Travel, Tourism & Hospitality

Sustainable tourism worldwide - statistics & facts

What are the effects of global tourism on the climate, traveler awareness of social and environmental responsibility, key insights.

Detailed statistics

Ecotourism market size worldwide 2022-2028

Tourism-related transport's share of carbon emissions worldwide 2016-2030

Global travelers who believe in the importance of green travel 2022

Editor’s Picks Current statistics on this topic

Current statistics on this topic.

Leisure Travel

Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy 1965-2022, by region

Related topics


  • Tourism worldwide
  • Hotel industry worldwide
  • Sustainable tourism in the U.S.
  • Sustainable fashion worldwide

Recommended statistics

Industry overview.

  • Premium Statistic Ecotourism market size worldwide 2022-2028
  • Premium Statistic Global travelers who believe in the importance of green travel 2022
  • Premium Statistic Sustainable initiatives travelers would adopt worldwide 2022, by region
  • Premium Statistic Conscious travelers' challenges when traveling in a sustainable manner worldwide 2022

Market size of the ecotourism sector worldwide in 2022, with a forecast for 2028 (in billion U.S. dollars)

Share of travelers that believe sustainable travel is important worldwide in 2022

Sustainable initiatives travelers would adopt worldwide 2022, by region

Main sustainable initiatives travelers are willing to adopt worldwide in 2022, by region

Conscious travelers' challenges when traveling in a sustainable manner worldwide 2022

Challenges of travelers when trying to travel in a sustainable and socially conscious manner worldwide as of March 2022

Environmental impact

  • Basic Statistic Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy 1965-2022, by region
  • Premium Statistic Tourism-related transport's share of carbon emissions worldwide 2016-2030
  • Premium Statistic Carbon footprint of tourism-related transport worldwide 2005-2030
  • Premium Statistic Carbon footprint of international tourism transport worldwide 2005-2030, by type
  • Premium Statistic Carbon footprint of domestic tourism transport worldwide 2005-2030, by type

Carbon dioxide emissions from energy worldwide from 1965 to 2022, by region (in million metric tons of carbon dioxide)

Tourism-related transport's share of carbon emissions worldwide 2016-2030

Share of carbon dioxide emissions coming from tourism-related transport worldwide in 2016, with a forecast for 2030

Carbon footprint of tourism-related transport worldwide 2005-2030

Carbon dioxide emissions from tourism-related transport worldwide in 2005 and 2016, with a forecast for 2030 (in million metric tons of carbon dioxide)

Carbon footprint of international tourism transport worldwide 2005-2030, by type

Transport-related emissions from international tourist arrivals worldwide in 2005 and 2016, with a forecast for 2030, by mode of transport (in million metric tons of carbon dioxide)

Carbon footprint of domestic tourism transport worldwide 2005-2030, by type

Transport-related emissions from domestic tourist arrivals worldwide in 2005 and 2016, with a forecast for 2030 (in million metric tons of carbon dioxide), by mode of transport

International tourism figures

  • Premium Statistic Number of international tourist arrivals worldwide 1950-2022
  • Basic Statistic Number of international tourist arrivals worldwide 2005-2022, by region
  • Premium Statistic Countries with the highest number of inbound tourist arrivals worldwide 2019-2022
  • Premium Statistic Global air traffic - number of flights 2004-2023
  • Premium Statistic Global air traffic - scheduled passengers 2004-2022

Number of international tourist arrivals worldwide 1950-2022

Number of international tourist arrivals worldwide from 1950 to 2022 (in millions)

Number of international tourist arrivals worldwide 2005-2022, by region

Number of international tourist arrivals worldwide from 2005 to 2022, by region (in millions)

Countries with the highest number of inbound tourist arrivals worldwide 2019-2022

Countries with the highest number of international tourist arrivals worldwide from 2019 to 2022 (in millions)

Global air traffic - number of flights 2004-2023

Number of flights performed by the global airline industry from 2004 to 2022, with a forecasts for 2023 (in millions)

Global air traffic - scheduled passengers 2004-2022

Number of scheduled passengers boarded by the global airline industry from 2004 to 2022 (in millions)

Opinions and behavior

  • Premium Statistic Main drivers for visiting a country by people worldwide 2023
  • Premium Statistic Share of outbound travelers planning to spend more worldwide 2022, by category
  • Premium Statistic Share of global travelers that want to use green lodging in the next year 2016-2022
  • Premium Statistic Interest in accommodation with high sustainability standard globally 2023, by country
  • Premium Statistic Reasons global travelers stayed in sustainable lodging at least once last year 2022
  • Premium Statistic Demand for sustainable hotels by global corporate travel managers 2022

Main drivers for visiting a country by people worldwide 2023

Reasons to visit a country according to respondents worldwide in 2023

Share of outbound travelers planning to spend more worldwide 2022, by category

Share of travelers planning to spend more on trips abroad in selected countries worldwide in 2022, by type of expenditure

Share of global travelers that want to use green lodging in the next year 2016-2022

Distribution of global travelers intending to stay at least once in an eco-friendly or green accommodation when looking at the year ahead from 2016 to 2022

Interest in accommodation with high sustainability standard globally 2023, by country

Share of travelers who look for accommodation with impressive sustainability innovation worldwide as of July 2023, by country

Reasons global travelers stayed in sustainable lodging at least once last year 2022

Main reasons travelers stayed in sustainable accommodation at least once over the past year worldwide in as of February 2022

Demand for sustainable hotels by global corporate travel managers 2022

Importance of hotel sustainability for business travel buyers worldwide as of October 2022

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4 ways nature tourism can help drive a green COVID-19 recovery

A diver swims over the great barrier reef, an ecological sites that is popular with tourists

Investing in eco-tourism can play a pivotal role helping green recovery programs. Image:  REUTERS/David Gray

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Eco-Tourism: Encouraging Conservation or Adding to Exploitation?

April 1, 2001

Jonathan Nash

Former Policy Analyst

Social and Environmental Dimensions of Health

Eco-tourism has emerged as one of the most important sectors of the international tourism industry. The United Nations, recognizing eco-tourism’s potential role in sustainable development, has declared 2002 the “International Year of Eco-tourism.”

At its best, eco-tourism is responsible travel to natural areas that safeguards the integrity of the ecosystem and produces economic benefits for local communities that can encourage conservation. At the nexus of population and the environment, eco-tourism is a creative way of marrying the goals of ecological conservation and economic development.

Unfortunately, while some eco-tourism projects succeed in promoting both of these causes, others are less successful. Environmental deterioration and inequitable development may in some cases actually be exacerbated by eco-tourism. To ensure that eco-tourism fulfills its promise, policymakers, promoters, and participants should make sure that all tourism activities have minimal environmental impact, that such development is welcomed by local communities, and that it promotes stable and equitable economic development.

This fact sheet is designed to offer more insight into eco-tourism’s potential upside and downside as a development scheme.

A Booming Industry

  • Rising numbers. The eco-tourism industry, which is growing rapidly, has emerged as one of the most important sectors of the international tourism industry, making up 7 percent of the world tourism market (see figure). 1 In the Asia-Pacific region alone, eco-tour operators report growth rates of 10 percent to 25 percent a year. 2 Demand for quality eco-tourism destinations will continue to grow as urban congestion, pollution, crowding, and concern for the natural environment all increase.
  • More money. Many developing countries with established eco-tourism destinations have seen the number of eco-tourists, and the money they spend during their visits, dramatically increase over the last several years. In Costa Rica, the number of foreign tourists visiting national parks rose 330 percent in the six years between 1985 and 1991. Zimbabwe’s international tourist arrivals, dominated by eco-tourists, have increased threefold, while receipts from tourism quadrupled between 1985 and 1994. Direct economic contributions from park entrance fees in developing countries have been conservatively estimated to be between US$2 billion and US$12 billion annually. When indirect expenditures on such items as hotel rooms, rental cars, and food are included, eco-tourists spend between US$93 billion and US$233 billion annually in developing countries. 3
  • New investments. Many developing countries, boasting large, intact tropical ecosystems, pristine beaches, and archeological ruins, are eager to carve out a niche in this multibillion-dollar industry. Countries are investing in eco-tourism as a means of attracting foreign capital to propel economic development. Representatives of five Central American governments have formed a consortium, “Mundo Maya” (Mayan World), to promote visits to their cultural and natural attractions.

Rise in International Tourism, by Region

Percent Increase Between 1985 and 1998

Source: World Tourism Organization, “Facts and Figures” (

A Boost to Conservation

  • Self-financing protected areas. Revenue derived from park-entrance fees and similar sources can help finance the protection and management of environmentally sensitive areas. In Rwanda’s Parc des Volcans, tourists pay US$170 to spend one hour with lowland gorillas, generating US$1 million annually for the Rwandan government. This money is used to support the management and operation of all of Rwanda’s protected areas. 4
  • Wildlife pays so wildlife stays. Local communities, understanding the economic benefits of eco-tourism, are often motivated to protect resources and adopt conservationist attitudes. In Amboseli Park in Kenya, one much-publicized study estimated that each lion was worth US$27,000 and each elephant herd was worth US$610,000 in tourist revenue per year. 5
  • Driving sustainable development. Park authorities in Madagascar dole out 50 percent of park-entrance fees to local communities for sustainable development projects. 6 In 1994, the wildlife tourism industry in Kenya employed over 55,000 people. 7
  • Long-term income. Eco-tourism often proves to be a more sustainable development strategy than extractive uses of the land such as logging, grazing, mining, or agriculture. In one economic assessment of rainforest land use in Bahia, Brazil, Conservation International determined that logging the forest provided an initial high return, followed by little income. Conversion of the forest into pastureland was even less profitable and required substantial initial investment. The study concluded that eco-tourism provided the most income over the long term.
  • Environmental education. Local residents can benefit from the environmental education eco-tourism provides. Honduran schoolchildren from the capital city of Tegucigalpa are routinely taken to visit the La Tigra cloud forest visitor center, funded in part by eco-tourist dollars, to learn about the intricacies of the rainforest.

A Potential Threat to Local Communities and Ecosystems

  • Destruction of ecosystems. High-volume tourism can damage the environment. Excessive entry into protected areas, especially when combined with high-impact activities such as hiking or camping, can be particularly harmful. Environmental stress can also arise from accommodating the needs of tourists: On Mexico’s Pacific coast, bright lights from beachfront hotels disorient female sea turtles coming ashore to lay eggs, often preventing successful reproduction.
  • Population pressures. In the case of the Galapagos Islands, financially successful eco-tourism initiatives have drawn migrants into the area in search of work, putting additional strain on local infrastructure and the environment.
  • Eco-exploitation? Eco-tourism revenues in less developed countries often leak back to industrialized countries, particularly when eco-tourism businesses are foreign-owned or when local products and labor are not utilized in eco-tourism operations. The World Bank estimated in 1988 that 55 percent of gross revenues for all tourism in the developing world eventually return to industrialized countries. Some more recent studies have put this figure as high as 90 percent for certain countries, including the Bahamas and Nepal. 8 In the Annapurna region of Nepal, eco-tour operators are forced to import many foreign-made goods to support eco-tourists because of the inadequacy of local resources. As a result, only 10 percent of what trekkers spend there stays in the local economy.
  • Locals pushed out. To develop sites for eco-tourism or create protected areas, governments must often resettle the indigenous inhabitants of a region. The systematic removal of Masai herdsmen from wildlife preserves by the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments provides a dramatic example of this kind of impact.
  • Vulnerable industry. Economies that become dependent on eco-tourism may be destabilized by fluctuating demand. Much eco-tourism is seasonal in nature and depends on such factors as foreign currency exchange rates, weather, and political stability in host countries.

Making the Most of Eco-Tourism

Successful eco-tourism requires maximizing its environmental and economic benefits while minimizing ecological damage and disruption of local communities. To achieve these goals, eco-tourism development should be carefully planned from the beginning, keeping in mind these key points:

  • Ensure sustainability. Limits on the number of tourists allowed in an area can help maintain the integrity and vitality of the site so that it can continue to draw tourists for years to come. Materials used in the construction of eco-tourism sites should be acquired in a sustainable manner. Renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, or water, rather than polluting fossil fuels, are in many cases more practical, cost efficient, and less of a strain on local resources. Tourist facilities should be constructed on the outskirts of the park boundaries to minimize deleterious environmental impacts.
  • Include local residents. Involving local people as consultants or directors of community-based, eco-tourism projects can help ensure community support. If they lack the necessary skills to participate in the eco-tourism industry or interact with foreign tourists, the government may provide job training and education.
  • Maximize local economic benefits. Governments must take steps to ensure revenue retention by regulating foreign investment and by encouraging local investment and employment in lodging, guide services, and other ventures.
  • Collaborate. Government officials and eco-tourism operators should seek assistance from conservation groups and nongovernmental organizations. Such groups can provide start up funding, training, and technical assistance that can lend both legitimacy and sustainability to a project.

Making Eco-Tourism Work in Peru

In the Tambopata Candamo Reserved Zone in southeastern Peru, Rainforest Expeditions, a for-profit eco-tourism company formed by Peruvian conservationists, has entered into a joint eco-tourism venture with the Ese’eja Indian community to attract tourists to a biologically rich site boasting macaws, giant river otters, and harpy eagles. The indigenous community provides labor, lodging, and food for the project, and in return receives 60 percent of the profits from the joint venture. Rainforest Expeditions requires a strong degree of local participation and gives the community equal decisionmaking power in the management of this unique endeavour.

Both Rainforest Expeditions and the Ese’eja community realize that the success of their tourism venture depends on the protection of local wildlife resources. Accordingly, both sides are actively involved in research, management, and conservation programs to protect the fragile ecosystem. Since its inception, the site has become a highly-rated eco-tourism destination, developed innovative natural and cultural education programs, and played an increasingly important role in the conservation and sustainable development of the region.

  • Megan Wood, Ecotourism: a Guide for Planners and Managers , Volume II (Burlington, VT: The International Ecotourism Society, 1998).
  • K. Lindberg, B. Furze, M. Staff, and R. Black, Ecotourism in the Asia Pacific Region: Issues and Outlook (Bennington, VT: The Ecotourism Society, 1997).
  • Mohan Munasinghe and Jeffrey McNeely, “Sustainable Tourism Development,” in Protected Area Economics and Policy , edited by Kathryn Lawrence (Washington DC: World Conservation Union, 1994).
  • Martin Mowforth and Ian Munt, Tourism and Sustainability: New Tourism in the Third World (London: Routledge, 1998).
  • Clem Tisdell, “Ecotourism, Economics, and the Environment: Observations from China,” Journal of Travel Research 34, no. 4 (1996).
  • Joe Peters, “Sharing National Park Entrance Fees,” Society and Natural Resources 11, no. 5 (1998).
  • Munasinghe and McNeely.
  • Mowforth and Munt.

For More Information

Read a report the project in Peru’s Tambopata Candamo Reserved Zone at .

The International Ecotourism Society ., a website that covers all kinds of environmental travel in the Americas .

Conservation International’s EcoTravel Center .

World Tourism Organization .

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Ecotourism Market

Ecotourism market report by traveler type (solo, group), age group (generation x, generation y, generation z), sales channel (travel agent, direct), and region 2024-2032.

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Market Overview:

The global ecotourism market size reached US$ 196.2 Billion in 2023 . Looking forward, IMARC Group expects the market to reach US$ 561.9 Billion by 2032 , exhibiting a growth rate (CAGR) of 12% during 2024-2032 . The increasing environmental awareness, escalating demand for sustainability, government initiatives and conservation policies promoting responsible tourism practices, advancements in technology, and rising disposable incomes are factors accelerating the market growth.

Ecotourism refers to a sustainable form of travel that focuses on exploring natural environments while minimizing the negative impact on those ecosystems and supporting local communities. This responsible approach aims to conserve biodiversity, promote environmental awareness, and foster cultural appreciation. The advantages of ecotourism are numerous, such as it encourages conservation efforts by generating funds for the protection of natural areas. Local communities’ benefit from increased economic opportunities, leading to improved living standards. Moreover, ecotourism educates visitors about the importance of preserving fragile ecosystems, fostering a sense of environmental responsibility. There are several types of ecotourism experiences, which include wildlife-based, adventure, and cultural ecotourism

Global Ecotourism Market

The global ecotourism market is influenced by the growing environmental awareness and concerns, which have led to a rising demand for sustainable and responsible travel options. This is further supported by the surging demand for unique and authentic experiences, driving the demand for ecologically rich and culturally immersive destinations. Moreover, government initiatives and policies promoting conservation and sustainable tourism practices are shaping the market's growth. In line with this, advancements in technology have made it easier for travelers to access information about ecotourism destinations and make informed choices, which, in turn, is augmenting the market growth. Additionally, increasing disposable incomes and a growing middle class are contributing to the expansion of the market. Apart from this, collaborations between stakeholders, such as tour operators, local communities, and conservation organizations, are enhancing ecotourism offerings, further fueling market expansion. 

Ecotourism Market Trends/Drivers:

Growing environmental awareness and demand for sustainability

The global ecotourism market is propelled by the escalating environmental consciousness among travelers. As individuals become increasingly concerned about the impact of traditional tourism on ecosystems, they are actively seeking more sustainable and responsible travel options. This heightened awareness has led to a surge in demand for ecotourism, which emphasizes low-impact practices, conservation efforts, and the support of local communities. Travelers are drawn to destinations that prioritize environmental preservation, ensuring that their trips align with their values and minimize their ecological footprint. This trend underscores the importance of eco-friendly accommodations, carbon-neutral transportation, and eco-conscious activities, fostering a harmonious coexistence between tourism and nature.

Quest for unique and authentic experiences

The global ecotourism market is energized by a strong desire among travelers for genuine and immersive experiences. Modern tourists are no longer content with passive sightseeing; instead, they yearn to engage with local cultures, ecosystems, and traditions. This demand for authenticity has led to a surge in ecologically rich destinations that offer opportunities for meaningful interactions with nature and local communities. Tourists are drawn to activities like wildlife safaris, cultural exchanges, and hands-on conservation efforts. This shift in preference has prompted destinations to highlight their natural beauty and cultural heritage, catering to travelers who seek an intimate understanding of the places they visit. The trend exemplifies a shift from mass tourism to personalized, transformative journeys that leave lasting memories.

Government initiatives and conservation policies

Governmental efforts and policies promoting conservation and sustainable tourism practices are pivotal drivers of the global ecotourism market. Recognizing the potential economic and environmental benefits of responsible tourism, many countries have established regulations and incentives to encourage the growth of ecotourism. These initiatives encompass protected area management, wildlife preservation, and community-based tourism projects. Governments often collaborate with local communities, NGOs, and private enterprises to create a conducive environment for sustainable tourism. By setting standards for environmental protection, infrastructure development, and visitor education, these policies ensure that ecotourism contributes positively to biodiversity conservation, local economies, and cultural preservation. 

Ecotourism Industry Segmentation:

IMARC Group provides an analysis of the key trends in each segment of the global ecotourism market report, along with forecasts at the global, regional, and country levels for 2024-2032. Our report has categorized the market based on traveler type, age group, and sales channel

Traveler Type Insights:

Ecotourism Market

  • Group  

Group dominates the market

The report has provided a detailed breakup and analysis of the market based on the traveler type. This includes solo and group. According to the report, group represented the largest segment.

The growth of the group segment in the ecotourism market is underpinned by the surging demand of shared experiences. Travelers often seek opportunities to bond over nature-based activities, wildlife encounters, and cultural immersions, making group ecotourism a compelling option. Moreover, cost-sharing and economies of scale play a significant role. Group bookings allow for negotiated rates, making ecotourism more affordable and accessible. In line with this, safety and convenience are enhanced in group settings, particularly in remote or ecologically sensitive locations. The presence of trained guides and a sense of community foster a secure environment. Additionally, the educational aspect of ecotourism is enriched in groups, enabling shared learning experiences and promoting environmental awareness collectively. As social media platforms emphasize group travel, the trend gains further momentum, showcasing the shared memories and camaraderie associated with ecotourism, thereby driving growth in the group segment.

Age Group Insights:

  • Generation X
  • Generation Y
  • Generation Z  

Generation Y dominates the market

The report has provided a detailed breakup and analysis of the market based on the age group. This includes generation X, generation Y, and generation Z .  According to the report, generation Y represented the largest segment.

The growth of the generation Y segment, also known as millennials, is influenced by the surging demand for technology-driven products and services by generation Y. Moreover, a focus on experiences over material possessions has led to increased spending on travel, dining, and unique leisure activities. Additionally, social consciousness and environmental awareness drive their choices, prompting companies to offer sustainable and socially responsible products. In line with this, flexible work arrangements and a strong desire for work-life balance have influenced their consumption patterns, favoring convenience and time-saving solutions. Furthermore, the power of social media and peer recommendations significantly impact their purchasing decisions. Besides this, the access to information and a heightened sense of global connectivity have broadened their horizons, leading to an interest in diverse cultures and products.

Sales Channel Insights:

  • Travel Agent
  • Direct  

Travel agent dominates the market

The report has provided a detailed breakup and analysis of the market based on the sales channel. This includes travel agent and direct .  According to the report, travel agent represented the largest segment.

The growth of the travel agent segment is propelled by the rising demand for personalized expertise and guidance during travel. This human touch helps travelers navigate complex itineraries, secure exclusive deals, and receive tailored recommendations. Moreover, the travel agent industry is adapting to changing preferences by offering a seamless blend of offline and online services, enhancing convenience and accessibility. In line with this, the intricate nature of international travel, including visa requirements, regulations, and diverse cultures, underscores the importance of expert agents who ensure hassle-free journeys. Additionally, corporate travel management relies on agents to streamline arrangements, negotiate corporate rates, and manage travel policies efficiently. Furthermore, the resurgence of interest in experiential and niche travel necessitates specialized knowledge that agents offer. Apart from this, in times of uncertainty, such as the current global health situation, travelers turn to agents for guidance, rebooking assistance, and up-to-date travel information.

Regional Insights:

growth of eco tourism

United States

  • South Korea

United Kingdom

  • Middle East and Africa  

North America exhibits a clear dominance, accounting for the largest ecotourism market share

The market research report has also provided a comprehensive analysis of all the major regional markets, which include North America (the United States and Canada); Europe (Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Russia, and others); Asia Pacific (China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, and others); Latin America (Brazil, Mexico, and others); and the Middle East and Africa. According to the report, North America accounted for the largest market share.

The growth of the ecotourism market in North America can be attributed to the escalating environmental awareness and a strong emphasis on sustainable practices. This has led to an increased demand for ecotourism experiences that align with these values. Moreover, North America boasts diverse and pristine natural landscapes, from national parks to coastal reserves, providing ample opportunities for travelers to engage in eco-friendly activities such as wildlife watching, hiking, and conservation efforts. Additionally, supportive government policies and regulations that prioritize conservation and responsible tourism have created an enabling environment for ecotourism growth. Furthermore, technological advancements have facilitated seamless access to information, allowing travelers to make informed decisions about eco-friendly destinations and accommodations. Furthermore, collaborations between local communities, tour operators, and conservation organizations contribute to the development of unique and immersive ecotourism offerings. In line with this, North America's robust travel infrastructure and increasing affluence among its population further fuel the growth of ecotourism in the region.

Competitive Landscape:

The competitive landscape of the global ecotourism market is characterized by a dynamic interplay of various factors. As the demand for sustainable and responsible travel experiences continues to rise, market players are focused on differentiation through eco-friendly offerings, unique itineraries, and community engagement. The emphasis on preserving natural habitats and supporting local cultures has driven collaborations between tour operators, conservation organizations, and indigenous communities. Technological innovations play a pivotal role, facilitating the dissemination of information about ecotourism destinations and enabling seamless booking processes. Government policies and regulations promoting environmental conservation and responsible tourism practices further shape the competitive environment. The growing emphasis on transparency and accountability has led to the adoption of certification standards that validate eco-friendly practices. Amidst these factors, market participants strive to establish their expertise, build strong brand identities, and cater to the evolving preferences of eco-conscious travelers.

The report has provided a comprehensive analysis of the competitive landscape in the market. Detailed profiles of all major companies have also been provided. Some of the key players in the market include:

  • Adventure Alternative Ltd
  • Aracari Travel
  • Expedia Group Inc.
  • FROSCH International Travel Inc.
  • G Adventures
  • Intrepid Group Limited
  • Rickshaw Travel Group
  • Small World Journeys Pty Ltd
  • Steppes Travel
  • Undiscovered Mountains Ltd  

Recent Developments:

  • In February 2022, P Morgan Chase signed a definitive agreement to buy corporate and luxury travel agency Frosch, which represents a new “business line” for the bank.
  • In July 2023, Expedia Group launched, One Key™, a groundbreaking new loyalty program that unifies the company’s three flagship travel brands of Expedia®,®, and Vrbo.
  • In September 2022, Intrepid Travel acquired a majority stake in Australian adventure tourism business and destination management company, Joob (Jump Out Of Bed)

Ecotourism Market Report Scope:

Key benefits for stakeholders:.

  • IMARC’s industry report offers a comprehensive quantitative analysis of various market segments, historical and current market trends, market forecasts, and dynamics of the ecotourism market from 2018-2032.
  • The research report provides the latest information on the market drivers, challenges, and opportunities in the global ecotourism market.
  • The study maps the leading, as well as the fastest-growing, regional markets. It further enables stakeholders to identify the key country-level markets within each region.
  • Porter's five forces analysis assist stakeholders in assessing the impact of new entrants, competitive rivalry, supplier power, buyer power, and the threat of substitution. It helps stakeholders to analyze the level of competition within the ecotourism industry and its attractiveness.
  • Competitive landscape allows stakeholders to understand their competitive environment and provides an insight into the current positions of key players in the market.

Key Questions Answered in This Report

The global ecotourism market was valued at US$ 196.2 Billion in 2023.

We expect the global ecotourism market to exhibit a CAGR of 12% during 2024-2032.

The rising popularity of solo trips and outdoor recreational activities, along with the growing consumer awareness towards the adverse impacts of tourism, such as soil erosion, increasing pollution levels, natural habitat loss, etc., is primarily driving the global ecotourism market.

The sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic had led to the implementation of stringent lockdown regulations across several nations, resulting in the temporary restrictions on intra- and inter-national travel activities, thereby negatively impacting the global market for ecotourism.

Based on the traveler type, the global ecotourism market can be categorized into solo and group. Currently, group holds the majority of the total market share.

Based on the age group, the global ecotourism market has been segregated into generation X, generation Y, and generation Z. Among these, generation Y currently exhibits a clear dominance in the market. 

Based on the sales channel, the global ecotourism market can be bifurcated into travel agent and direct. Currently, travel agent accounts for the largest market share.

On a regional level, the market has been classified into North America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and Middle East and Africa, where North America currently dominates the global market.

Some of the major players in the global ecotourism market include Adventure Alternative Ltd, Aracari Travel, BCD Travel, Expedia Group Inc., FROSCH International Travel Inc., G Adventures, Intrepid Group Limited, Rickshaw Travel Group, Small World Journeys Pty Ltd, Steppes Travel, and Undiscovered Mountains Ltd.

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What Is Ecotourism? Definition, Examples, and Pros and Cons

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Ecotourism Definition and Principles

Pros and cons.

  • Examples of Ecotourism
  • Frequently Asked Questions

Ecotourism is about more than simply visiting natural attractions or natural places; it’s about doing so in a responsible and sustainable manner. The term itself refers to traveling to natural areas with a focus on environmental conservation. The goal is to educate tourists about conservation efforts while offering them the chance to explore nature.

Ecotourism has benefited destinations like Madagascar, Ecuador, Kenya, and Costa Rica, and has helped provide economic growth in some of the world’s most impoverished communities. The global ecotourism market produced $92.2 billion in 2019 and is forecasted to generate $103.8 billion by 2027.

A conservationist by the name of Hector Ceballos-Lascurain is often credited with the first definition of ecotourism in 1987, that is, “tourism that consists in travelling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific object of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas.”

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of ecotourism since 1990, defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education [both in its staff and its guests].”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) looks at ecotourism as a significant tool for conservation, though it shouldn’t be seen as a fix-all when it comes to conservation challenges:

“There may be some areas that are just not appropriate for ecotourism development and some businesses that just won’t work in the larger tourism market. That is why it is so important to understand the basics of developing and running a successful business, to ensure that your business idea is viable and will be profitable, allowing it to most effectively benefit the surrounding environment and communities.”

Marketing an ecosystem, species, or landscape towards ecotourists helps create value, and that value can help raise funds to protect and conserve those natural resources.

Sustainable ecotourism should be guided by three core principles: conservation, communities, and education.


Conservation is arguably the most important component of ecotourism because it should offer long-term, sustainable solutions to enhancing and protecting biodiversity and nature. This is typically achieved through economic incentives paid by tourists seeking a nature-based experience, but can also come from the tourism organizations themselves, research, or direct environmental conservation efforts.


Ecotourism should increase employment opportunities and empower local communities, helping in the fight against global social issues like poverty and achieving sustainable development.


One of the most overlooked aspects of ecotourism is the education component. Yes, we all want to see these beautiful, natural places, but it also pays to learn about them. Increasing awareness about environmental issues and promoting a greater understanding and appreciation for nature is arguably just as important as conservation.

As one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry, there are bound to be some downsides to ecotourism. Whenever humans interact with animals or even with the environment, it risks the chance of human-wildlife conflict or other negative effects; if done so with respect and responsibility in mind, however, ecotourism can reap enormous benefits to protected areas.

As an industry that relies heavily on the presentation of eco-friendly components to attract customers, ecotourism has the inevitable potential as a vessel for greenwashing. Part of planning a trip rooted in ecotourism is doing research to ensure that an organization is truly providing substantial benefits to the environment rather than exploiting it.

Ecotourism Can Provide Sustainable Income for Local Communities

Sustainably managed ecotourism can support poverty alleviation by providing employment for local communities, which can offer them alternative means of livelihood outside of unsustainable ones (such as poaching).

Research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that communities in regions surrounding conservation areas in Costa Rica had poverty rates that were 16% lower than in areas that weren’t near protected parks. These protected areas didn’t just benefit from conservation funds due to ecotourism, but also helped to reduce poverty as well.

It Protects Natural Ecosystems

Ecotourism offers unique travel experiences focusing on nature and education, with an emphasis on sustainability and highlighting threatened or endangered species. It combines conservation with local communities and sustainable travel , highlighting principles (and operations) that minimize negative impacts and expose visitors to unique ecosystems and natural areas. When managed correctly, ecotourism can benefit both the traveler and the environment, since the money that goes into ecotourism often goes directly towards protecting the natural areas they visit.

Each year, researchers release findings on how tourist presence affects wildlife, sometimes with varying results. A study measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol in wild habituated Malaysian orangutans found that the animals were not chronically stressed by the presence of ecotourists. The orangutans lived in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, where a local community-managed organization operates while maintaining strict guidelines to protect them.

Ecotourism May Also Hurt Those Same Natural Ecosystems

Somewhat ironically, sometimes ecotourism can hurt ecosystems just as much as it can help. Another study in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution found that ecotourism can alter animal behaviors in ways that put them at risk. If the presence of humans changes the way animals behave, those changes may make them more vulnerable by influencing their reaction to predators or poachers.

It's not just the animals who are at risk. As ecotourism activities become too popular, it can lead to the construction of new infrastructure to accommodate more visitors. Similarly, more crowds mean more pressure on local resources, increased pollution, and a higher chance of damaging the soil and plant quality through erosion. On the social side, these activities may displace Indigenous groups or local communities from their native lands, preventing them from benefiting from the economic opportunities of tourism.

Ecotourism Offers the Opportunity to Experience Nature

Renown conservationist Jane Goodall has a famous quote: “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall all be saved.” It can be difficult to understand something that we haven’t seen with our own eyes, and ecotourism gives travelers the opportunity to gain new experiences in natural areas while learning about the issues they face. 

Ecotourism also educates children about nature, potentially creating new generations of nature lovers that could someday become conservationists themselves. Even adult visitors may learn new ways to improve their ecological footprints .


The East African country has some competitive advantages over its neighbors thanks to its rich natural resources, paired with the fact that it has allocated over 25% of its total area to wildlife national parks and protected areas. Because of this, an estimated 90% of tourists visit to Tanzania seeking out ecotourism activities. Ecotourism, in turn, supports 400,000 jobs and accounts for 17.2% of the national GDP, earning about $1 billion each year as its leading economic sector.

Some of Tanzania’s biggest highlights include the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro , and Zanzibar, though the country still often goes overlooked by American tourists. Visitors can take a walking safari tour in the famous Ngorongoro Conservation area, for example, with fees going to support the local Maasai community.

The country is also known for its chimpanzees , and there are several ecotourism opportunities in Gombe National Park that go directly towards protecting chimpanzee habitats.

Galapagos Islands

It comes as no surprise that the place first made famous by legendary naturalist Charles Darwin would go on to become one of the most sought-after ecotourism destinations on Earth, the Galapagos Islands .

The Directorate of the Galapagos National Park and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism require tour providers to conserve water and energy, recycle waste, source locally produced goods, hire local employees with a fair wage, and offer employees additional training. A total of 97% of the land area on the Galapagos is part of the official national park, and all of its 330 islands have been divided into zones that are either completely free of human impact, protected restoration areas, or reduced impact zones adjacent to tourist-friendly areas.

Local authorities still have to be on their toes, however, since UNESCO lists increased tourism as one of the main threats facing the Galapagos today. The bulk of funding for the conservation and management of the archipelago comes from a combination of governmental institutions and entry fees paid by tourists.

Costa Rica is well-known throughout the world for its emphasis on nature-based tourism, from its numerous animal sanctuaries to its plethora of national parks and reserves. Programs like its “Ecological Blue Flag” program help inform tourists of beaches that have maintained a strict set of eco-friendly criteria.

The country’s forest cover went from 26% in 1983 to over 52% in 2021 thanks to the government’s decision to create more protected areas and promote ecotourism in the country . Now, over a quarter of its total land area is zoned as protected territory.

Costa Rica welcomes 1.7 million travelers per year, and most of them come to experience the country’s vibrant wildlife and diverse ecosystems. Its numerous biological reserves and protected parks hold some of the most extraordinary biodiversity on Earth, so the country takes special care to keep environmental conservation high on its list of priorities. 

New Zealand

In 2019, tourism generated $16.2 billion, or 5.8% of the GDP, in New Zealand. That same year, 8.4% of its citizens were employed in the tourism industry, and tourists generated $3.8 billion in tax revenue.

The country offers a vast number of ecotourism experiences, from animal sanctuaries to natural wildlife on land, sea, and even natural caves. New Zealand’s South Pacific environment, full of sights like glaciers and volcanic landscapes, is actually quite fragile, so the government puts a lot of effort into keeping it safe.

Tongariro National Park, for example, is the oldest national park in the country, and has been named by UNESCO as one of only 28 mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Sites. Its diverse volcanic landscapes and the cultural heritage of the indigenous Maori tribes within the create the perfect combination of community, education, and conservation.

How to Be a Responsible Ecotourist

  • Ensure that the organizations you hire provide financial contributions to benefit conservation and find out where your money is going.
  • Ask about specific steps the organization takes to protect the environment where they operate, such as recycling or promoting sustainable policies.
  • Find out if they include the local community in their activities, such as hiring local guides, giving back, or through initiatives to empower the community.
  • Make sure there are educational elements to the program. Does the organization take steps to respect the destination’s culture as well as its biodiversity?
  • See if your organization is connected to a non-profit or charity like the International Ecotourism Society .
  • Understand that wildlife interactions should be non-invasive and avoid negative impacts on the animals.

Ecotourism activities typically involve visiting and enjoying a natural place without disturbing the landscape or its inhabitants. This might involve going for a hike on a forest trail, mountain biking, surfing, bird watching, camping, or forest bathing . 

Traveling in a way that minimizes carbon emissions, like taking a train or bike instead of flying, may also be part of an ecotourism trip. Because these modes of travel tend to be slower, they may be appreciated as enjoyable and relaxing ecotourism activities.

The Wolf Conservation Center ’s programing in New York State is an example of ecotourism. This non-profit organization is dedicated to the preservation of endangered wolf species. It hosts educational sessions that allow visitors to observe wolves from a safe distance. These programs help to fund the nonprofit organization’s conservation and wildlife rehabilitation efforts.

Stonehouse, Bernard. " Ecotourism ." Environmental Geology: Encyclopedia of Earth Science , 1999, doi:10.1007/1-4020-4494-1_101

" What is Ecotourism? " The International Ecotourism Society .

" Tourism ." International Union for Conservation of Nature .

" Galapagos Islands ." UNESCO .

" About Costa Rica ." Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington DC .

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How Does Ecotourism Help The Economy?

Published: November 14, 2023

Modified: December 28, 2023

by Lusa Sherwood



Ecotourism has gained significant attention in recent years as a sustainable form of travel that prioritizes the conservation of natural environments and the well-being of local communities. It is a responsible way of exploring natural areas and has the potential to bring various benefits to both the environment and the economy. In this article, we will delve into how ecotourism can contribute to the economy through direct and indirect economic benefits, the creation of employment opportunities, and its impact on local communities.

Ecotourism, also known as ecological tourism, focuses on promoting responsible travel to pristine natural areas. Its aim is to foster environmental education, conservation, and the well-being of local communities. Unlike traditional mass tourism, ecotourism aims to minimize negative impacts on the environment and maximize positive contributions to nature and society.

The economic benefits of ecotourism extend beyond the tourist’s experience. It plays a pivotal role in supporting local economies by generating revenue, creating job opportunities, and contributing to infrastructure development in the surrounding areas. Furthermore, ecotourism often promotes the preservation of cultural heritage and biodiversity, which can be valuable assets for a destination and its economy.

However, it is crucial to strike a balance between economic development and environmental conservation. Overexploitation or improper management of natural resources can lead to detrimental consequences. Therefore, it is essential to understand the various ways in which ecotourism can positively impact the economy while minimizing negative externalities.

In the following sections, we will explore the direct and indirect economic benefits of ecotourism, the employment opportunities it creates, its impact on local communities, and examine successful ecotourism initiatives through case studies. Additionally, we will discuss the challenges and potential risks associated with ecotourism and highlight the need for responsible practices to ensure the long-term sustainability of this growing industry.

Definition of Ecotourism

Ecotourism can be defined as a form of sustainable tourism that focuses on conserving and protecting natural environments and promoting the well-being of local communities. It is characterized by responsible travel and the engagement in activities that enhance the understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

Unlike conventional tourism, which may have negative impacts on the environment and local cultures, ecotourism strives to minimize these impacts and promote sustainable practices. It involves visiting natural areas, such as national parks, wildlife reserves, and ecosystems, with a focus on conservation and education.

One of the core principles of ecotourism is environmental conservation. The primary goal is to protect the integrity of the natural environment and its biodiversity. This involves preserving habitats, protecting endangered species, and promoting sustainable use of resources. By doing so, ecotourism aims to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy and benefit from these natural areas.

Another fundamental aspect of ecotourism is community empowerment. It seeks to support and enhance the well-being of local communities by generating economic opportunities and fostering cultural preservation. Local communities are often involved in the planning and management of ecotourism activities, ensuring that they have a say in the development and benefits derived from tourism.

Furthermore, education and interpretation play a crucial role in ecotourism. Travelers are encouraged to learn about the natural and cultural heritage of the destination, promoting awareness and understanding of the importance of conservation. This educational component may include guided tours, nature walks, and interactive experiences that provide insights into the local ecosystem and indigenous cultures.

Overall, the essence of ecotourism lies in its commitment to sustainable practices and responsible tourism. It aims to strike a balance between environmental protection, socio-cultural empowerment, and economic benefits. By fostering a greater sense of responsibility and appreciation for the natural world, ecotourism offers an alternative way of exploring and experiencing the planet while ensuring its long-term viability.

Importance of Ecotourism for the Economy

Ecotourism plays a crucial role in supporting and diversifying economies, especially in regions rich in natural resources and cultural heritage. Its sustainable approach to tourism brings various economic benefits to destinations, contributing to local development and job creation. Here are some key reasons why ecotourism is important for the economy:

1. Revenue Generation:

Ecotourism generates revenue for destinations through activities such as park fees, nature tours, accommodation, and local products. This revenue provides a source of income for local communities and supports the development of infrastructure, such as roads and facilities, enhancing the overall tourism experience.

2. Economic Growth:

Ecotourism can stimulate economic growth in rural and remote areas that may have few alternative income-generating opportunities. By attracting visitors to these regions, ecotourism creates demand for local goods and services, such as handicrafts, organic produce, and traditional cuisine. This can lead to the growth and development of small businesses and entrepreneurship.

3. Preservation of Natural Resources:

Ecotourism incentivizes the preservation and protection of natural resources. When the value of natural areas is recognized through tourism, there is a greater impetus to maintain and conserve these ecosystems. This not only ensures the long-term viability of the tourism industry but also safeguards the ecosystem services that support human livelihoods, such as clean water, air, and fertile soil.

4. Cultural Heritage Preservation:

Many ecotourism destinations are also rich in cultural heritage. By promoting responsible travel, ecotourism helps preserve traditional practices, architecture, and indigenous knowledge. This cultural preservation not only maintains a sense of identity and pride among local communities but also attracts tourists interested in experiencing authentic cultural experiences.

5. Market Differentiation:

Ecotourism allows destinations to differentiate themselves in the global tourism market. In a world where travelers are becoming increasingly conscious of sustainable practices, destinations that prioritize ecological and social responsibility can attract a growing segment of environmentally conscious tourists. This helps diversify tourism offerings and create niche markets.

In summary, ecotourism offers significant economic benefits by generating revenue, stimulating economic growth, preserving natural and cultural resources, and creating unique market opportunities. However, it is important to employ sustainable practices and ensure that the economic benefits of ecotourism are shared equitably among local communities. Through responsible management and collaboration, ecotourism can continue to contribute to the economic well-being of destinations while promoting environmental and social sustainability.

Direct Economic Benefits of Ecotourism

Ecotourism brings direct economic benefits to destinations, contributing to local economies and providing a source of income for communities. These economic benefits arise from various aspects of ecotourism activities. Here are some key direct economic benefits of ecotourism:

1. Tourism Expenditure:

Visitors engaged in ecotourism activities spend money on accommodations, meals, transportation, and souvenirs. This infusion of tourism expenditure has a direct positive impact on local businesses, including hotels, restaurants, transportation providers, and local artisans. The money spent by tourists supports these businesses and reinforces the local economy.

2. Park and Nature Reserve Fees:

Many ecotourism destinations charge entry fees to parks and nature reserves. These fees contribute to the conservation and maintenance efforts of these protected areas. The revenue generated from park fees can be used for habitat restoration, species protection, and the establishment of visitor facilities, enhancing the overall visitor experience.

3. Eco-lodges and Accommodation:

Eco-lodges and sustainable accommodations are often popular choices for ecotourists. These establishments prioritize environmentally friendly practices, which can include using renewable energy, conserving water, and supporting local suppliers. The establishment and operation of eco-lodges provide employment opportunities and generate revenue for local communities.

4. Nature Tours and Sustainable Activities:

Guided nature tours and sustainable activities, such as wildlife watching, hiking, and snorkeling, are integral components of ecotourism. Tourism operators offering these experiences create employment and contribute to local economies. These activities not only provide revenue but also foster environmental education and conservation awareness among tourists.

5. Local Product Sales:

Ecotourism often promotes the sale of local products, such as handicrafts, organic produce, or specialty foods. These products reflect the culture, traditions, and natural resources of the destination. The sale of these products provides income to local artisans, farmers, and producers, contributing directly to the local economy.

The direct economic benefits of ecotourism help generate income, create employment opportunities, and support local businesses. However, it is essential for communities and governments to manage these benefits responsibly and ensure that they are reinvested in sustainable initiatives that benefit both the environment and the local community. By doing so, ecotourism can continue to play a significant role in promoting economic development and sustainability.

Indirect Economic Benefits of Ecotourism

Ecotourism not only brings direct economic benefits to destinations but also generates indirect economic benefits that have a ripple effect on local economies. These indirect benefits, often seen as secondary or multiplier effects, arise from the interdependencies and linkages created within the tourism sector. Here are some key indirect economic benefits of ecotourism:

1. Job Creation:

The growth of ecotourism leads to the creation of jobs in various sectors. Beyond the direct employment opportunities in accommodations, tour guiding, and hospitality, there is an indirect impact on other industries. Local producers and artisans who supply goods and services to the tourism sector, such as food and handicrafts, also benefit from increased demand, leading to job creation and income generation.

2. Infrastructure Development:

As the demand for ecotourism increases, there is a need for improved infrastructure, such as roads, utilities, and public facilities. The development and enhancement of infrastructure benefits not only the tourism sector but also the local community as a whole. This includes improved transportation networks, access to healthcare facilities, and upgraded public services.

3. Capacity Building and Skill Development:

The growth of ecotourism often drives the need for capacity building and skill development in the local workforce. As communities strive to meet the demands of ecotourism, training programs and initiatives are implemented to enhance skills in areas such as guiding, hospitality, conservation, and sustainable practices. This leads to the improvement and diversification of the local labor force, increasing employability and income potential.

4. Conservation and Restoration Initiatives:

Ecotourism generates funds that can be allocated to conservation initiatives and the restoration of natural habitats. These investments not only benefit the environment but also create employment opportunities for professionals in the field of environmental sciences, conservation biology, and ecosystem management. Conservation projects also attract researchers and scientists, further enhancing local expertise and knowledge.

5. Knowledge Transfer:

Ecotourism facilitates the exchange of knowledge between locals and tourists. Visitors often have a keen interest in learning about the local culture, traditions, and environment. This promotes cultural exchange and fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of the destination. It also provides opportunities for locals to share their knowledge, stories, and experiences, thus preserving indigenous knowledge and traditions.

The indirect economic benefits of ecotourism are essential for long-term economic viability and community development. They contribute to the overall economic resilience of a destination, helping to diversify the local economy and create sustainable livelihoods. However, it is important to strike a balance between economic development and environmental preservation, ensuring that the indirect benefits of ecotourism are aligned with sustainable practices and local needs.

Employment Opportunities Created by Ecotourism

Ecotourism is a significant catalyst for job creation, providing employment opportunities that directly and indirectly support local communities. The diverse range of activities associated with ecotourism opens doors for various professions and skill sets. Here are some key employment opportunities created by ecotourism:

1. Tour Guides and Naturalists:

One of the primary employment opportunities in ecotourism is as a tour guide or naturalist. These individuals possess in-depth knowledge about the local ecosystem, wildlife, and cultural heritage. They lead visitors on guided tours, providing education, interpretation, and ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for tourists.

2. Hospitality and Accommodation:

As ecotourism destinations grow in popularity, there is an increased demand for accommodation options that align with sustainable practices. This creates employment opportunities in eco-lodges, resorts, bed and breakfast establishments, and other hospitality sectors. From front desk staff to housekeeping and kitchen employees, these jobs support the tourism infrastructure.

3. Conservation Specialists:

Ecotourism often goes hand in hand with conservation efforts. Consequently, employment opportunities arise for conservation specialists, including wildlife biologists, ecologists, park rangers, and environmental scientists. These professionals work to protect and manage natural areas, monitor wildlife populations, conduct research, and implement conservation strategies.

4. Artisans and Craftsmen:

Ecotourism provides an economic incentive for local artisans and craftsmen to showcase their traditional skills and crafts. From handcrafted souvenirs to artwork and traditional textiles, these individuals contribute significantly to the local economy. By promoting their products to tourists, they can earn a sustainable income and preserve cultural heritage.

5. Agro-Tourism and Farming:

In agricultural regions, ecotourism creates opportunities for agro-tourism experiences and farm stays. Visitors can participate in traditional farming activities, learn about organic farming methods, and enjoy locally sourced food products. These activities support local farmers, promote sustainable agriculture, and create employment in farming-related sectors.

6. Service Industry:

With an increase in tourist arrivals, the service industry experiences growth, leading to employment opportunities in restaurants, cafes, and transportation services. From waitstaff and cooks to drivers and tour operators, these positions form a vital part of the tourism value chain and provide income opportunities for local residents.

By providing employment opportunities, ecotourism contributes to poverty reduction, social inclusion, and economic empowerment within local communities. These jobs often promote skill development, capacity building, and cultural preservation, fostering a sense of pride and identity among local residents. It is important, however, for these employment opportunities to prioritize fair wages, safe working conditions, and opportunities for professional growth.

Economic Impacts on Local Communities

Ecotourism has significant economic impacts on local communities, providing a range of benefits that contribute to their development and well-being. These impacts go beyond direct revenue generation and job creation. Here are some key economic impacts of ecotourism on local communities:

1. Income Diversification:

Ecotourism offers an opportunity for local communities to diversify their sources of income. It provides an alternative economic sector that can reduce reliance on traditional industries such as agriculture or mining. This diversification helps to build resilience against economic downturns and enhances the overall economic stability of the community.

2. Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development:

Ecotourism encourages entrepreneurship and small business development within communities. It enables locals to start their own eco-friendly businesses, such as eco-lodges, tour operators, or restaurants serving locally sourced and sustainable food. These entrepreneurial ventures create opportunities for local residents to become self-employed and retain economic benefits within the community.

3. Enhanced Community Infrastructure:

The presence of tourism leads to infrastructure improvements in local communities. This includes the development of roads, transportation networks, sanitation facilities, and utilities. These infrastructure enhancements not only benefit tourists but also improve the quality of life for local residents and stimulate further economic development.

4. Capacity Building and Skill Development:

Ecotourism promotes capacity building and skill development within local communities. Training programs and workshops are often conducted to enhance skills in areas such as hospitality, tour guiding, conservation practices, and sustainable business management. These trainings empower community members to take on new roles, improve their employability, and access higher-paying jobs.

5. Preservation of Cultural Heritage:

Ecotourism values and celebrates the cultural heritage of local communities. It creates a demand for authentic cultural experiences, encouraging the preservation and revitalization of traditional practices, crafts, and rituals. This preservation of cultural heritage not only fosters a sense of pride and identity within the community but also generates economic opportunities through the sale of handicrafts, traditional performances, and cultural tours.

6. Community Empowerment:

Ecotourism empowers local communities by involving them in decision-making processes and tourism planning. Engaging local residents in the development and management of ecotourism initiatives ensures that their voices are heard and that the benefits are shared equitably. This empowerment fosters a sense of ownership and encourages community involvement in sustainable development practices.

The economic impacts of ecotourism on local communities can be transformative, stimulating economic growth, empowering residents, and enhancing their quality of life. However, it is essential to strike a balance between economic development and the preservation of the community’s unique cultural and natural heritage. By adopting responsible and sustainable practices, ecotourism can continue to bring positive economic impacts while maintaining the authenticity and integrity of the local community.

Case Studies: Successful Ecotourism Initiatives

Across the globe, numerous successful ecotourism initiatives have showcased the potential of responsible tourism to drive economic development while promoting conservation and community empowerment. Here are a few notable case studies:

1. Costa Rica:

Costa Rica is widely regarded as a pioneer in ecotourism. The country has dedicated significant efforts to protect its rich biodiversity while simultaneously developing a thriving tourism industry. With over 25% of its land designated as protected areas, Costa Rica has successfully attracted eco-conscious travelers with its diverse range of eco-lodges, adventure tourism, and conservation-focused activities. The revenue generated from ecotourism has supported the country’s initiatives in environmental preservation, wildlife conservation, and sustainable development, contributing significantly to its economy.

2. NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia:

The NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia is a prime example of how ecotourism can benefit local communities and wildlife conservation. This privately owned reserve has developed sustainable tourism practices that minimize environmental impacts while providing economic opportunities for nearby rural communities. Through partnerships with local communities, the reserve offers employment, training, and business opportunities related to tourism. Visitors can enjoy guided nature walks, hot air balloon rides, and stargazing activities while contributing to the conservation of the unique desert ecosystem and supporting local livelihoods.

3. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa:

The Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in South Africa showcases the success of ecotourism in the context of community development and conservation. The reserve focuses on promoting sustainable tourism practices while empowering local communities. It offers luxury accommodations and guided nature experiences, including whale watching, fynbos walks, and cultural tours. Grootbos actively involves the local communities in its operations by providing training, employment, and support for local enterprises. Through its commitment to social upliftment and conservation, the reserve has become an exemplary model for ecotourism in Africa.

4. Inkaterra, Peru:

Inkaterra in Peru is an eco-luxury hotel chain that has set the standard for sustainable tourism in the Peruvian Amazon and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The company focuses on preserving biodiversity, promoting conservation initiatives, and supporting local communities. Inkaterra’s lodges offer immersive experiences, including wildlife encounters, nature hikes, and cultural immersion programs, all designed to foster an appreciation for the environment and local heritage. The company partners with local communities, providing employment, educational opportunities, and support for conservation projects, thereby ensuring that the benefits of tourism are shared with the communities in which they operate.

These case studies demonstrate that successful ecotourism initiatives can lead to economic prosperity, conservation of natural and cultural heritage, and community empowerment. They highlight the importance of a holistic approach that balances environmental sustainability, community involvement, and economic benefits. By learning from these examples, destinations worldwide can harness the power of ecotourism to drive positive change in their own communities while ensuring the long-term preservation of their natural and cultural treasures.

Challenges and Potential Risks of Ecotourism

While ecotourism holds tremendous potential for sustainable development, it also faces several challenges and potential risks that need to be addressed to ensure its long-term viability. These challenges include:

1. Overcrowding and Environmental Impact:

As the popularity of ecotourism destinations grows, overcrowding can strain fragile ecosystems and result in environmental degradation. Increased footfall and traffic can disrupt wildlife habitats, damage sensitive ecosystems, and put strain on water resources and waste management systems. Careful management and visitor capacity limits are necessary to mitigate these impacts and prevent the deterioration of natural areas.

2. Unregulated Development:

In some cases, unregulated development can occur in response to the popularity of ecotourism destinations. If not managed properly, this can lead to land encroachment, habitat destruction, and loss of biodiversity. It is crucial to have effective zoning regulations and land-use planning to ensure responsible and sustainable development.

3. Unsustainable Practices:

Despite the principles of sustainability, some ecotourism activities may still have negative environmental impacts. For example, poorly managed wildlife encounters, such as unregulated feeding or excessive human-wildlife interactions, can disrupt natural behaviors and lead to ecological imbalances. It is essential to promote and enforce responsible tourism practices to minimize these detrimental effects.

4. Socio-cultural Impacts:

Ecotourism can pose both positive and negative socio-cultural impacts on local communities. Increased tourism can lead to changes in traditional ways of life, loss of cultural authenticity, and commodification of cultural practices. Communities may also face social conflicts, inequality, and economic leakage if the benefits of tourism are not effectively distributed. Engaging with local communities, respecting cultural norms, and ensuring fair and equitable benefit-sharing are crucial to addressing these challenges.

5. Economic Dependency:

Overdependence on tourism revenues can create economic vulnerability for communities when faced with fluctuations in visitor numbers or external shocks such as natural disasters or changes in travel patterns. Diversification of the economy and the development of alternative livelihoods outside of tourism can help mitigate this risk.

Addressing these challenges and mitigating potential risks requires a collaborative effort between governments, local communities, tourism operators, and visitors. Sustainable tourism practices, comprehensive planning, community involvement, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation are essential to ensure that ecotourism remains a responsible and sustainable form of travel.

Ecotourism offers a sustainable and responsible approach to travel that can bring tremendous benefits to both the economy and the environment. Through its focus on conservation, education, and community empowerment, ecotourism has the potential to generate direct and indirect economic benefits, create employment opportunities, and contribute to the overall well-being of local communities.

By generating revenue through tourism expenditure, park fees, and the promotion of local products, ecotourism supports local businesses and stimulates economic growth. It also fosters income diversification, entrepreneurship, and small business development, empowering communities and reducing dependency on traditional industries.

Furthermore, ecotourism plays a vital role in infrastructure development, capacity building, and the preservation of cultural heritage. It raises awareness about environmental conservation and fosters a sense of pride and identity within local communities.

However, there are challenges and potential risks that need to be addressed to ensure the long-term sustainability of ecotourism. These challenges include overcrowding, unregulated development, unsustainable practices, socio-cultural impacts, and economic dependency. By implementing responsible tourism practices, effective planning, and community involvement, these challenges can be mitigated.

Overall, the success of ecotourism lies in finding the balance between economic development, environmental conservation, and community empowerment. By prioritizing sustainability in its practices, ecotourism can continue to contribute to the preservation of natural and cultural heritage, while also providing economic opportunities for local communities and fostering a deeper appreciation for the world’s diverse ecosystems.

As travelers, it is crucial for us to choose ecotourism options that align with these principles, supporting destinations and initiatives that prioritize environmental responsibility, respect for local cultures, and the well-being of communities. By doing so, we can play a role in promoting sustainable tourism practices and ensuring that ecotourism continues to be a driving force for positive change.


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Ecotourism and sustainable development: a scientometric review of global research trends

1 Department of Management Science and Engineering, Northeast Agricultural University, Harbin, 150030 China

2 Faculty of Economic and Management, Mudanjiang Normal University, Mudanjiang, 157011 China

Changlin Ao

3 College of Engineering, Northeast Agricultural University, Harbin, 150030 China

Associated Data

The data that support the findings of this study are available from Web of Science.

With the increasing attention and awareness of the ecological environment, ecotourism is becoming ever more popular, but it still brings problems and challenges to the sustainable development of the environment. To solve such challenges, it is necessary to review literature in the field of ecotourism and determine the key research issues and future research directions. This paper uses scientometrics implemented by CiteSpace to conduct an in-depth systematic review of research and development in the field of ecotourism. Two bibliographic datasets were obtained from the Web of Science, including a core dataset and an expanded dataset, containing articles published between 2003 and 2021. Our research shows that ecotourism has been developing rapidly in recent years. The research field of ecotourism spans many disciplines and is a comprehensive interdisciplinary subject. According to the research results, the evolution of ecotourism can be roughly divided into three phases: human disturbance, ecosystem services and sustainable development. It could be concluded that it has entered the third stage of Shneider’s four-stage theory of scientific discipline. The research not only identifies the main clusters and their advance in ecotourism research based on high impact citations and research frontier formed by citations, but also presents readers with new insights through intuitive visual images.

Supplementary Information

The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s10668-022-02190-0.


Ecotourism, which has appeared in academic literature since the late 1980s, is a special form of nature-based tourism that maintains the well-being of the local community while protecting the environment and provides tourists with a satisfying nature experience and enjoyment (Ceballos-Lascuráin, 1996 ; Higgins, 1996 ; Orams, 1995 ). With years of research and development, ecotourism has risen to be a subject of investigation in the field of tourism research (Weaver & Lawton, 2007 ). In 2002, the United Nations declared it the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE), and the professional Journal of Ecotourism was established in the same year.

With the progress and maturity of ecotourism as an academic research field, countless scholars have put forward standards and definitions for ecotourism (Sirakaya et al., 1999 ; Wight, 1993 ). The main objectives of ecotourism emphasize long-term sustainable development (Whitelaw et al., 2014 ), including the conservation of natural resources, the generation of economic income, education, local participation and the promotion of social benefits such as local economic development and infrastructure (Ardoin et al., 2015 ; Coria & Calfucura, 2012 ; Krüger, 2005 ; Oladeji et al., 2021 ; Ross & Wall, 1999 ; Valdivieso et al., 2015 ). It can also boost rural economies and alleviate poverty in developing countries (Snyman, 2017 ; Zhong & Liu, 2017 ).

With unrestricted increasing attention to the ecological environment and the improvement of environmental awareness, ecotourism is becoming ever more prevalent, and the demand for tourism is increasing year by year (CREST, 2019 ). This increase, however, leads to a number of environmental, social and economic challenges in the development of ecotourism. For example, due to the low public awareness of ecotourism, the increase in tourists has brought a series of negative impacts on the local ecological environment, culture and economy, including disrespect for local culture and environmental protection, as well as more infrastructure construction and economic burden to meet the needs of tourists (Ahmad et al., 2018 ; Chiu et al., 2014 ; Shasha et al., 2020 ; Xu et al., 2020 ). Such challenges and contradictions are urgent problems to be tackled by the sustainable development of ecotourism. Especially against the backdrop of the current pandemic, tourism has experienced a severe blow, but climate change and other environmental issues have not been improved (CREST, 2020 ). In this context, facing these challenges and difficulties, it is essential to re-examine the future development path of ecotourism, to explore how government agencies can formulate appropriate management policies while preserving the environment and natural resources to support sustainable tourism development. Accordingly, it is necessary to consult literature in the field of ecotourism to understand the research progress and fundamental research issues, to identify challenges, suitable methods and future research direction of ecotourism.

Some previous reviews of ecotourism offer a preview of research trends in this rapidly developing area. Weaver and Lawton ( 2007 ) provide a comprehensive assessment of the current state and future progress of contemporary ecotourism research, starting with the supply and demand dichotomy of ecotourism, as well as fundamental areas such as quality control, industry, external environment and institutions. Ardoin et al. ( 2015 ) conducted a literature review, analyzing the influence of nature tourism on ecological knowledge, attitudes, behavior and potential research into the future. Niñerola et al. ( 2019 ) used the bibliometric method and VOSviewer to study the papers on sustainable development of tourism in Scopus from 1987 to 2018, including literature landscape and development trends. Shasha et al. ( 2020 ) used bibliometrics and social network analysis to review the research progress of ecotourism from 2001 to 2018 based on the Web of Science database using BibExcel and Gephi and explored the current hot spots and methods of ecotourism research. These reviews have provided useful information for ecotourism research at that time, but cannot reflect the latest research trends and emerging development of ecotourism either of timeliness, data integrity, research themes or methods.

This study aims to reveal the theme pattern, landmark articles and emerging trends in ecotourism knowledge landscape research from macro- to micro-perspectives. Unlike previous literature surveys, from timeliness, our dataset contains articles published between 2003 and 2021, and it will reveal more of the trends that have emerged over the last 3 years. Updating the rapidly developing literature is important as recent discoveries from different areas can fundamentally change collective knowledge (Chen et al., 2012 , 2014a ). To ensure data integrity, two bibliographic datasets were generated from Web of Science, including a core dataset using the topic search and an expanded dataset using the citation expansion method, which is more robust than defining rapidly growing fields using only keyword lists (Chen et al., 2014b ). And from the research theme and method, our review focuses on the area of ecotourism and is instructed by a scientometric method conducted by CiteSpace, an analysis system for visualizing newly developing trends and key changes in scientific literature (Chen et al., 2012 ). Emerging trends are detected based on metrics calculated by CiteSpace, without human intervention or working knowledge of the subject matter (Chen et al., 2012 ). Choosing this approach can cover a more extensive and diverse range of related topics and ensure repeatability of analysis with updated data (Chen et al., 2014b ).

In addition, Shneider’s four-stage theory will be used to interpret the results in this review. According to Shneider’s four-stage theory of scientific discipline (Shneider, 2009 ), the development of a scientific discipline is divided into four stages. Stage I is the conceptualization stage, in which the objects and phenomena of a new discipline or research are established. Stage II is characterized by the development of research techniques and methods that allow researchers to investigate potential phenomena. As a result of methodological advances, there is a further understanding of objects and phenomena in the field of new subjects at this stage. Once the techniques and methods for specific purposes are available, the research enters Stage III, where the investigation is based primarily on the application of the new research method. This stage is productive, in which the research results have considerably enhanced the researchers’ understanding of the research issues and disclosed some unknown phenomena, leading to interdisciplinary convergence or the emergence of new research directions or specialties. The last stage is Stage IV, whose particularity is to transform tacit knowledge into conditional knowledge and generalized knowledge, so as to maintain and transfer the scientific knowledge generated in the first three stages.

The structure of this paper is construed as follows. The second part describes the research methods employed, the scientometric approach and CiteSpace, as well as the data collection. In the third part, the bibliographic landscape of the core dataset is expounded from the macroscopic to the microscopic angle. The fourth part explores the developments and emerging trends in the field of ecotourism based on the expanded dataset and discusses the evolution phase of ecotourism. The final part is the conclusion of this study. Future research of ecotourism is prospected, and the limitations of this study are discussed.

Methods and data collection

Scientometric analyses and citespace.

Scientometrics is a branch of informatics that involves quantitative analysis of scientific literature in order to capture emerging trends and knowledge structures in a particular area of study (Chen et al., 2012 ). Science mapping tools generate interactive visual representations of complex structures by feeding a set of scientific literature through scientometrics and visual analysis tools to highlight potentially important patterns and trends for statistical analysis and visualization exploration (Chen, 2017 ). At present, scientometrics is widely used in many fields of research, and there are also many kinds of scientific mapping software widely used by researchers and analysts, such as VosViewer, SCI2, HistCite, SciMAT, Gephi, Pajek and CiteSpace (Chen, 2011 , 2017 ; Chen et al., 2012 ).

Among these tools, CiteSpace is known for its powerful literature co-citation analysis, and its algorithms and features are constantly being refined as it continues to evolve. CiteSpace is a citation visual analysis software developed under the background of scientometrics and data visualization to analyze the basics that are included in scientific analysis (Chen, 2017 ; Chen et al., 2012 ). It is specialized designed to satisfy the need for systematic review in rapidly changing complicated areas, particularly with the ability to identify and explain emerging trends and transition patterns (Chen et al., 2014a ). It supports multiple types of bibliometric research, such as collaborative network analysis, co-word analysis, author co-citation analysis, document co-citation analysis, and temporal and spatial visualization (Chen, 2017 ). Currently, CiteSpace has been extensively used in more than 60 fields, including computer science, information science, management and medicine (Abad-Segura et al., 2019 ; Chen, 2017 ).

In this paper, we utilize CiteSpace (5.8.R1) to analyze acquired bibliographies of ecotourism to study emerging trends and developments in this field. From macro to micro, from intuitive to complex, from whole to part and from general to special, the writing ideas are adopted. Figure  1 presented the specific research framework of this study.

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The research framework of this study

Data collection

Typical sources of scientific literature are Web of Science, Scopus and Google Scholar. Considering the quantity and quality of data, the Web of Science database was expected to provide the original data in this research. In order to comprehend the research status and development trends of ecotourism, this study systematically reviewed the ecotourism literature collected on the Web of Science Core Collection. The Web of Science Core Collection facilitates access to the world’s leading scholarly journals, books and proceedings of conferences in the sciences, social sciences, art, and humanities, as well as access to their entire citation network. It mainly includes Science Citation Index Expanded from 2003 to current and Social Sciences Citation Index from 2004 to present. Therefore, the data obtained in this study are from 2003 and were consulted on June 3, 2021.

In the process of data retrieval, it is frequently confronted with the choice between recall rate and precision rate. To address the problem of low recall rate in keyword or topic retrieval, Chen et al. ( 2014a , b ) expanded the retrieval results through ‘citation expansion’ and ‘comprehensive topic search’ strategies. However, when the recall rate is high, the accuracy rate will decrease correspondingly. In practical standpoint, instead of refining and cleaning up the original search results, a simpler and more efficient way is to cluster or skip these unrelated branches. Priority should be placed on ensuring recall rate, and data integrity is more important than data for accuracy. Therefore, two ecotourism documentation datasets, the core dataset and the expanded dataset, were obtained from the Web of Science by using comprehensive topic search and citation expansion method. The latter approach has been proved more robust than using keyword lists only to define fast-growing areas (Chen et al., 2014b ). A key bibliographic landscape is generated based on the core dataset, followed by more thorough research of the expanded dataset.

The core dataset

The core dataset was derived through comprehensive subject retrieval in Web of Science Core Collection. The literature type was selected as an article or review, and the language was English. The period spans 2003 to 2021. The topic search query is composed of three phrases of ecotourism: ‘ ecotour* ’ OR ‘ eco-tour* ’ OR ‘ ecological NEAR/5 tour* ’. The wildcard * is used to capture related variants of words, for example, ecotour, ecotourism, ecotourist and ecotourists. The related records that are requested include finding these terms in the title, abstract or keywords. The query yielded 2991 original unique records.

The expanded dataset

The expanded dataset includes the core dataset and additional records obtained by reference link association founded on the core dataset. The principle of citation expansion is that if an article cites at least one article in the core dataset, we can infer that it is related to the topic (Garfield, 1955 ). The expanded dataset is comprised of 27,172 unique records, including the core dataset and the articles that cited them. Both datasets were used for the following scientometrics analysis.

Bibliographic landscape based on the core dataset

The core dataset consists of a total of 2991 literature from 2003 to 2021. This study utilized the core dataset to conduct an overall understanding of the bibliographic landscape in the field of ecotourism.

Landscape views of core dataset

The distribution of the yearly publication of bibliographic records in the core and expanded datasets is presented in Fig.  2 . It can be observed that the overall number of ecotourism-related publications is on the rise, indicating that the scholarly community is increasingly interested in ecotourism. After 2018, the growth rate increased substantially. And in 2020, the number of publications in the expanded dataset is close to 5000, almost double that of 2017 and 5 times that of 2011. This displays the rapid development of research in the field of ecotourism in recent years, particularly after 2018, more and more researchers began to pay attention to this field, which also echoes the trend of global tourism development and environmental protection. With the increase in personal income, tourism has grown very rapidly, and with it, tourism revenue and tourist numbers, especially in developing states. For instance, the number of domestic tourists in China increased from 2.641 billion in 2011 to 6.06 billion in 2019, and tourism revenue increased from 1930.5 billion RMB in 2011 to 5725.1 billion RMB in 2019 (MCT, 2021 ). However, due to the lack of effective management and frequent human activities, the rapid development of tourism has led to various ecological and environmental problems, which require corresponding solutions (Shasha et al., 2020 ). This has played an active role in promoting the development of ecotourism and triggered a lot of related research. In addition, since 2005, the expanded dataset has contained numerous times as many references as the core dataset, demonstrating the importance of using citation expansion for literature retrieval in scientometric review studies.The data were consulted on June 3, 2021

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The distribution of bibliographic records in core and expanded dataset. Note The data were consulted on June 3, 2021

The dual-map overlay of scientific map literature as Fig.  3 shows, against the background of global scientific map from more than 10,000 journals covered by Web of Science, represents the distribution and connections on research bases and application fields across the entire dataset of the research topics (Chen & Leydesdorff, 2014 ). Colored lines are citation links, and numbered headings are cluster labels. On the left side is the journal distribution which cites literature, regarding the field application of ecotourism, mainly covers multiple disciplines such as 3. Ecology, Earth, Marine, 6. Psychology, Education, Health, 7. Veterinary, Animal Science and 10. Economics, Economic and Political. On the right side is the distribution of journals of cited literature, representing the research basis of ecotourism. As can be observed from the figure, ecotourism research is based on at least five disciplines on the right, including 2. Environmental, Toxicology, Nutrition, 7. Psychology, Education, Social, 8. Molecular, Biology, Genetics, 10. Plant, Ecology, Zoology and 12. Economics, Economic, Political. It can be viewed that the research field of ecotourism spans multiple disciplines and is a comprehensive and complex subject. The dual-map overlay provides a global visualization of literature growth of the discipline level.

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A dual-map overlay of ecotourism literature

The total number of papers issued by a country or an institution reflects its academic focus and overall strength, while centrality indicates the degree of academic cooperation with others and the influence of published papers. The top 15 countries and institutions for the number of ecotourism papers published from 2003 to 2021 are provided in Table ​ Table1. 1 . Similar to the study of Shasha et al. ( 2020 ), the ranking of the top six countries by the number of publications remains unchanged. As can be seen from the table, the USA ranks first in the world, far ahead in both the number of publications and the centrality. China ranks second in global ecotourism publications, followed by Australia, England, South Africa and Canada. While the latest data show that Taiwan (China), Turkey and South Korea appear on the list. Overall, the top 15 countries with the most publications cover five continents, containing a number of developed and developing, which shows that ecotourism research is receiving global attention. In terms of international academic cooperation and impact of ecotourism, Australia and England share second place, Italy and France share fourth place, followed by South Africa and Spain. China’s centrality is relatively low compared to the number of publications, ranking eighth. Academic cooperation between countries is of great significance. Usually, countries with high academic publishing level cooperate closely due to similar research interests. International academic cooperation has enhanced each other’s research capacity and promoted the development of ecotourism research. Therefore, although some countries have entered this list with the publication number, they should attach importance to increase academic cooperation with other countries and improving the international influence of published papers.

The top 15 most productive countries and institutions on ecotourism

The Chinese Academy of Sciences and its university are the most prolific when it draws to institutions’ performance. It is the most important and influential research institute in China, especially in the field of sustainable development science. Australia has four universities on the list, with Griffith University and James Cook University in second and third place. USA also includes four universities, with the University of Florida in fourth place. South Africa, a developing country, gets three universities, with the University of Cape Town and the University of Johannesburg fifth and sixth, respectively. In comparison with previous studies (Shasha et al., 2020 ), Iran and Mexico each have one university in the ranking, replacing two universities in Greece, which means that the importance and influence of developing countries in the field of ecotourism is gradually rising. Based on the above results, it can be summarized that the USA, China, Australia and South Africa are relatively active countries in the field of ecotourism, and their development is also in a relatively leading position.

Most active topics

The foam tree map and the pie chart of the focal topics of ecotourism based on the core dataset generated by Carrot2 through the title of each article is illustrated in Fig.  4 . Developing and developed, case study, protected areas, sustainable tourism, tourism development and developing ecotourism are leading topics in the field of ecotourism research, as well as specific articles under the main topics. The lightweight view generated by Carrot2 provides a reference for the research, and then, co-word analysis is employed to more specifically reflect the topics in the research field.

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Foam tree map and pie chart of major topics on ecotourism

The topics covered by ecotourism could be exposed by the keywords of the articles in the core dataset. Figure  5 displays the keywords analysis results generated based on the core dataset. From the visualization results in the figure, it can infer that ecotourism, conservation, tourism, management, protected area, impact, biodiversity, sustainability, national park and community are the ten most concerned topics. Distinct colors set out at the time of co-citation keywords first appear, and yellow is generated earlier than red. In addition, Fig.  5 can also reflect the development and emerging topics in the research field, such as China, Mexico, South Africa and other hot countries for ecotourism research; ecosystem service, economic value, climate change, wildlife tourism, rural tourism, forest, marine protected area and other specific research directions; valuation, contingent valuation, choice experiment and other research methods; willingness to pay, preference, benefit, perception, attitude, satisfaction, experience, behavior, motivation, risk, recreation and other specific research issues.

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A landscape view of keywords based on the core dataset

Emerging trends and developments based on the expanded dataset

The expanded dataset, consisting of 27,172 records, is approximately nine times larger than the core dataset. This research applies the expanded dataset to profoundly explore the emerging trends and developments of ecotourism.

Keywords with citation bursts

Detection of citation bursts can indicate both the scientific community’s interest in published articles and burst keywords as an indicator of emerging tendencies. Figure  6 displays the top 30 keywords with the strongest citation bursts in the expanded dataset. Since 2003, a large number of keywords have exploded. Among them, the strongest bursts include ecotourism, bird, disturbance, reserve, Africa, challenge, sustainable development and strategy. Keywords with citation burst after 2017 are experience, challenge, sustainable development, willingness to pay, perspective, strategy, quality and satisfaction, which have continued to this day. The results indicate dynamic development and emerging trends in research hotspots in the field of ecotourism.

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Top 30 keywords with the strongest citation bursts

References with citation bursts

Figure  7 sets out the top 30 references in the expanded dataset with citation bursts. The articles with the fastest growing citations can also contribute to describe the dynamics of a field. References with high values in strength column are important milestones of ecotourism research. The two articles with strong citation bursts prior to 2010 focused on the human impact on the environment and animals. West et al. ( 2006 ) discussed the relationship between parks and human beings and the social impact of protected areas, and Köndgen et al. ( 2008 ) studied the decline of endangered great apes caused by a human pandemic virus. The paper with the strongest citation burst in the entire expanded dataset was released by Fairhead et al. ( 2012 ), which looked at ‘green grabbing,’ the appropriation of land and resources for environmental purposes. Milcu et al. ( 2013 ) conducted a semi-quantitative review of publications dealing with cultural ecosystem services with the second strongest citation burst, which concluded that the improvement of the evaluation method of cultural ecosystem service value, the research on the value of cultural ecosystem service under the background of ecosystem service and the clarification of policy significance were the new themes of cultural ecosystem service research. In addition, many articles with citation burst discussed the evaluation method of ecosystem services value (Costanza et al., 2014 ; Groot et al., 2010 ), the evaluation of cultural ecosystem service value (Plieninger et al., 2013 ) and its role in ecosystem service evaluation (Chan et al., 2012 ; Chan, Guerry, et al., 2012 ; Chan, Satterfield, et al., 2012 ; Chan, Satterfield, et al., 2012 ; Daniel et al., 2012 ). The most fresh literature with strong citation burst is the article of D’Amato et al. ( 2017 ) published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, which compared and analyzed sustainable development avenues such as green, circular and bio economy. In addition, it is worthwhile noting the use of R in ecotourism, with the persuasive citation burst continuing from 2012 to the present, as indicated by the orange arrow in Fig.  7 .

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Top 30 references with the strongest citation bursts

Landscape view of co-citation analysis

The landscape view of co-citation analysis of Fig.  8 is generated based on the expanded dataset. Using g -index ( k  = 25) selection criteria in the latest edition of CiteSpace, an annual citation network was constructed. The final merged network contained 3294 links, 2122 nodes and 262 co-citation clusters. The three largest linked components cover 1748 connected nodes, representing 82% of the entire network. The modularization degree of the synthetic network is 0.8485, which means that co-citation clustering can clearly define each sub-field of ecotourism. Another weighted mean silhouette value of the clustering validity evaluation is 0.9377, indicating that the clustering degree of the network is also very superior. The harmonic mean value amounts to 0.8909.

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A landscape view of the co-citation network based on the expanded dataset

In the co-citation network view, the location of clusters and the correlation between clusters can show the intellectual structure in the field of ecotourism, so that readers can obtain an overall understanding of this field. The network falls into 25 co-citation clusters. The tags for each cluster are generated founded on the title, keywords and abstract of the cited article. Color-coded areas represent the time of first appeared co-citation links, with gray indicating earlier and red later. The nodes in the figure with red tree rings are references to citation bursts.

Timeline view

In order to further understand the time horizon and study process of developing evolution on clusters, after the generation of co-citation cluster map, the Y -axis is cluster number and the year of citation publication is X -axis, so as to obtain the timeline view of the co-citation network, shown as Fig.  9 . Clusters are organized vertically from largest to smallest. The color curve represents co-citation link coupled with corresponding color year, with gray representing earlier and red representing newer. Larger nodes and nodes with red tree rings indicate high citation or citation burst. The three most cited references of the year demonstrate below each node, in vertical order from least to most.

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A timeline visualization of the largest clusters

The timeline view provides a reasonably instinctual and insightful reference to understand the evolutionary path of every subdomain. Figure  9 shows 19 clusters ranging from #0 to #18, with #0 being the largest cluster. As can be seen from the figure, the sustainability and activeness of each cluster are contrasting. For example, the largest cluster has been active since 2006, while the gray and purple clusters are no longer active.

Major clusters

Taking clustering as a unit and analyzing at the level of clustering, specifically selecting large or new type clustering, is the foothold of co-citation analysis, which can help to understand the principal and latest research fields related to ecotourism. Table ​ Table2 2 displays a summary of the foremost 19 clusters, the first nine of which are all over 100 in size. The silhouette score of all clusters is greater than 0.8, indicating that the homogeneity of each cluster is high. The mean year is the average of the publication dates of references in the cluster. By combining the results in Table ​ Table2, 2 , Figs.  8 and ​ and9, 9 , it can be observed that the five largest clusters are #0 cultural ecosystem services, #1 large carnivore, #2 human disturbance, #3 whale shark and #4 ecosystem service. A recent topic is cluster #16 COVID-19 pandemic. #11 Ecological footprint and #14 social media are two relatively youthful fields.

Summary of major clusters

* LLR refers to Log-Likelihood Ratio

The research status of a research field can be demonstrated by its knowledge base and research frontier. The knowledge base consists of a series of scholarly writing cited by the corresponding article, i.e., cited references, while the research frontier is the writing inspired by the knowledge base, i.e., citing articles. Distinct research frontiers may come from the same knowledge base. Consequently, each cluster is analyzed based on cited references and citing articles. The cited references and citing articles of the five largest clusters are shown in Online Appendix A. Fig a) lists the 15 top cited references with the highest Σ (sigma) value in the cluster, where Σ value indicates that the citation is optimal in terms of the comprehensive performance of structural centrality and citation bursts. Fig b) shows the major citing articles of cluster. The citation behavior of these articles determines the grouping of cited literature and thus forms the cluster. The coverage is the proportion of member citations cited by citing articles.

Phase evolution research

Through the above analysis of the core dataset and the expanded dataset of ecotourism, we can see the development and evolution of the research field of ecotourism. The research process of ecotourism has gone through several stages, and each stage has its strategic research issues. Research starts with thinking about the relationship between humans and nature, moves to study it as a whole ecosystem, and then explores sustainable development. Hence, the evolution of ecotourism can be roughly parted into three phases.

Phase I: Human disturbance research stage (2003–2010)

This phase of research concentrates on the influence of human activities such as ecotourism on the environment and animals. Representative keywords of this period include ecotourism, human disturbance, response, coral reef, bird, disturbance, recreation, reserve, park, South Africa and people. Representative articles are those published by West et al. ( 2006 ) and Köndgen et al. ( 2008 ) of human impact on the environment and animals. The representative clustering is #2 human disturbance, which is the third largest one, consisting of 130 cited references from 1998 to 2012 with the average year of 2004. This cluster has citation bursts between 2002 and 2010 and has been inactive since then. As showed in Fig S3 a) and b), the research base and frontier are mainly around the impact of human disturbances such as ecotourism on biology and the environment (McClung et al., 2004 ). And as showed in Fig.  8 and Fig.  9 , clusters closely related to #2 belong to this phase and are also no longer active, such as #5 off-road vehicle, #6 protected area, #10 poverty reduction and #12 sustainable lifestyle.

Phase II: Ecosystem services research stage (2011–2015)

In this stage, the content of ecotourism research is diversified and exploded. The research is not confined to the relationship between humans and nature, but begins to investigate it as an entire ecosystem. In addition, some specific or extended areas began to receive attention. Typical keywords are abundance, resource, Africa, risk, predation, consequence and science. The most illustrative papers in this stage are Fairhead et al. ( 2012 )’s discussion on green grabbing and Milcu et al. ( 2013 )’s review on cultural ecosystem services. Other representative papers in this period focused on the evaluation methods of ecosystem service value and the role of cultural ecosystem service in the evaluation of ecosystem service value. Most of the larger clusters in the survey erupted at this stage, including #0 cultural ecosystem services, #1 large carnivore, #3 whale shark, #4 ecosystem services. Some related clusters also belong to this stage, such as #7 neoliberal conservation, #8 responsible behavior, #9 tourism development, #13 mangrove forest, #15 volunteer tourism, #17 circular economy and #18 telecoupling framework.

Cluster #0 cultural ecosystem services are the largest cluster in ecotourism research field, containing 157 cited references from 2006 to 2019, with the mean year being 2012. It commenced to have the citation burst in 2009, with high cited continuing until 2019. Cultural ecosystem services are an essential component of ecosystem services, including spiritual, entertainment and cultural benefits. Thus, in Fig.  8 , the overlap with #4 ecosystem services can obviously be seen. In Cluster #0, many highly cited references have discussed the trade-offs between natural and cultural ecosystem services in ecosystem services (Nelson et al., 2009 ; Raudsepp-Hearne et al., 2010 ) and the important role of cultural ecosystem services in the evaluation of ecosystem services value (Burkhard et al., 2012 ; Chan, Guerry, et al., 2012 ; Chan, Satterfield, et al., 2012 ; Fisher et al., 2009 ; Groot et al., 2010 ). As non-market value, how to evaluate and quantify cultural ecosystem services is also an important issue (Hernández-Morcillo et al., 2012 ; Milcu et al., 2013 ; Plieninger et al., 2013 ). Besides, the exploration of the relationship among biodiversity, human beings and ecosystem services is also the focus of this cluster research (Bennett et al., 2015 ; Cardinale et al., 2012 ; Díaz et al., 2015 ; Mace et al., 2012 ). The citing articles of #0 indicate the continued exploration of the connotation of cultural ecosystem services and their value evaluation methods (Dickinson & Hobbs, 2017 ). It is noteworthy that some articles have introduced spatial geographic models (Havinga et al., 2020 ; Hirons et al., 2016 ) and social media methods (Calcagni et al., 2019 ) as novel methods to examine cultural ecosystem services. In addition, the link and overlap between #0 cultural ecosystem service and #17 circular economy cannot be overlooked.

Ecosystem services relate to all the benefits that humans receive from ecosystems, including supply services, regulatory services, cultural services and support services. Research on cultural ecosystem services is based on the research of ecosystem services. It can be viewed in Fig.  9 that the research and citation burst in #4 was all slightly earlier than #0. Cluster #4 includes 118 references from 2005 to 2019, with an average year of 2011. In its research and development, how to integrate ecosystem services into the market and the payment scheme to protect the natural environment is a significant research topic (Gómez-Baggethun et al., 2010 ). In Cluster #4, the most influential literature provides an overview of the payment of ecosystem services (PES) from theory to practice by Engel et al. ( 2008 ). Many highly cited references have discussed PES (Kosoy & Corbera, 2010 ; Muradian et al., 2010 ), including the effectiveness of evaluation (Naeem et al., 2015 ), social equity matters (Pascual et al., 2014 ), the suitability and challenge (Muradian et al., 2013 ), and how to contribute to saving nature (Redford & Adams, 2009 ). The cluster also includes studies on impact assessment of protected areas (Oldekop et al., 2016 ), protected areas and poverty (Brockington & Wilkie, 2015 ; Ferraro & Hanauer, 2014 ), public perceptions (Bennett, 2016 ; Bennett & Dearden, 2014 ) and forest ecosystem services (Hansen et al., 2013 ). The foremost citing articles confirm the dominant theme of ecosystem services, especially the in-depth study and discussion of PES (Muniz & Cruz, 2015 ). In addition, #4 is highly correlated with #7 neoliberal protection, and Fairhead et al. ( 2012 ), a representative article of this stage, belongs to this cluster.

As the second largest cluster, Cluster #1 contains 131 references from 2008 to 2019, with the median year of 2014. As Fig S2 a) shows, the highly cited literature has mainly studied the status and protection of large carnivores (Mace, 2014 ; Ripple et al., 2014 ), including the situation of reduction (Craigie et al., 2010 ), downgrade (Estes et al., 2011 ) and even extinction (Dirzo et al., 2014 ; Pimm et al., 2014 ), and the reasons for such results, such as tourist visits (Balmford et al., 2015 ; Geffroy et al., 2015 ) and the increase in population at the edge of the protected areas (Wittemyer et al., 2008 ). The conservation effects of protected areas on wildlife biodiversity (Watson et al., 2014 ) and the implications of tourist preference heterogeneity for conservation and management (Minin et al., 2013 ) have also received attention. It is worth noting that the high citation rate of a paper using R to estimate the linear mixed-effects model (Bates et al., 2015 ) and the use of R in this cluster. The relationship between biodiversity and ecotourism is highlighted by the representative citing articles in research frontier of this cluster (Chung et al., 2018 ).

Cluster #3 refers to marine predator, and as shown in Fig.  8 , which has a strong correlation with #1. A total of 125 references were cited from 2002 to 2018, with an average year of 2011. References with high citation in #3 mainly studied the extinction and protection of marine life such as sharks (Dulvy et al., 2014 ), as well as the economic value and ecological impact of shark ecotourism (Clua et al., 2010 ; Gallagher & Hammerschlag, 2011 ; Gallagher et al., 2015 ). The paper published by Gallagher et al. ( 2015 ) is both the highly cited reference and main citing article, mainly focusing on the impact of shark ecotourism. It is also noteworthy that #6 protected area, #13 mangrove forest and #29 Mediterranean areas are highly correlated with these two clusters (Fig.  8 ).

Moreover, some clusters are not highly correlated with other clusters, but cannot be neglected at this stage of research. Cluster #8 responsible behavior includes 107 citations with the average year 2013, and mainly studied environmentally responsible behaviors in ecotourism (Chiu et al., 2014 ). Cluster #9 tourism development contains 97 cited references with mean year of 2015, focusing on the impact of such factors as residents’ perception on tourism development (Sharpley, 2014 ). Cluster #15 volunteer tourism consists of 52 citations, with an average year of 2011, which mainly considers the role of volunteer tourism in tourism development and sustainable tourism (Wearing & McGehee, 2013 ). Cluster #18 telecoupling framework has 26 cited references with the mean year being 2015, and the application of the new integrated framework of telecoupling 1 in ecotourism can be seen (Liu et al., 2015 ).

At this stage, it can be seen that the research field of ecotourism begins to develop in the direction of diversification, including the value evaluation and related research of ecosystem services and cultural ecosystem services, as well as the exploration of wild animals and plants, marine animals and plants and biodiversity. Neoliberal conservation, tourists’ responsible behavior, tourism development, volunteer tourism and circular economy are all explored. Some new research methods have also brought fresh air to this field, such as the introduction of spatial geographic models and social media methods, the discussion of economic value evaluation methods, the widespread use of R and the exploration of telecoupling framework. Therefore, from this stage, research in the field of ecotourism has entered the second stage of scientific discipline development (Shneider, 2009 ), featured by the use and evolution of research tools that can be used to investigate potential phenomena.

Phase III: Sustainable development research stage (2016 to present)

This stage of research continues to explore a series of topics of the preceding phase and further extends the research field on this basis. The keywords at this stage are politics, marine protected area and valuation. Some other keywords are still very active today, such as experience, challenge, sustainable development, willingness to pay, perspective, strategy, quality and satisfaction. The representative article is about sustainable development published by D'Amato et al. ( 2017 ), as shown in Fig.  8 belonging to #17 circular economy. The emerging clusters in this period are #11 ecological footprint, #14 social media and #16 COVID-19 pandemic. Cluster #11 contains 70 cited references from 2013 to 2020 with the mean year 2017. This clustering study mainly used the ecological footprint as an environmental indicator and socioeconomic indicators such as tourism to investigate the hypothesis of environmental Kuznets curve (Ozturk et al., 2016 ; Ulucak & Bilgili, 2018 ). Cluster #14 includes 52 cited references, with an average year of 2016. It can be seen that the introduction of social media data has added new color to research in the field of ecotourism, such as using social media data to quantify landscape value (Zanten et al., 2016 ) and to understand tourists’ preferences for the experience of protected areas (Hausmann et al., 2018 ), as well as from a spatial perspective using social media geo-tagged photos as indicators for evaluating cultural ecosystem services (Richards & Friess, 2015 ). As the latest and most concerned topic, cluster #16 contains 48 cited references, with mean year of 2018. This cluster mainly cites research on over-tourism (Seraphin et al., 2018 ) and sustainable tourism (Higgins-Desbiolles, 2018 ) and explores the impact of pandemics such as COVID-19 on global tourism (Gössling et al., 2021 ).

These emerging clusters at this phase bring fresh thinking to the research of ecotourism. First of all, the analysis of ecological footprint provides a tool for measuring the degree of sustainability and helps to monitor the effectiveness of sustainable programs (Kharrazi et al., 2014 ). Research and exploration of ecological footprint in ecotourism expresses the idea of sustainable development and puts forward reasonable planning and suggestions by comparing the demand of ecological footprint with the carrying capacity of natural ecosystem. Secondly, the use of social media data brings a new perspective of data acquisition to ecotourism research. Such large-scale data acquisition can make up for the limitations of sample size and data sampling bias faced by survey data users and provide a new way to understand and explore tourist behavior and market (Li et al., 2018 ). Finally, the sudden impact of COVID-19 in 2020 and its long-term sustainability has dealt a huge blow to the tourism industry. COVID-19 has highlighted the great need and value of tourism, while fundamentally changing the way destinations, business and visitors plan, manage and experience tourism (CREST, 2020 ). However, the stagnation of tourism caused by the pandemic is not enough to meet the challenges posed by the environment and the climate crisis. Therefore, how to sustain the development of tourism in this context to meet the challenges of the environment and climate change remains an important issue in the coming period of time. These emerging clusters are pushing the boundaries of ecotourism research and the exploration of sustainable development in terms of research methods, data collection and emerging topics.

Despite the fact that the research topics in this stage are richer and more diversified, the core goal of research is still committed to the sustainable development of ecotourism. The introduction of new technologies and the productive results have led to a much-improved understanding of research issues. All this commemorates the entrance of research into the third stage of the development of scientific disciplines (Shneider, 2009 ). In addition to continuing the current research topics, the future development of the field of ecotourism will continue to focus on the goal of sustainable development and will be more diversified and interdisciplinary.

This paper uses scientometrics to make a comprehensive visual domain analysis of ecotourism. The aim is to take advantage of this method to conduct an in-depth systematic review of research and development in the field of ecotourism. We have enriched the process of systematic reviews of knowledge domains with features from the latest CiteSpace software. Compared with previous studies, this study not only updated the database, but also extended the dataset with citation expansion, so as to more comprehensively identify the rapidly developing research field. The research not only identifies the main clusters and their advance in ecotourism research based on high impact citations and research frontiers formed by citations, but also presents readers with new insights through intuitive visual images. Through this study, readers can swiftly understand the progress of ecotourism, and on the basis of this study, they can use this method to conduct in-depth analysis of the field they are interested in.

Our research shows that ecotourism has developed rapidly in recent years, with the number of published articles increasing year by year, and this trend has become more pronounced after 2018. The research field of ecotourism spans many disciplines and is a comprehensive interdisciplinary subject. Ecotourism also attracts the attention of numerous developed and developing countries and institutions. The USA, China, Australia and South Africa are in a relatively leading position in the research and development of ecotourism. Foam tree map and pie chart of major topics, and the landscape view of keywords provide the hotspot issues of the research field. The development trend of ecotourism is preliminarily understood by detecting the citation bursts of the keywords and published articles. Co-citation analysis generates the main clusters of ecotourism research, and the timeline visualization of these clusters provides a clearer view for understanding the development dynamics of the research field. Building on all the above results, the research and development of ecotourism can be roughly divided into three stages: human disturbance, ecosystem services and sustainable development. Through the study of keywords, representative literature and main clusters in each stage, the development characteristics and context of each stage are clarified. From the current research results, we can catch sight that the application of methods and software in ecotourism research and the development of cross-field. Supported by the Shneider’s four-stage theory of scientific discipline (Shneider, 2009 ), it can be thought that ecotourism is in the third stage. Research tools and methods have become more potent and convenient, and research perspectives have become more diverse.

Based on the overall situation, research hotspots and development tendency of ecotourism research, it can be seen that the sustainable development of ecotourism is the core issue of current ecotourism research and also an important goal for future development. In the context of the current pandemic, the tourism industry is in crisis, but crisis often breeds innovation, and we must take time to reconsider the way forward. As we look forward to the future of tourism, we must adopt the rigor and dedication required to adapt to the pandemic, adhering to the principles of sustainable development while emphasizing economic reliability, environmental suitability and cultural acceptance. Post-COVID, the competitive landscape of travel and tourism will change profoundly, with preventive and effective risk management, adaptation and resilience, and decarbonization laying the foundation for future competitiveness and relevance (CREST, 2020 ).

In addition, as can be seen from the research and development of ecotourism, the exploration of sustainable development increasingly needs to absorb research methods from diverse fields to guide the formulation of policy. First of all, how to evaluate and quantify ecotourism reasonably and scientifically is an essential problem to be solved in the development of ecotourism. Some scholars choose contingent valuation method (CVM) and choice experiment (CE) in environmental economics to evaluate the economic value of ecotourism, especially non-market value. In addition, the introduction of spatial econometrics and the use of geographic information system (GIS) provide spatial scale analysis methods and results presentation for the sustainable development of ecotourism. The use of social media data implies the application of big data technology in the field of ecotourism, where machine learning methods such as artificial neural networks (ANN) and linear discriminant analysis (LDA) are increasingly being applied (Talebi et al., 2021 ). The measurement of ecological footprint and the use of telecoupling framework provide a reliable way to measure sustainable development and the interaction between multiple systems. These approaches all have expanded the methodological boundaries of ecotourism research. It is worth noting that R, as an open source and powerful software, is favored by scholars in the field of ecotourism. This programming language for statistical computation is now widely used in statistical analysis, data mining, data processing and mapping of ecotourism research.

The scientometrics method used in this study is mainly guided by the citation model in the literature retrieval dataset. The range of data retrieval exercises restraint by the source of retrieval and the query method utilized. While current methods can meet the requirements, iterative query optimization can also serve to advance in the quality of the data. To achieve higher data accuracy, the concept tree function in the new version of CiteSpace can also serve to clarify the research content of each clustering (Chen, 2017 ). In addition, the structural variation analysis in the new edition is also an interesting study, which can show the citation footprints of typical high-yielding authors and judge the influence of the author on the variability of network structure through the analysis of the citation footprints (Chen, 2017 ).

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.


This study is funded by Education Department of Heilongjiang Province (1451MSYYB013) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No.71874026 and No.71171044).

Authors’ contributions

In this study, LX proposed the research topic, designed the research methodology and framework, and made the data analysis. She was the major contributor in writing the manuscript. CA contributed to the design of the whole paper, including the research topic and methodology, and also participated in the writing and revision of the manuscript. BL and ZC were involved in data collection and analysis. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Availability of data and material


The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interest or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.

Not applicable.

Liu, J., Hull, V., Batistella, M., DeFries, R., Dietz, T., Fu, F.,... Zhu, C. (2013). Framing Sustainability in a Telecoupled World. Ecology and Society , 18 (2), 26.

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Contributor Information

Lishan Xu, Email: nc.ude.unjdm@0104102 .

Changlin Ao, Email: nc.ude.uaen@nilgnahcoa .

Baoqi Liu, Email: moc.qq@457115825 .

Zhenyu Cai, Email: moc.qq@697833194 .

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The rise of eco-tourism


source: Google Images

This article aims to explore the rise of eco-tourism and its impact on the hospitality industry. It will discuss the definition of tourism, the reasons behind its growth, and the benefits and challenges it poses for the industry.

The article will also provide examples of successful tourism initiatives and practices in the hospitality sector, as well as offer recommendations for hotels and resorts looking to implement sustainable measures.


The travel and tourism industry has seen a significant shift towards sustainability in recent years, with eco-tourism emerging as a major trend. Eco-tourism refers to responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of local people.

This type of tourism has gained popularity as travelers become more conscious of their impact on the environment and seek out experiences that align with their values.

What is Eco-Tourism?

What is Eco-Tourism?

Eco-tourism is a form of sustainable tourism that focuses on preserving natural areas and supporting local communities.

This type of tourism promotes environmental conservation and social responsibility by minimizing the negative impacts of travel and maximizing the positive effects.

Eco-tourism often involves activities such as hiking, wildlife watching, and cultural immersion, with an emphasis on education and awareness.

Reasons for the Rise of Eco-Tourism

The growth of eco-tourism can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, consumers are becoming more aware of their environmental impact and are seeking out sustainable travel options. This has led to an increase in demand for eco-friendly accommodations and activities.

Secondly, the rise of social media has made it easier for travelers to research and share information about eco-tourism destinations and experiences. This has created a ripple effect, as more people become inspired to make sustainable travel choices.

Finally, governments and organizations are recognizing the economic and environmental benefits of eco-tourism and are investing in sustainable tourism development.

Benefits and Challenges of Eco-Tourism for the Hospitality Industry

Eco-tourism can bring many benefits to the hospitality industry, including increased revenue, improved brand reputation, and reduced operating costs. By implementing sustainable practices, hotels and resorts can attract eco-conscious travelers and differentiate themselves from competitors.

Eco-tourism can also lead to partnerships with local communities, which can provide unique cultural experiences for guests and create a sense of social responsibility.

However, eco-tourism also poses challenges for the hospitality industry. Implementing sustainable practices can require significant investment and operational changes, which may be difficult for some businesses.

In addition, eco-tourism often involves smaller, more remote destinations that may lack infrastructure and resources. This can create logistical challenges for hotels and resorts, such as transportation and waste management.

Examples of Successful Eco-Tourism Initiatives in the Hospitality Industry

Despite these challenges, many hotels and resorts have successfully implemented sustainable practices and embraced eco-tourism. For example, the Bardessono Hotel in California has achieved LEED Platinum certification for its eco-friendly design and operations.

The hotel features solar panels, a green roof, and a water recycling system, among other sustainable features. The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in Peru has also implemented sustainable practices, such as a recycling program, organic gardens, and conservation projects.

Another example is the Six Senses Laamu resort in the Maldives, which has a sustainability program that includes initiatives such as a coral regeneration project, solar power, and water conservation. The resort also offers guests educational activities, such as marine biology talks and beach cleanups, to promote awareness of environmental issues.

Recommendations for Hotels and Resorts

For hotels and resorts looking to implement sustainable practices and embrace eco-tourism, there are several recommendations to consider.

Recommendations for Hotels and Resorts

Firstly, it is important to conduct a sustainability assessment to identify areas where the business can reduce its environmental impact and improve its social responsibility. This may include reducing energy and water consumption, implementing waste reduction and recycling programs, and supporting local communities through partnerships and sourcing practices.

Secondly, hotels and resorts can engage with guests to promote awareness of environmental and social issues. This can be achieved through educational activities, such as nature walks and talks, and by providing information on sustainable practices in guest rooms and common areas.

Thirdly, hotels and resorts can collaborate with local communities and organizations to support conservation efforts and promote sustainable tourism development. This can create unique experiences for guests and provide economic benefits for local communities.

Finally, hotels and resorts can use sustainable certifications and rating systems, such as LEED and Green Key , to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and differentiate themselves from competitors. These certifications provide a framework for implementing sustainable practices and offer recognition for businesses that meet certain standards.

The rise of eco-tourism presents both opportunities and challenges for the hospitality industry. By embracing sustainable practices and promoting eco-friendly experiences, hotels, and resorts can attract eco-conscious travelers and differentiate themselves from competitors.

However, implementing sustainable practices can require significant investment and operational changes, and eco-tourism often involves smaller, more remote destinations that may lack infrastructure and resources.

Despite these challenges, many hotels and resorts have successfully implemented sustainable practices and embraced eco-tourism, demonstrating that sustainable tourism is both economically and environmentally viable.

By following the recommendations outlined in this article, hotels, and resorts can contribute to a more sustainable and responsible tourism industry while providing unique and memorable experiences for their guests.

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Ecotourism development strategies and the importance of local community engagement

  • Published: 19 April 2022
  • Volume 25 , pages 6849–6877, ( 2023 )

Cite this article

  • Farangiz Khaledi Koure 1 ,
  • Marzieh Hajjarian   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Omid Hossein Zadeh 1 ,
  • Ahmad Alijanpour 1 &
  • Razieh Mosadeghi 2  

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Ecotourism plays a critical strategic role in regional development. In many remote communities, ecotourism is the main contributing factor in their economic growth. The role of ecotourism development in the sustainability of the local economy is widely known. However, the local communities’ role in the development of the industry has been neglected. The presented study, therefore, examines the importance of community engagement as the missing link in the successful development of the ecotourism industry. This research uses strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats methodology and analytic network process technique to determine the importance of the strategies directly related to the local community in comparison to other ecotourism development strategies. Arasbaran Biosphere Reserve, in northwest Iran, was used as a case study. A decision-making model containing 20 clusters, 69 sub-factors, and seven alternatives were developed in SuperDecisions software. The results showed in overall, the strategies directly related to the local community are more effective than all the other strategies. There were significant differences between the local community’s point of view and local authorities on the importance of community engagement. The results also indicated lack of trust and willingness of local authorities had been the main contributions in unsuccessful community engagement programs in the region.

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Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats

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This work was supported by the Urmia University under Grant [31/RD/ 859].

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Farangiz Khaledi Koure, Marzieh Hajjarian, Omid Hossein Zadeh & Ahmad Alijanpour

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What is Eco Tourism? Types, Nature, Growth & Development

  • Post last modified: 2 October 2021
  • Reading time: 16 mins read
  • Post category: Tourism

What is Eco Tourism?

Eco tourism can be defined as travel to the natural attraction that contributes to their conservation respect the integrity of local communities and enhance the tourists understanding of the natural attraction its conservation and the local community.

Table of Content

  • 1 What is Eco Tourism?
  • 2.1 Difference between Ecotourism and Nature-based Travel
  • 2.2 Disadvantages of Ecotourism
  • 2.3 Emergence of Ecotourism
  • 3 Objectives of Ecotourism
  • 4 Principles of Eco Tourism
  • 5 Growth & Development of Eco Tourism
  • 6.1 Coastal Tourism
  • 6.2 Island Tourism
  • 6.3 Mountain Tourism
  • 6.4.1 Rural Countryside
  • 6.4.2 Wilderness Areas

It should have a minimum impact on soil, water, air, flora, fauna & biophysical processes that use little energy, cause little pollution, and educate the tourist. Discontinue the welfare of the local & indigenous populations.

Ecotourism as a concept dates back to the 1970s, although it was only defined in 1990 by the International Ecotourism Society, which described ecotourism as, Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of local people.

Despite this and other efforts to formalize the concept, ecotourism has always been the victim of terminological ambiguity. Ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.”

Sometimes it is defined as a sub-category of sustainable tourism or a segment of the larger nature tourism market. It includes an interpretation/learning experience, is delivered to small groups by small-scale businesses, and stresses local ownership, particularly for rural people.

Nature of Ecotourism

The term ecotourism is surrounded by confusion. It has been defined by Blangy and Wood as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.

However, it is contended here that, regardless of definition, ecotourism is an instigator of change. It is inevitable that the introduction of tourists to areas that were previously seldom visited by outsiders will place new demands upon the environment associated with new actors, new activities, and new facilities.

This will involve the forging of new relationships between people and environment, between peoples with different lifestyles, and between a wide variety of forces for both change and stability. These forces act at a diversity of scales from global to local.

There are likely to be tensions and, in some cases, contradictions between the outcomes desired by the various participants in ecotourism as well as between those directly involved and those indirectly affected by its introduction and operation.

Thus, compromise and trade-offs must be sought between the legitimate aspirations of different people.

Difference between Ecotourism and Nature-based Travel

While nature-based tourism is just traveling to natural places, ecotourism provides local benefits – environmentally, culturally and economically. A nature-based tourist may just go bird watching; an ecotourist goes bird watching with a local guide, stays in a locally operated eco-lodge and contributes to the local economy.

Disadvantages of Ecotourism

Eco tourism can also become problematic if it involves activities, transport facilities or levels of visitation that have major environmental impacts, or if is occurs in areas that are environmentally fragile or with vulnerable communities.

Accordingly, while there are reasons to encourage eco tourism it must be controlled so that it is ecologically and socially sustainable. There must be controls on tour operator’s touristÊs behaviour & tourism developments in natural areas as well as enforcement of regulations and monitoring of impacts.

Emergence of Ecotourism

While eco tourism has been around since the 19th century it has grown considerably in popularity and commercial significance in just the past ten years in response to interest in the environment and exotic and adventure holidays, increase in leisure time and persons, incomes the improved accessibility of many natural attractions, promotions by selected countries and business for economic benefits and a belief that ecotourism will build support for conservation.

Objectives of Ecotourism

  • Conserve biological and cultural diversity of the place and plan for sustainable use natural resources.
  • Share the benefits of eco tourism developments equitably with local communities and indigenous people and creating awareness campaign among the beneficiaries and disseminating methods for sustainable planning, management, regulation and monitoring.
  • To impart nature education to different target groups i.e. children, teachers, bureaucrats, media persons, rural people and politicians and to provide interpretation facilities to generate conservation awareness among the visitors by discovering wonders of nature and its intricate relationship.
  • To strengthen the staff and infrastructure for managing the eco tourism and interpretation programmes and creating employment opportunities for local people to cater to the needs of visitors in raising taxi, hotels, engagement in ret houses, lodges etc.
  • Involve local people in recycling the revenue from tourism for improvement of resources and facilities in the villages by subsidizing alternate energy devices, improving educational and medical facilities.

Principles of Eco Tourism

All nature based forms of tourism in which main motivation for tourists is to observe and appreciate nature as well as the traditional cultures prevailing in natural areas and their protection. Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel.

This means that those who implement and participate in and market ecotourism activities should adopt the following ecotourism principles.

The basic principles of ecotourism can be described in the following points:

  • It contains educational and interpretation features
  • It minimises negative impacts upon the natural and socio–cultural environment
  • Supports the conservation of natural areas and wildlife
  • Ecotourism include designing, constructing and operating low–impact facilities for tourists
  • Minimizes air and water pollution as well as tourist waste
  • Offers safe and enriching or educational visitor experiences
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide awareness towards the conservation of natural and cultural assets, both among locals and tourists.
  • Providing alternative employment and income opportunities for local communities
  • Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
  • Respects the cultural tradition of the host destination.
  • Maintains and enhances the landscape so as to avoid physical or environmental degradation.
  • Maximizes opportunities for local prosperity for the host destination in the form of long–term tourism viability, local management control, quality employment, local retention of visitor spending, and fair distribution of economic and social benefits.
  • Ecotourism helps in using non–renewable resources efficiently.
  • Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.

Growth & Development of Eco Tourism

Ecotourism has been developed particularly in East Africa, Central America, North America, Antarctica, The Himalayas, New Zealand, Australia and Parts of Europe. Costa Rica’s National Parks of Europe now receives over 3, 00,000 visitors per day of use per year.

Over 40,000 tourists now visit the Galapagos Islands each year and every Antarctica attends over 5,000 tourists annually, Ecotourism moreover is a major source of Foreign exchange for countries such a Kenya and Costa Rica.

The estimated gross value of Tourism on the Galapagos Islands in 1991 was $ 33 million. It should be a considerable initial and continuing investment in nature protection, facilities, services, promotion and training to the earth such revenues.

The factors influencing the growth of Eco tourism are mainly the development of transport, system, along with the facilities of package tourists which allows people to travel with an easy mind. Tourism has become a status symbol.

All these factors along with better education have helped the growth of Ecotourism. Eco-development refers of a form to planned growth which is concerned mainly with the development of locally available resources within the constraints of the local environments So as to maximize the local capacities of the biosphere to supports human life and passional wastes.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been encouraging the eco-development concept from the angle of villages so that development of the villages through the world takes place on the basic natural resources and human skills locally available.

Eco development implies the creation of a horizontal authority capable of transcending sectoral approaches & dealing with various aspects of development Efficiency of such authority depends upon the active participation of the local population. It is felt that such an approach to ecodevelopment will be helpful in maintaining the ecological balance.

Types of Ecotourism

Following are the main types of ecotourism :

Coastal Tourism

Island tourism, mountain tourism, inland tourism.

The overwhelming attraction of the three S’s Sun, Sea and Sand has subjected coast lines to the fall forces of recreation pressures and mass tourist as witnessed around much of the Mediterranean as well as the North American East coasts, besides the channel and the North Sea area of Europe, Scandinavia and Japan often.

The coast is a fragile ecosystem. For these types of environments, it is difficult to find examples of positive impact where as the detrimental effects are region.

The tourist’s value of the coasts invariable lies in their landscape and amenities character physical offer tend to relate trilogy with the infrastructure of the resort consisting of land buildings on a soft landscape.

Saturation developments at many resorts typify mass tourism and high density use is often found along coastal region of the industrialized countries parts of Mediterranean, California and Florida are supreme examples of this phenomenon.

By their nature islands are liable to all the potential and actual impacts associated with a coastal ecosystem of they are large and hair significant inland areas, they are also prone to the impacts which affect the later.

Very small land, such as those along the Yugoslavian Adriatic coasts, most of the Greek islands and small island states which are the tourist attraction and depends mainly on tourism as an economic activity, can experience impacts particularly specific to their island character.

On such small island resources may be limited, land space may be severally restricted and there may be labour shortage problems. Island with good and cheap transport services after experience high-density use, e.g., Hawai & Majorda where travel time and coasts are relatively high and or the facilities poorly developed, torsion density tends to be low and it is easier to control physical developments.

Eg. Helones & Maldives. The provision of air transport facilities is a necessary pre require a site to tourism development on small islands.

Although mountains and uplands areas have been popular as a tourist attraction for a great many years, mass tourism in such environments is a more recent phenomenon. Seasonality is an important factor in evaluating tourism impacts in mountainous regions.

Mass tourism is generally normal in winter months, for example in the European Alps, South California and Scandinavia, but not in the summer.

Thus the winter’s pressures may exceed the carrying capacity of the resort but the level of summer activities can remain density tourism is the likely norm in higher altitude mountains where trekking is the commonest activity e.g.

The Himalayas & Cordillera Blanca North American Rockies, Peru. Tatos mountains of Eastern Europe & the Caucasus.

Rural Countryside

Wilderness areas.

The countryside used leisure on a massive scale by a person from the towns in the West consequently there is great pressure & the fragile and rural environments in many areas. The countryside visiting encompasses a tremendous variety of activities that can be enjoyed in rural numerous, but they make use of the countryside in a variety of ways.

Countryside recreation according to Allan Patmore is a convenient term for a wide range of leisure time activities whose only common factor is that they take place in the open air on land or water in the countryside.

These are those relatively large natural ingenious where one or several ecosystems are not materially altered by human exploitation and occupation. Some areas are designed national Park by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and others are regulated in some manner. These exist in more than 120 countries throughout the world.

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Local News | DeBary breaks ground on new Main Street district

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Leaders and developers, from left, Florida Department of Transportation District Five Secretary John Tyler, developer Art Falcone, City Manager Carmen Rosamonda, Mayor Karen Chasez and developers Roxanne Williams and Terry Wayland break ground on the new DeBary Main Street district on Jan. 24, 2024. (Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel)

With shovels full of dirt held by passionate city leaders, dignitaries and developers, plus light bites from Central Florida businesses, the City of DeBary broke ground on its new Main Street Wednesday morning.

First incorporated as a city in 1993, DeBary has experienced uneven growth, causing leaders to think proactively about how to forge a sustainable future with a high quality of life for residents and visitors. The result is a transit-oriented development (TOD) district comprising a high-density downtown with apartments, townhomes and retail space on 52 acres, plus new parks nearby.

“We had this area here that was going to be a liability because we had varying lot sizes and configurations. We were destined for a lot of inconsistent development that DeBary residents wouldn’t be happy with,” said City Manager Carmen Rosamonda of the area just north of the SunRail station. “We decided to take a proactive approach, turning a liability into an asset our community is so dearly lacking, a downtown.”

An architectural rendering shows the concept behind DeBary's new planned Main Street district with apartments, retail establishments and townhomes. (Courtesy City of DeBary)

In cementing DeBary’s future, the city is partnering with two developers: the Boca Raton-based Falcone Group , which will build about 290 townhomes and 36 live-work units with retail or office space on the first floor, plus 25,000 square feet of retail space, and St. Petersburg-based Mosaic Development , which will construct 407 luxury apartments in two phases and more than 35,000 square feet of retail space to attract mostly local businesses, not chains.

In the next five years, as phases of this project are completed, the Volusia County city anticipates its population could grow from its current number of about 22,000 residents to around 30,000.

DeBary City Manager Carmen Rosamonda speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new DeBary Main Street district on Jan. 24, 2024. (Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel)

“We’ve been working with Mosaic to have a large community plaza for our folks to gather, a small central park, restaurants flowing into the sidewalk, specialty shops and breweries all in a paver road setting,” Rosamonda said. “No other downtown will have 624 acres of parks within one mile. There will be a plethora of ecotourism activities that include walking, biking, hiking, fishing, boating, camping, canoeing, kayaking and so much more.”

The new development will sit about a mile away from 170-acre Alexander Island, which DeBary purchased last year intending to open a park on the St. Johns River. Rosamonda said he hopes the park will be accessible to the public by the end of this calendar year.

The ‘grand vision’: DeBary secures piece of riverfront land for new park

“If you live here, you’ll have all of the amenities of a more urban kind of environment. Within half a mile or a mile, you can be in the middle of the wilderness,” said DeBary Mayor Karen Chasez. “This project will benefit both our existing and new residents while enticing visitors to explore and appreciate our businesses and natural assets.”

Chasez noted that the apartments will have balconies overlooking Main Street, enticing residents down to the street level to support restaurants and shops.

Though some longtime DeBary residents have been resistant to this type of development, which is zoned for 32 units per acre within the TOD district, city leaders see this approach as the best way to help the area grow while bringing amenities that visitors and locals alike can enjoy.

“We have a group of small businesses who are waiting and wanting to be among the first in line to be a part of Main Street,” Chasez said.

An architectural rendering shows the concept behind DeBary's new planned Main Street district with apartments, retail establishments and townhomes. (Courtesy City of DeBary)

In the next year, the City of DeBary has infrastructure projects planned to support its growth, including adding a fire station on Fort Florida Road, rebuilding the road with a 10-foot trail, taking over maintenance of the SunRail station from Volusia County in exchange for 98 acres across the street (which will be home to a new Central Park) and rebuilding Benson Junction Road. The Florida Department of Transportation has a surfacing and rescoping project planned for U.S. 17-92 in fiscal year 2026.

Rosamonda, who served on DeBary’s first council and then became mayor in 2000, began his work for the city with strategic initiatives that included building a downtown.

“Growing up in DeLand, I realized having a downtown to foster gathering places was one of the contributing factors to having a high-quality, close-knit community,” he said. “Twenty-four years later, we’re here today, and we finally met one of my long-range goals for this community. In my heart, a downtown DeBary was one of the last pieces for this community to make us whole. This project completes us.”

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