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Did you say “alternative tourism”?

*A story written by Odile Tezel, conservationist and intern for Fuze Ecoteer*

Nowadays, “alternative” forms of tourism are definitely on the rise. In many countries, more and more people seem ready to give it a go. However, if we really look into it, many studies also show that people do not know much about it and get confused with all the names and the diversity of marketing campaigns used in the sector, so much that some people get even sceptical about whether or not trying this new way of travelling is really worth it.

You might have heard about ecotourism before, but is that similar to sustainable, solidarity or even community tourism? And what about fair tourism and responsible travelling?

Are they all the same or is one form of tourism better than the others?

Well, first of all, despite their few differences, all these forms of tourism have one similar long term goal: minimising, or even eradicating, the negative effects that tourism usually has on the environment and host populations. That is the core value of alternative tourism!

As, yes, tourism usually has a significant social and environmental impact. Local natural resources deplete due to punctual increased population and part of the environment can get destroyed due to reckless or intensive tourism. Also, many studies have also proven that “mass tourism”, the way it is currently practiced in some regions of the world, do not significantly support local economies. Profits are often repatriated to developed countries and local populations do not benefit much from this very profitable industry.

That is why in the 90s, alternative tourism initiatives started popping up a little bit everywhere in the world. But then, why so many different names? Well, different organizations operate differently. They all want to distinguish themselves from mass tourism, but they also want to tackle local issues, these can whether be environmental, social, cultural or the three at the same time.

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In the Perhentian Islands, located off the northeast coast of peninsular Malaysia, our team regularly raise awareness about the protection of corals and endangered species, like sea turtles

For example, sustainable tourism contributes to preserving natural, cultural and social resources in the long run. Whereas, solidarity tourism tends to favour real exchanges with local people but, unlike community tourism, organisations are not necessarily directly managed by locals. When it comes to fair tourism, organisations are environmentally friendly, they make sure to employ local people and guarantee fair and equitable income for their staff. Regarding responsible travelling, it is a rather general term. It is being aware of your own impact on a given territory and populations and it means that you will adjust your behaviour accordingly.

Finally, here at Fuze-Ecoteer, we operate according to the principles of ecotourism. Protecting the environment is our motto. We minimize the environmental impact of our activity, we develop conservation projects and regularly elaborate awareness campaigns.

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in our Merapoh project, travellers who are joining us have the opportunity to meet the Batek aboriginal tribe and learn how to wear flowers in their hair just like Batek women have been doing for generations

But we do not stop there! We strongly believe that environmental protection and community development are closely related. Therefore, we work in close collaboration with local people and provide education and job opportunities where it is needed. We also want to favour exchanges between travellers and host populations and protect cultural heritages.

Sometimes, we also talk about « voluntourism »: travellers are volunteers. They participate in our projects’ activities and have the opportunity to help, not only through their donation, but also through direct actions.

To conclude, we can say that there is not only one way of travelling! There are so many innovative initiatives out there that are worth discovering. To find the one that suits you best, just ask yourself what you are expecting from your experience abroad.

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One of our volunteers teaching the alphabet to the Batek children, in our community and conservation project in Merapoh

However, let us all keep in mind that travelling in a foreign country is like entering some one’s home. You are intruding in people’s daily life to witness a country’s culture and identity. Whether you want it or not, you will have an impact on their lives. So by choosing this or that travel company or by adopting this or that behaviour, you also choose which kind of impact you want to have.

If, for your next holiday abroad, you want to make a change but do not know where to start, you can learn more about how to be the perfect eco-traveller by browsing through websites like Ecotourism.org. You can also take a look at our website or email us at adventure@fuze-ecoteer.com for more information.

On the other hand, if you have already decided to be respectful of the people and the places that you visit and if you have already given up on the traditional quest of extraordinary and exclamations (what mass tourism relies on), then it means you are already an eco-traveller on the making!

Keep learning more about the reality of the places you visit and get amazed by all the little things that are different from your own culture and your own daily life. Meet people, share with them. Keep your heart open and remember that, it is only when you give up on all your certitudes that you truly start travelling!