Have you ever vacationed on an idyllic Caribbean island and discovered that behind its beautiful beaches was a local population suffering from hunger, poverty, and disease?
Or have you labored for a week of building churches and running VBS in a developing country, only to debrief from that experience at a fancy resort miles and situational light years away from the struggling community you came to serve?
Visiting another context, whether as a tourist or a volunteer, can alert us to alarming juxtapositions of beauty and poverty, adventure and suffering. We think that tourism should boost local economies, but often this is far from the truth. So it possible to travel in a way that actually does enhance the lives and landscapes of our destinations?
It is. Creative communities in tourist destinations are fashioning tourism into something more than just an activity that thrills the visitor but in no way benefits the local population–flora, fauna, or homosapien. Instead, these communities are embracing ecotourism, which is, according to The International Ecotourism Society, “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Resorts that employ local residents at a living wage, conservancies that benefit the ecosystems they exhibit, and attractions that affirm and enhance local culture are all part of this effort to restore health, dignity, and sustainability to some of the world’s most breathtaking vacation spots.
But how to find these conscientious sites? Well, another creative community, at Eastern University’s School of Leadership and Development, has developed an Ecotourism Online Directory out of its Ecotourism Project, headed by Rev. Stan LeQuire. The Directory is part of a larger project to encourage mission and relief agencies to incorporate ecotourism into their efforts, but it also serves as a tool for travelers desiring information about legitimate ecotourism initiatives.
The Directory is available online or for download (or just click the image to the right0, and is a clear, descriptive guide to responsible ecotourism ventures in eight different countries (including the U.S.). Each ecotourism spots’ claims of ecological and community responsibility have been thoroughly researched, and the results of that research are helpfully captured in descriptions of not only the destinations’ attractions and amenities, but also their vehicles for creating change among local communities and ecosystems. Complete contact information and beautiful images round out the helpfulness of this guide, which will continue to expand as more sites are researched and cataloged.
So if you’re considering traveling to some of the world’s most awe-inspiring sites, look to this directory first, and see if you can help leave your destination a little better than you found it.