Sustainable tourism or ecotourism is the fastest-growing tourism sector in the world and is based on the preservation of natural spaces and the sustainable development of communities. The benefits are many, but are we willing to pay more to contribute?
“Catalonia is a benchmark in ecotourism.” The words of Héctor Ceballos-Lascurain, father of ecotourism, describe the complex but optimistic scenario that this sector is experiencing in Catalonia. If done correctly, the benefits it can bring are multiple and cross-cutting, starting with breaking with seasonality and decentralising tourism.
Commit to sustainability in every action
The first thing to be clear about is that any decision is likely to be sustainable, from choosing a zero-mile restaurant, prioritising a local beer, going shopping at the summer village market instead of large multinationals, buying swimwear at local businesses, or even choosing children’s camps, with proposals such as the Ecocolònies of Fundació Pere Tarrés.
If we shell out the activities we carry out during holiday periods, we find that they all have a sustainable alternative. Doing so, even with small actions, can have a big impact.
Are we willing to pay more for sustainable proposals?
Gerard Bofill, owner of Can Buch ECOTurisme, is clear: “Undoubtedly. Obviously in a proportionate way, but people want authentic and natural experiences.” The figures support his words, and as early as 2017, the international year of tourism, a FITUR study pointed out that 83% of tourists were willing to pay more for a sustainable hotel, especially younger tourists.
A trend that is part of a widespread change in consumption. In Spain, the annual per capita expenditure on organic products is €46.6, 10% more than the previous year. The trend is clear, but it is still far from countries such as Denmark or Switzerland, where this figure amounts to €312.
On a global level, the growth of this type of tourism has led to the creation of the Global Ecotourism Network, with the aim of promoting sustainable tourism that unites communities. In the coming years, ecotourism will grow from $181 billion in 2019 to almost $334 billion in 2027, according to a forecast by Allied Market Research.
The pandemic promotes ecotourism in Catalonia
In recent months, ecotourism has increased in Catalonia due to the pandemic and mobility restrictions. By the time they were able to open, many accommodations like Can Buch noticed “a lot more demand and concern to travel within our territory, to return to rural environments.”
And if the concern to know our environment increases, so does the interest in preserving it. It has happened in the Natural Park of the Delta de l’Ebre, a protected area since 1983, where it has been possible to create tourist proposals of all kinds with a common goal: to preserve the territory and its biodiversity and to bet on environmental awareness.
The proposals in Catalonia are many, and another example are greenways, the itineraries for cyclists and hikers along ancient railway tracks. An example that sustainability and economy are not at odds.
The positive footprint of ecotourism
The impact of tourism on economies is so strong that it is included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, set out in the 2030 Agenda. Business development, sustainable energy system, giving value to activities such as agriculture, or promoting diversity between territories. If it is developed consciously, it can contribute to the sustainable development of many sectors.
For Bofill, betting on these experiences can serve to “generate ideological currents that make people gradually become aware that things can always be done with a different vision.” New forms of tourism will undoubtedly lead to new results.
Betting on ecotourism, therefore, can in some cases mean paying more for accommodation, food, or clothing, but it is an expense that reverts to society in one way or another. And you, are you willing to pay to contribute?