season featuring cultural jewels and hidden gems from across the continent.