Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more


Defining ecotourism.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0 Images © Getty Images

There are many definitions of ecotourism, the basics of which are that it should protect the natural environment:

[Ecotourism is] tourism that has minimal impact on fragile natural environments and which focuses on providing nature-based experiences.
(ACS Distance Education, 2019)
There are, however, wider definitions of the term that include the involvement of all stakeholders, the retention of revenue in the region, the involvement of other industries in the area, and the cultivation of proper human relationships between destination communities and tourists through mutual respects of each other’s needs. In these definitions, carrying capacity has a role to play but is not the whole story.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines ecotourism as referring to:
…forms of tourism which have the following characteristics:
  • All nature-based forms of tourism in which the main motivation of the tourists is the observation and appreciation of nature as well as the traditional cultures prevailing in natural areas.
  • It contains educational and interpretation features.
  • It is generally, but not exclusively, organised by specialised tour operators for small groups. Service provider partners at the destinations tend to be small, locally-owned businesses.
  • It minimises negative impacts upon the natural and socio-cultural environment.
  • It supports the maintenance of natural areas which are used as ecotourism attractions by:
    • Generating economic benefits for host communities, organisations and authorities managing natural areas with conservation purposes
    • Providing alternative employment and income opportunities for local communities
    • Increasing awareness towards the conservation of natural and cultural assets, both among locals and tourists
(UNWTO, 2002)
Under this definition, rural tourism, which we will explore in the next step, can be considered a sub type of ecotourism.

Your task

Find an example where ecotourism really works. How have those concerned created a thriving destination area and met the demands of tourists?

Further information

What is ecotourism? (The history & principles of responsible travel)

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.


ACS Distance Education. (2019). Natural attractions.

UNWTO. (2002). Ecotourism and protected areas.

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0 Images © Getty Images
This article is from the free online

The Impacts of Tourism

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education