Eco-Tourism is a growing trend in the United States. It is defined as "Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people" by The International Ecotourism Society (www.ecotourism.org).
Last week at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures I heard an interesting presentation on the topic by the executive director of the Society who said that ecotourism is growing three times faster than the tourist industry as a whole.
In the United States, LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) estimates that ecotourism, including green tourism, eco-volunteering trips, active sports trips and environmentally responsible tourism, is among the fastest growing travel trends, and represents about a $77 billion marketeven though it is still a small percentage of the overall U.S. travel and tourism market.
More than three-quarters of U.S. travelers "feel it is important their visits not damage the environment" according to a 2003 study by the Travel Industry Association of American and National Geographic Traveler. The study estimates that 17 million U.S. travelers consider environmental factors when deciding what companies to patronize and that 55.1 million tourists can be classified as "geo-tourists" interested in nature, culture and heritage tourism.
Several states are promoting ecotourism. Alaska has a Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association and Hawaii has the Hawaii Ecotourism Association.
Closer to home, West Virginia has "Sustainable West Virginia". In 2001 the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the WV Division of Tourism signed a Memorandum of Agreement to promote ecotourism "in order to create a sustainable ecotourism economy for the State of West Virginia, thus improving the quality of life for its citizens."
The state promotes "West Virginia – Wild and Wonderful" and reminds visitors that there are many kinds of outdoor adventures : whitewater thrills or lazy floats; rock-climbing or birding; downhill skiing or cross-country.
Our own beautiful Commonwealth of Virginia offers all types of tourism: Civil War Trails and battlegrounds; homes of Presidents; Jamestown and Williammsburg; scenic roads and country inns; wineries; state parks, national forests and much more.
We, too, have our wild side, with rivers and mountains, birding and wildlife trails, the ocean and the Bay, and the Appalachian Trail. Breaks Interstate Park (recently in the news because that’s where George Allen made his unfortunate "macaca" remark) is near the Kentucky border and is called the "Grand Canyon of the East."
Many travel guides are available on the state’s website (www.virginia.gov). A look at the travel and tourism section will quickly whet your appetite for an in-state holiday – perhaps one of the 36 fall walking tours, or 45 places to find wildlife, or a 48-hour getaway. Ecotourism in Virginia can be lots of fun and good for the environment. Happy Trails!