In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ecotourism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Facts and Figures
  • Historical Background
  • Policy and Planning
  • Parks and Protected Areas
  • Economic Impacts and Issues
  • Education and Interpretation
  • Certifications and Standards
  • Controversies and Critiques
  • Case Studies
  • Related Fields
  • Future Directions for the Field

Ecology Ecotourism
Nicole M. Ardoin, Alison W. Bowers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0074


Although most agree that the term ecotourism was coined in the early 1980s, many researchers also suggest earlier roots for this field. Some researchers and practitioners indicate that the field’s roots exist in tourism from the 1960s and 1970s, as people searched for alternatives to mass tourism and expressed concerns over increasing development of natural areas. Other discussions provide examples of nature-based tourism from as early as the 18th and 19th centuries, with adventurous travelers seeking out safari-type experiences, visiting relatively uninhabited forests and mountains, and climbing daunting mountain peaks, while others sought peace and solitude in what were then wilderness areas far from rapidly industrializing urban centers. Since that time, considerable debate has stirred concerning the definitions, structure, and outcomes of ecotourism and nature-based tourism, as well as how these forms of tourism reliant on “natural” places and experiences of wild spaces and species relate to mass tourism, adventure tourism, educational tourism, and sustainable tourism, among other closely related genres and terms. Some practitioners and researchers, for example, see nature-based tourism as synonymous with ecotourism, whereas others imagine sharp distinctions between the two. Most definitions include, at a minimum, two aspects: environmental conservation and improvement of social as well as economic conditions in the local community. On the basis of the definition used, other key features may include education, sustainability, culture, adventure, venue, and scale. The ecotourism literature includes case studies from around the world and is tremendously interdisciplinary, including research from anthropology, sociology, geography, psychology, economics, education, ecology, and environmental management, among others. The literature includes a strong academic element as well as many resources developed for ecotourism practitioners. Although the majority of the citations in this article are academic, applied works are included when appropriate. This article focuses primarily on modern ecotourism, although a section on the historical background of the field is included. Listed works address ecotourism in diverse geographic locations and a range of venues representing different ecosystems and types of ownership (i.e., public as well as private lands). Special attention is given to current controversies and issues, such as those related to claims of efficacy, the relationship of ecotourism and indigenous populations, and the impact of ecotourism on biodiversity and sensitive ecosystems; these issues represent ongoing debates that plague both research and practice. In most cases, references are included only if they explicitly use the designation of “ecotourism” as opposed to works more generally focused on tourism and the environment, sustainable tourism, or even nature-based tourism. The limited instances where ecotourism is not explicitly named are noted in the citations.

General Overviews

Ecotourism is frequently addressed in books and articles that focus on tourism and nature more generally. Holden and Fennell 2013, for example, provides a comprehensive and international consideration of the relationship between tourism and the environment. One of the editors, David Fennell, has written extensively on ecotourism and is the author of a textbook on ecotourism (see Fennell 2008, cited under Textbooks). Weaver 2001 is also edited by another prolific writer of ecotourism literature (see Weaver 2008, cited under Textbooks; Weaver and Lawton 2007 and Weaver 2011, cited under Future Directions for the Field); the selection cited here examines ecotourism from multiple perspectives and provides a solid introduction to the field. For an engaging overview of ecotourism, see Honey 2008, in which the author does not shy away from critically reviewing ecotourism in selected locations. Both Higham 2007 and Seba 2012 are collections of papers and chapters that cover a wide range of ecotourism topics. Higham 2007, in particular, highlights current controversies and debates in the field. Similarly, Stronza and Durham 2008 provides an edited compendium of ecotourism issues, with a focus on the United States and Latin America. Many ecotourism references cite the definition of ecotourism as presented by the International Ecotourism Society, known as TIES, and this definition can be found on their website. From the cited home page, a visitor can also link to numerous web pages describing TIES programs, ecotourism news, and much more on ecotourism issues and trends. The Developing Ecotourism web page from Conservation International is representative of the ecotourism work conducted by major nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

  • Developing Ecotourism.

    This section of the Conservation International (CI) website gives information on the ecotourism programs, projects, and partnerships in which CI is involved. Research tab on the web page links to publications for tourism professionals.

  • Higham, James E. S., ed. 2007. Critical issues in ecotourism: Understanding a complex tourism phenomenon. Amsterdam: Butterworth-Heinemann.

    The range of issues covered in this book—including an overview of critiques and challenges—makes this an intriguing introduction to the field of ecotourism. High-quality writing and in-depth research make this a must-read.

  • Holden, Andrew, and David Fennell, eds. 2013. The Routledge handbook of tourism and the environment. Routledge Handbooks. New York: Routledge.

    This six-hundred-plus-page book, edited by researchers with extensive background in ecotourism, covers the intersection of tourism and the environment more broadly. Includes a chapter specifically on ecotourism that touches on fundamental aspects such as conservation, local benefits, and education.

  • Honey, Martha. 2008. Ecotourism and sustainable development: Who owns paradise? 2d ed. Washington, DC: Island.

    First section of this well-researched, engaging text provides an introduction to ecotourism; second section consists of case studies from seven countries. Each case study includes an “ecotourism scorecard” that evaluates ecotourism in that country. Originally published in 1999; second edition includes a chapter on ecotourism in the United States.

  • International Ecotourism Society.

    Website for TIES, the world’s largest membership organization representing tourism professionals and travelers from over 120 countries. Site includes the TIES definition of ecotourism and additional information on ecotourism in general, as well as specific topics such as certification and standards, climate change, indigenous knowledge, ecolodges, and “voluntourism.”

  • Seba, Jaime A., ed. 2012. Ecotourism and sustainable tourism: New perspectives and studies. Toronto: Apple Academic.

    Collection of twenty-five previously published papers, including journal articles and reports that cover an extensive range of topics relating to sustainable tourism and provide examples from across the globe.

  • Stronza, Amanda, and William H. Durham, eds. 2008. Ecotourism and conservation in the Americas. Ecotourism Book 7. Wallingford, UK: CABI.

    DOI: 10.1079/9781845934002.0000

    Volume 7 of the Ecotourism Book series, edited by David B. Weaver. Chapters include both commentary and case studies addressing a range of ecotourism topics, such as community, certification, education, and marine environments. Focus is on the United States and Latin America.

  • Weaver, David B., ed. 2001. The encyclopedia of ecotourism. Wallingford, UK: CABI.

    Over six hundred pages containing forty-one chapters plus section introductions addressing numerous facets of ecotourism, including ecotourism basics, impacts, research, and planning. Also examines ecotourism by continent, biome, and venues (such as public and private protected areas and wilderness). Well-organized index aids in locating information.

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