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Redefining Footprints and Environmental Impact: Ecotourists vs. Sun and Beach Tourists

At first glance, one might think that the ecotourist would have a lesser impact on the environment than the "mass tourist" who flocks to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, given the nature of the term.

However, in order to attempt to answer this question adequately, various factors must be taken into account. One approach would be to use the list of general sustainable tourism indicators to calculate the impact of the two different types of tourism in their respective environments:

  • Site protection: It should be noted that the Amazon rainforest is considered one of the seven wonders of the world and, at the same time, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  • Place stress: For the reasons mentioned above and others that will be discussed later, the carrying capacity is disproportionately higher in Rio de Janeiro, with adapted infrastructure and resources, than in the Amazon rainforest.

  • Intensity of use: Although it is true that the ecotourist is more respectful of nature, an "overcrowding" or exaggeration of this type of tourism in an unprepared space can be entirely detrimental to the environment, and also much more chaotic and with worse consequences than a sun and beach tourist staying at a resort in Rio de Janeiro.

  • Social impact: Although in Rio de Janeiro the favelas are next to sumptuous properties and the difference between social classes is clearly exposed, there seems to be a certain balance, although occasionally questioned. However, in the Amazon rainforest, there are tribes that have never been in contact with civilization, and in fact, the few times that contact has occurred, the danger they have faced due to the spread of diseases has been significant.

  • Development control: The fact that the Amazon rainforest shares the territory of eight different countries perhaps complicates the management of development policies and control of the area, while in Rio de Janeiro, infrastructures have been developed to accommodate the tourism it receives.

  • Waste management: In this case, it is also clear that the rainforest has a greater difficulty in waste management than in a city.

  • Degree of planning: In Brazil, certain types of sustainable tourism have been planned and developed to try to help the socially disadvantaged, and thanks to the collaboration and involvement of NGOs that care for and fight for social and environmental issues, government policies have been pressured and are trying to adapt to the change in social mentality we mentioned earlier. However, in the Amazon, political conflicts can be observed over control zones, as well as illegal resource exploitation.

  • Critical ecosystems: Currently, according to IUCN, approximately 100 bird species from the Amazon are on the IUCN Red List as they are endangered.

  • Consumer satisfaction: Satisfaction is subjective, which is why we will assume that both types of tourists have a primary motivation to visit these places. Despite this, the factors mentioned above will positively or negatively influence this final perception.

  • Local satisfaction and tourism contribution to the economy: Although two different points, in this example they can be addressed together. In Brazil, tourism is well-received because it provides income for local people; however, in isolated places like the Amazon, this may differ slightly. According to a National Geographic article (2010), an isolated tribe attacked an aircraft flying over the area. One could speculate on their rejection of civilization due to the destruction of some of their resources or the fact that, due to their immunological vulnerability, they want to avoid contact at all costs. Additionally, the economic contribution leaks out due to foreign investment and the control of large tour operators.

Taking into account the general indicators discussed, we can cautiously conclude that, under comparable situations and factors, a tourist enjoying a beach vacation in Rio de Janeiro is likely to have a lower impact on the surrounding environment than a tourist exploring the Amazon rainforest.

This conclusion may seem counterintuitive given the nature of ecotourism, but it is essential to consider factors such as the stress on the location, the intensity of use, social impact, and waste management, among others.

While both types of tourism can have positive and negative effects on their respective destinations, the infrastructure, planning, and resource management in place in Rio de Janeiro may better support tourism than the fragile ecosystems and vulnerable communities in the Amazon. Ultimately, it's crucial for tourists and the travel industry to prioritize responsible and sustainable practices to minimize their environmental footprint, regardless of the destination.

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