Can Deep Ecotourism Facilitate Global Cultural Relations?

By Angelo Balagtas, GLOBUS Correspondent

Ecotourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”.

(International Ecotourism Society, 2015)

As is the case when defining sustainable development, much emphasis in our understanding ecotourism goes into environmental conservation. However, ecotourism represents much more than simply a concern for ecological systems – it considers an appreciation of other cultures as well. In many examples of ecotourism there exists an element of experiencing the culture of host communities in a manner that is non-intrusive and focused on allowing the participant to share in local traditions and practices.

Perhaps, therefore, ecotourism could be adapted to become a method for facilitating an understanding of the complexity of other cultures on the part of individuals – a general lack of which being very much a barrier to achieving sustainable development. One such barrier lies in the defining of what is to be sustained: as Hak et al (2012) express, ‘specifying the characteristics of the system or entity to be maintained can be very subjective and specific’, citing ‘cultural differences’ as one of the main barriers in creating a wider consensus.

In explaining the difference between a deep and shallow ecotourist, Acott et al (1998) write that a ‘deep ecotourist would try and become immersed in the surrounding culture and attempt to understand it in a deeper sense without disturbing or undermining the local people.’ They further express that in understanding this ‘priority should be given to the integration of appropriate human activity, ensuring a sustainable lifestyle while maintaining biodiversity and the ecological integrity of the landscape.’

In contrast to a shallow ecotourist, whose main objective is to view the sights and to experience local culture in a way that may become obstructive, creating experiences in the ethos of deep ecotourism allows for a holistic understanding of human-nature relationships. Through such experiences, we can see how we are not separate from the ecosystem but very much a part of it.

This is integral to many developing nations where tourism is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the economy. As an example, the number of protected areas in China increased from increased from 600 in 1990 to 2588 by 2010 (Zhou et. Al, 2013) as the country saw a rapid increase in tourism, specifically ecotourism, in a nation that has risen in affluence and is demanding more ‘nature-based recreation’. As the world becomes more globalised, the opportunity represented by deep ecotourism should be taken advantage of as a way to educate and diversify perspectives.

Header image: Photo by Sunyu on Unsplash


Acott, T.G., La Trobe, H.L., Howard, S.H. (1998) An Evaluation of Deep Ecotourism and Shallow Ecotourism, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 6(3), 238-253.

Hak. T, Moldan,B. Dahl, A. L. (2012). Sustainability Indicators: A Scientific Assessment. Washington: Island Press.

International Ecotourism Society (2015). What is ecotourism? [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 December 2019].

Zhou, Y., Buesching, C., Newman, C., Kaneko, Y., Xie, Z., Macdonald, D. (2013). Balancing the benefits of ecotourism and development: The effects of visitor trail-use on mammals in a Protected Area in rapidly developing China. Biological Conservation (165): 18-24.

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