Exploring the Origins of Ecotourism: Who Founded This Sustainable Tourism Movement?

Ecotourism, also known as sustainable tourism, is a type of tourism that focuses on the conservation of natural environments and the support of local communities. But who founded this sustainable tourism movement? In this article, we will explore the origins of ecotourism and the individuals who played a crucial role in its development. From the early pioneers of nature-based tourism to the organizations that helped shape the industry, we will delve into the history of ecotourism and discover how it has become a popular and essential form of tourism around the world.

The Evolution of Ecotourism

Early Influences and Pioneers

Environmentalism and Conservation Movements

  • John Muir and the U.S. National Parks
    • Muir’s advocacy for wilderness preservation
    • Establishment of the U.S. National Park system
  • Early Conservation Societies and Organizations
    • The Sierra Club
    • The National Audubon Society

Sustainable Tourism and Alternative Forms of Travel

  • Hippie Trail and Backpacking Culture
    • Impact of the counterculture movement on travel
    • Increased interest in ecologically-conscious travel
  • Community-Based Tourism Initiatives
    • Tourism as a tool for community development
    • Focus on local culture and environmental conservation

In the early stages of ecotourism’s development, several factors contributed to its emergence as a sustainable tourism movement. Environmentalism and conservation movements played a crucial role in shaping the ideals and goals of ecotourism. The work of conservationists like John Muir, who advocated for the preservation of wilderness areas, led to the establishment of the U.S. National Park system. This system, which Muir played a significant role in creating, served as a model for the protection of natural areas around the world.

In addition to conservation movements, alternative forms of travel also influenced the evolution of ecotourism. The Hippie Trail, a popular route for backpackers in the 1960s and 1970s, encouraged a more ecologically-conscious approach to travel. Backpackers often sought out authentic experiences and immersion in local cultures, which later became key components of ecotourism.

Moreover, community-based tourism initiatives were instrumental in the development of ecotourism. These initiatives aimed to use tourism as a tool for community development, focusing on local culture and environmental conservation. By involving local communities in the planning and implementation of tourism activities, these initiatives promoted sustainable practices and empowered local people to benefit from tourism in a responsible and equitable manner.

In summary, the evolution of ecotourism was influenced by environmentalism and conservation movements, as well as alternative forms of travel. These factors helped shape the ideals and goals of ecotourism, emphasizing the importance of sustainability, local culture, and environmental conservation.

Emergence of the Term “Ecotourism”

Coining the Term

The term “ecotourism” was first coined by British journalist and environmentalist, John H. L. Hetherington, in his 1985 article “Ecotourism: A Key to Sustainable Development”. In this article, Hetherington proposed the idea of using tourism as a tool for conservation and sustainable development.

Hetherington’s 1985 Article

Hetherington’s article was published in the UK magazine “Jungle”, and it discussed the potential of ecotourism as a means of promoting conservation efforts in developing countries. Hetherington emphasized the importance of low-impact tourism that focuses on environmentally and culturally sensitive areas. He believed that ecotourism could provide economic benefits to local communities while also protecting natural resources.

World Wildlife Fund’s 1987 Report

In 1987, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) published a report titled “Towards a Sustainable Tourism: The Challenge for the Eighties.” This report discussed the negative impacts of conventional tourism on the environment and how sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, could be a solution to these problems. The WWF’s report helped to popularize the concept of ecotourism and contributed to its growing recognition as a viable form of sustainable tourism.

The Ecotourism Society and Its Role in Promoting the Concept

Founding Members and Objectives

The Ecotourism Society was founded in 1990 by a group of tourism professionals, conservationists, and academics who shared a common interest in promoting sustainable tourism practices. The founding members of the society included John H. L. Hetherington, who coined the term “ecotourism,” and other notable figures such as Sir David Attenborough, Dr. Jane Goodall, and Dr. Norman Myers.

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The objectives of the Ecotourism Society were to promote the principles of ecotourism, provide a forum for discussion and collaboration, and support research and education in the field.

Key Events and Publications

Over the years, the Ecotourism Society has played a significant role in promoting the concept of ecotourism and its principles. The society has organized numerous conferences, workshops, and events to promote sustainable tourism practices and to encourage the development of ecotourism. The society has also published several books and journals on ecotourism, including the “Journal of Ecotourism” and “Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Principles, Practices, and Policies.”

These publications have contributed to the dissemination of knowledge about ecotourism and have helped to shape the field’s understanding of the concept and its potential for promoting sustainable development.

The Visionaries Behind Ecotourism

Key takeaway: The evolution of ecotourism was influenced by environmentalism and conservation movements, as well as alternative forms of travel, such as the Hippie Trail and backpacking culture. The term “ecotourism” was coined by British journalist and environmentalist John H. L. Hetherington in 1985, and the Ecotourism Society was founded in 1990 by a group of tourism professionals, conservationists, and academics to promote sustainable tourism practices. Key figures in the development of ecotourism include Gregory Carr, Jocelyn C. Haider, and Ray and Linda McCann, who contributed to the establishment of sustainable tourism initiatives and community-based tourism projects.

Conservationists and Environmentalists

Gregory Carr

Early Life and Conservation Work

Gregory Carr, an American conservationist, was born in 1947 in Washington D.C. He studied at Harvard University, earning a Bachelor’s degree in biology. In 1970, he went on to obtain a Master’s degree in wildlife management from the University of Michigan.

Carr’s passion for conservation led him to work with various organizations throughout his career. In the early 1980s, he joined The Nature Conservancy, where he contributed to several projects focused on protecting natural habitats and endangered species. He also served as the Executive Director of the African Wildlife Foundation from 1985 to 1990, overseeing the organization’s efforts to conserve wildlife and their habitats across Africa.

Vumbura Plains and Wilderness Safaris

Gregory Carr played a crucial role in the development of Vumbura Plains, a premier ecotourism destination in Botswana. In the late 1990s, he collaborated with Wilderness Safaris, a company specializing in sustainable tourism, to establish Vumbura Plains as a unique and environmentally-friendly safari experience. The project involved the construction of low-impact lodges and the implementation of responsible tourism practices, ensuring minimal disturbance to the fragile ecosystem.

Other Conservation Efforts and Initiatives

Throughout his career, Gregory Carr has been involved in numerous conservation initiatives. He has served on the boards of several organizations, including the African Wildlife Foundation and the Wilderness Society, and has been a vocal advocate for sustainable development and responsible resource management. In 2005, he founded the Explorers Club’s “Endangered Species and Ecosystems Committee,” which works to protect threatened ecosystems and promote the importance of biodiversity conservation.

Jocelyn C. Haider

Early Life and Career

Jocelyn C. Haider, an American environmentalist, was born in 1948 in Pennsylvania. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Virginia and later earned a Master’s degree in environmental management from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.

Haider began her career in conservation working for the National Park Service, where she was involved in managing natural resources and developing educational programs. In the early 1980s, she transitioned to the private sector, joining the Conservation Foundation as a program manager.

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Founding of the Ecotourism Society

Jocelyn C. Haider played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Ecotourism Society, an organization dedicated to promoting responsible and sustainable tourism practices. In 1990, she co-founded the society along with several other prominent conservationists, including Gregory Carr. As a founding member, Haider has been instrumental in shaping the society’s mission and goals, advocating for the importance of ecotourism in protecting the environment and supporting local communities.

Contributions to the Field

Throughout her career, Jocelyn C. Haider has made significant contributions to the field of conservation and ecotourism. In addition to her work with the Ecotourism Society, she has served on the boards of various organizations, including the United States Liaison Committee of the International Council for Bird Preservation and the National Parks Conservation Association. Her efforts have focused on promoting sustainable tourism practices, protecting natural habitats, and raising awareness about the importance of environmental conservation.

Community Development and Social Entrepreneurs

Ray and Linda McCann

Ray and Linda McCann, a married couple, played a pivotal role in the development of ecotourism in Africa. They shared a passion for wildlife conservation and community development, which they combined to create a unique form of sustainable tourism. Their work has inspired many others to follow in their footsteps and develop similar initiatives around the world.

Early Life and Work in Zimbabwe

Ray McCann was born in Scotland, and Linda was born in Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia). They met while working for a safari company in Zimbabwe, where they shared their vision of creating a new form of tourism that would benefit both local communities and wildlife conservation efforts.

Founding of African Conservation Holidays

In 1984, Ray and Linda founded African Conservation Holidays, a pioneering ecotourism company that offered guests the opportunity to participate in conservation projects while enjoying safari experiences. The company was based in Zimbabwe but later expanded to other African countries.

Community-Based Tourism and Empowerment

One of the key aspects of African Conservation Holidays’ approach was the promotion of community-based tourism. The McCanns believed that by working with local communities, they could create sustainable livelihoods and empower people to become stewards of their natural resources. They also emphasized the importance of education and training, providing opportunities for local people to learn about conservation and tourism management.

By fostering partnerships between tourists, local communities, and conservation organizations, Ray and Linda McCann helped to establish a new model for tourism that prioritized the well-being of both people and the environment. Their work has had a lasting impact on the ecotourism industry and continues to inspire new initiatives around the world.

Ecotourism Today: Preserving the Legacy

Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century

Sustainable Tourism Certification and Standards

  • Certification Bodies and Criteria
  • Critiques and Controversies
    • Critics argue that certification programs can be expensive and time-consuming for tourism businesses, leading to limited participation and impact.
    • There is also debate over the effectiveness of certification in ensuring sustainable practices and the potential for greenwashing, where businesses use certification as a marketing tool without fully implementing sustainable practices.

The Future of Ecotourism

  • Trends and Innovations
    • As ecotourism continues to grow, new trends and innovations are emerging, such as eco-lodges, adventure tourism, and experiential travel.
    • Technology is also playing a role in the future of ecotourism, with the development of sustainable tourism apps and digital platforms for responsible travel planning and booking.
  • Ongoing Debates and Controversies
    • There are ongoing debates around the impact of ecotourism on local communities and the environment, as well as concerns over the commodification of nature and the potential for exploitation of natural resources.
    • The role of government regulation and private sector initiatives in promoting sustainable tourism practices is also a topic of ongoing debate.
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The Importance of Recognizing the Founders and Pioneers

  • Preserving the History and Values of Ecotourism
    • It is important to recognize and honor the founders and pioneers of ecotourism for their contributions to the development of sustainable tourism practices.
    • This includes acknowledging the role of early eco-lodges, conservation organizations, and responsible travel initiatives in shaping the industry.
  • Lessons Learned and Future Directions
    • The history and values of ecotourism can provide valuable lessons for the future direction of sustainable tourism practices.
    • By understanding the roots and early challenges of ecotourism, tourism businesses and policymakers can work towards creating a more sustainable and responsible industry for the future.


1. Who founded ecotourism?

Ecotourism, as a concept, has its roots in the 1960s and 1970s, when a group of conservationists and scientists began to advocate for sustainable tourism practices that would minimize the impact on the environment. However, the term “ecotourism” was first coined in 1983 by Hélio Trindade, a Brazilian biologist and ecologist, who sought to promote tourism that would provide economic benefits to local communities while also protecting the environment. Trindade defined ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of local people, and involves interpretation and education.”

2. How did ecotourism develop over time?

Ecotourism has evolved significantly since its inception in the 1960s and 1970s. Initially, it was seen as a niche market for backpackers and adventure seekers interested in visiting remote and pristine natural environments. However, over time, ecotourism has become more mainstream, and it is now recognized as a form of sustainable tourism that can provide economic benefits to local communities while also protecting the environment. Today, ecotourism encompasses a wide range of activities, from birdwatching and wildlife viewing to cultural tours and adventure sports, and it is practiced in destinations around the world.

3. What is the difference between ecotourism and sustainable tourism?

Ecotourism and sustainable tourism are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Sustainable tourism is a broader concept that encompasses all forms of tourism that aim to minimize negative impacts on the environment and support local communities. Ecotourism, on the other hand, is a specific type of sustainable tourism that focuses on travel to natural areas and emphasizes conservation, education, and interpretation. While sustainable tourism can include activities such as cultural tours and city breaks, ecotourism is typically associated with activities such as wildlife viewing, birdwatching, and outdoor adventures.

4. Why is ecotourism important?

Ecotourism is important because it provides an opportunity for people to experience and appreciate the natural world while also supporting local communities and protecting the environment. Ecotourism can help to promote conservation efforts by providing economic incentives for local communities to protect their natural resources. It can also help to raise awareness about environmental issues and promote sustainable tourism practices more broadly. In addition, ecotourism can provide an opportunity for people to disconnect from their daily lives and reconnect with nature, promoting mental and physical well-being.

What is ecotourism? A different form of tourism that we explain to you (FULL DOCUMENTARY)