Since its emergence in the late ’90s, ecotourism—also known as sustainable tourism—has seen increasing demand as more and more travelers seek off-the-beaten-track adventures that are at once socially responsible and environmentally friendly.
Unlike the traditional tourism industry, ecotourism is not focused entirely on the bottom line. These businesses strive to educate travelers about the places, environments, and communities visited—with the intent of giving back to the communities visited and leaving the smallest footprint possible.
The following are 7 tips for starting a sustainable travel or ecotourism startup.
7. Select destinations with a good mix of local culture and natural surroundings for your tourist attractions.
Ecotourism destinations should be situated in unique, natural settings surrounded by nature. Be sure to give deference to local inhabitants, as the culture and knowledge of the indigenous people are integral to making the trip outstanding.
6. Your trips should contain an ample yet safe/sensible amount of adventure.
Ecotourism—though a departure from traditional tourism—should nonetheless be an exhilarating experience for your guests. Selected destinations should allow for common ecotourism activities: visiting tropical rainforests, mountain biking, zip-lining, hiking/trekking into natural parks, whale watching, and more.
5. Determine resources/financing required and secure prior to launching your ecotourism venture.
Ecotourism entrepreneurs should gauge their business’ cash and resource requirements prior to launch, with costing efforts based on the operational expenses for launch and at least the first several months of operation. Other one-time costs to consider include land purchases and business incorporation fees as well as ongoing fixed (e.g., utilities and insurance) and variable expenses (e.g., equipment purchasing and personnel for guiding tours)
4. Include the local community in your ecotourism business venture.
Ecotourism businesses should be active members of the local community and—whenever possible—hire from the area’s talent pool. For example, local hires could include local guides, homestay owners or cooks, and more. Additionally, they should give back to the communities visited on a regular basis.
3. Build key 3rd party relationships and coordinate efforts with strategic partners.
Ecotourism businesses are best operated in partnership or collaboration with local entities with deep expertise or community influence. Non-government organizations (NGOs) and public/private enterprises can be instrumental in this regard, providing aid and assistance required to develop ecotourism services or products—often in the form of natural, physical, and human resources
2. Lay out a comprehensive marketing plan for your ecotourism business.
Clearly-defined marketing strategies are essential to the success of your ecotourism business. The marketing plan helps to identify target markets, ecotourism demands (e.g., desired activities and locations), and customer needs (e.g., family-friendliness, cost, accessibility), among others. Check out these marketing and promotion guidelines from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).
1. Enforce the conservation of natural habitats and local cultures.
A successful ecotourism venture minimizes or eliminates the negative aspects of conventional tourism while growing a sustainable business. Energy conservation, water conservation, recycling, and other activities that preserve natural settings without disrupting the local culture are initiatives a responsible ecotourism company should take up.
In short, these 7 tips should be instituted in some form or fashion when launching an ecotourism venture; better yet, they should be encapsulated in your ecotourism startup’s business plan. A business plan that lays out business, marketing, financial, and other foundational considerations is key to building sustainable ecotourism operations.