About Ecotourism

Ecotourism is a technical term that groups a wide range of activities based on
nature and local culture in areas located inside or near protected natural areas.
The main motivation of the tourist is to observe and enjoy nature and local
customs regarding nature.

The defining elements of ecotourism*:

  • The conservation and protection of the natural environment;
  • Local ownership and local initiative;
  • Small-scale bussinesses;
  • The use of local human resources;
  • Contribution to the well-being of the local communities in rural areas in or around natural (protected) areas;
  • Education, respect for nature – raising awareness among tourists and local communities;
  • Minimal negative impact on the natural and socio-cultural environment.

* Adapted from Oliver Hillel, UN Environment Program, 2002

Ecotourism activities:

  • Hiking;
  • Fauna watching (including observation of animal signs and tracks);
  • Flora observation;
  • Bird watching;
  • Cycling;
  • Horse riding;
  • Cultural tours;
  • Water activities;
  • Winter activities (cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding);
  • Photo tours;
  • Gastronomic and oenological tourism.

This is not an exhaustive list, but the main rule is that other activities can be included as long as the negative impact on the natural or cultural environment is minimal. Hunting or motorized off-road activities are excluded from the sphere of ecotourism.

Examples of ecotourism activities can be found in the AER publications available here.

Principles of Ecotourism

Ecotourism and its principles are observed and promoted by the Association of Ecotourism in Romania (AER) and are based on two international models: Nature and Ecotourism Accreditation Program, developed by the Ecotourism Association of Australia and Nature’s Best, the accreditation system promoted by the Swedish Ecotourism Association. In AER’s view, these principles must be observed by those creating ecotourism products, as well as by those planning the development of an area based on ecotourism.

1. Focus on natural areas

Ecotourism crystallizes around the direct and personal experience in the middle of nature, it takes place in nature and is based on its usage, respectively on harvesting its geomorphologic, biologic, physical, and cultural features. Therefore, the stress on the natural area is of the essence when planning, developing and managing ecotourism.

2. Interpretation of the ecotourism product

Ecotourism offers the possibility to experience nature, leading to a better understanding, cherishing, and excitement to discover and protect nature and local traditional customs, for the visitors and the local community alike. The ecotourism products appeal to those tourists who wish to interact with the natural environment and, to various degrees, wish to broaden their knowledge, understanding, consideration, and enjoyment. Those developing or coordinating ecotourism activities must provide an appropriate level of understanding of the natural and cultural values of the visited areas, usually by hiring the services of properly qualified guides and by providing correct information before, as well as during the tourism experience. The level and type of interpretation are planned, designed, and provided in such a manner that meets the customer’s interests, needs, and expectations, by including a wide range of personal, as well as non-personal interpretation alternatives. Also, in what the destination and the ecotourism products are concerned, it is important to grant the members of the local communities’ access to the information and interpretation provided as part of the ecotourism program developed in the area.

3. Environmental sustainability

The ecotourism activities, as well as their planning, must provide the best tourism practices on natural environment conservation and sustainable development activities. The tourism activity will be planned and run so that it has a reduced impact on the natural environment. The ecotourism product takes place to conserve and highlight the natural and cultural environment, by acknowledging and observing sustainable tourism practices.

4. Ecotourism assists in the preservation of nature

Ecotourism positively assists in the preservation of natural areas. Ecotourism entails involvement in the preservation of the visited natural areas, providing constructive alternatives for the proper management and preservation of these natural areas (e.g. offering financial aid for the restoration of natural areas, gathering the waste left behind by tourists, or contributing to nature preservation organizations).

5. Ecotourism as constructive input in the development of local communities

Ecotourism provides a sustainable input in the development of local communities. Often, the local community is an integral part of the ecotourism product. The benefits of ecotourism must largely lie with local communities. The local benefits can come from using local guides, buying local goods and services, and using the local amenities. The ecotourism activities and their planning must ensure a reduction of the negative impact on the respective local community and on their lifestyle and must offer, at the same time, constructive and long-term input in these communities. Otherwise, ecotourism must also highlight the cultural component of the visited area and provide an input in its preservation.

6. Ecotourism raises the tourists’ degree of satisfaction

Ecotourism rises to the tourists’ expectations. One thing to consider when developing ecotourism products is that, usually, the potential tourists in this area are highly educated and have higher expectations. So, the degree of satisfaction regarding the ecotourism product is essential, and the experience provided must fulfil or even exceed the tourists’ expectations.

7. Adequate marketing

Adequate marketing is necessary, which must lead to realistic expectations. Ecotourism marketing provides customers with extensive and adequate information, all adding up to the increase of their consideration for the natural environment and the visited areas, as well as to a higher degree of satisfaction amongst tourists.