Ecotourism, Responsible Tourism, Sustainable Tourism: What do they all mean?

Preserving the environment is an important issue these days; it even extends into the business of tourism, which is especially important since it can be such an overindulgent (and potentially wasteful) industry.

The question is: what exactly is tourism that preserves the environment?

………………………………………Sustainable Tourism Beachfront Caribbean Resort Riviera Maya Green Resort

With similar terms as “ecotourism,” “responsible tourism,” and “sustainable tourism,” it can be confusing.  One of the most misunderstood concepts about this type of tourism is the assumption that comfort and convenience are sacrificed on an environmentally friendly vacation.  This is absolutely not true.  To clarify any misconceptions, let’s define the three most common terms.

#1: Ecotourism

According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), “Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.”  An ecotourism organization must provide positive ecological and social influence in the region.  The nature activities and services it offers to travelers must benefit both the environment and its residents, ultimately aiming to conserve and support the travel destination itself.

Ecotourism criteria*:Hacienda Tres Rios Resort, Spa & Nature Park

  1. The travel destination is in a natural environment.
  2. The organization’s services and activities minimize negative environmental impact.
  3. Its services and activities increase environmental awareness.
  4. Its services contribute to financial support of conservation programs.
  5. Its services result in financial and self-sustaining support to local communities.
  6. The organization respects the local culture.
  7. The organization enforces democracy and human rights.

*Source: “Ecotourism and Sustainable Development” by Martha Honey.



#2: Responsible Tourism


Closely linked to ecotourism, responsible tourism’s essential feature is minimizing negative impacts on the natural environment and maximizing economic, social, and environmental benefits.  According to the World Travel Market and World Summit on Sustainable Development, “Responsible tourism calls upon countries, multilateral agencies, tourism businesses, tourists and local communities to take responsibility for achieving sustainable tourism, and to create better places for people to live in and for people to visit.”

Responsible Tourism criteria*:Responsible Tourism

  1. Improves the economy of local communities and the working conditions of its people.
  2. Includes local people in decisions that may affect their lives and their opportunities.
  3. Supports natural conservation and maintains the region’s cultural heritage.
  4. Provides meaningful interactions between tourists and local people to increase understanding of their cultural, social, and environmental challenges.
  5. Engenders cultural sensitivity and respect between tourists and local people.
  6. Minimizes negative environmental, economic, and social impacts.

* Source: Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA), custodian of the Imvelo (“nature”) awards for responsible tourism.

#3: Sustainable Tourism

Incorporating the tenets of ecotourism and responsible tourism, sustainable tourism is Tres Ríos’ mission.  According to the World Tourism Organisation, “Sustainable tourism leads to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support systems…a process which meets the needs of present tourists and host communities while protecting and enhancing needs in the future.”

Sustainable Tourism criteria*:Riviera Maya Hacienda Tres Rios

  1. Optimizes environmental resources needed for tourism development, by maintaining ecological systems and conserving the region’s natural heritage and biodiversity.
  2. Respects the socio-cultural authenticity of the region as it preserves the existing and ongoing cultural heritage and traditional values, while promoting intercultural tolerance and understanding.
  3. Provides practical, long-term economic operations and socioeconomic benefits, such as stable employment, income-earning opportunities, and social services that help reduce poverty.

* Source:  UN-World Tourism Organization (UN-WTO).

In comparison, sustainable tourism incorporates the principles of ecotourism − although not exclusive to nature areas (as in ecotourism) − and also implements eco-friendly strategies at the start of development and construction.  While responsible tourism and sustainable tourism both aim to maximize environmental integrity, social justice, and regional economics, responsible tourism invites a larger group of individuals, from businesses to tourists, to take responsibility for their actions by reducing negative effects on the environment.

…………………………………….Tres Rios Nature Park Riviera Maya All Inclusive Resort

While all three environmentally friendly forms of tourism are beneficial, sustainable tourism integrates the criteria from both ecotourism and responsible tourism into its definition, adding the element of sustainable development.  Hacienda Tres Rios Resort is such a sustainable development, combining facilities and operations that preserve the environment with 5-star design and amenities: comfort, convenience, and Endless Luxury™.  You can vacation responsibly and vacation first class.

Do you consider yourself an eco-traveler?