South America: The ecotourist's checklist

For clients who are serious about their ecotourism commitments travel agents will want to make certain that their expectations are met by tour companies sincerely involved in the ecotourism movement.

This means asking some hard questions about how a tour company tries to limit its impact on the local ecological infrastructure and how it contributes to conservation efforts of the host country.

A quick checklist follows, taken in part from a fact sheet, "How to Choose an Ecotour Operator," developed by The Ecotourism Society. This nonprofit organization has a useful Web Site at where agents will also find a list of U.S. tour-operator members of the society.

  • Does the company use knowledgeable group leaders, including local guides, naturalists and cultural historians?
  • Does the company provide predeparture information instructing its travelers on pertinent facts regarding the natural and human ecology of the destination, such as how to approach wildlife or local customs of indigenous people?
  • Does the company limit the group size to curtail environmental impact?
  • What is the limit of tour guide to traveler? (No more than 20 to 1 is considered the maximum acceptable ratio.)
  • Does the group use accommodations that are environmentally correct, recycling waste for example?
  • Does the local tour operator follow procedures that respect the environment? For instance, does the company use low-impact transportation whenever practical: Canoes over powerboats; walking tours rather than Land Rovers?
  • Does the tour operator donate money or equipment to help the local environment? Are travelers encouraged to contribute? To what conservation organizations does it belong?
  • Are brochures printed on recycled paper? If not, this may be the first sign that a company is less than serious in its commitment to ecotourism. n
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