Green Jobs in Ecotourism - dummies

By Carol L. McClelland

Who says a green career transition can’t be glamorous? If you have a passion for travel and want to make a positive difference for the environment, ecotourism holds job opportunities for you. The ecotourism industry has evolved over the past 20 years to allow people to travel to nature destinations more responsibly. Start exploring this field for eco-conscious job possibilities that contribute to a sustainable future for our planet.

The ecotourism industry consists of three main functions:

  • Assessing and developing sustainable tourism destinations

  • Managing ecotourism destinations sustainably

  • Marketing the destination

According to the Rainforest Alliance, the travel industry helps more than 900 million people travel each year. In addition to being one of the largest sources of income and employment for many developing countries, the travel industry can have a detrimental effect on local environments if not managed properly.

Although ecotourism has only amounted to 3 or 4 percent of the travel industry in the past, international travel has motivated local residents in stunning destinations to conserve and maintain their corner of the world. The trick is finding the right balance between using ecotourism as a way to motivate and fund conservation and minimizing the carbon footprint of transporting people halfway around the world to visit these natural areas.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Sustainable Consumption and Production Branch, nature tourism is growing by 10–12 percent each year. The World Tourism Organization also reports that nature-based tourism is the fastest-growing tourism sector. There are also signs that the mass-market travel segment is beginning to see the benefits of becoming more sustainable.

Ecotourism destinations have taken it upon themselves to become certified in recent years to demonstrate their efforts to become more sustainable. More than 60 certification programs, with a grand total of 4,500 different criteria, exist worldwide. To help key stakeholders make sense of all the different certifications, a group of 27 travel organizations joined together as the Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria to create a global sustainability certification standard.

Future trends in ecotourism

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), a group of the largest travel and tourism companies in the world, released a report entitled Leading the Challenge on Climate Change in which 40 of the largest tourism companies in the world committed in 2005 to reducing their carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2035, with an interim milestone of a 30 percent reduction by 2020.

The next step after certification is continued monitoring. If establishments fail to be monitored for performance and adherence, they may well lose their sustainable status. Methods for monitoring must be implemented along with the certification process.

Education and marketing the benefits of sustainable travel is crucial to the industry’s success. Countries blessed with rich biodiversity may be able to restore and conserve local ecosystems and habitats while also strengthening local economies. Tourism businesses can use ecotourism and sustainability to build their brand with travelers by making them aware of the benefits of ecotourism. One of the ways travelers can enhance their impact is to use part of their vacation to make a difference in the local community by working on a restoration, wildlife conservation, or other local improvement project.

A new trend in ecotourism is establishing a presence on various social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. You can help out your favorite ecotourism establishments by following and friending them. Share their updates with your friends. Who knows? You may find yourself on vacation thanks to a special deal.

For the ecotourism industry to thrive, the airline industry must strive to lower the carbon footprint of air travel. Several airlines are testing various biofuels and fuel combinations to determine which ones are most effective.

Sample job functions

If you are thinking about a career in ecotourism, consider the following jobs

  • Development and management: Tourism development specialist, sustainable tourism business development manager, sustainable development consultancy, ecosystem management and development, ecosystem management and development officer, tourism and human resources advisor

  • Operating ecotourism locations: Heritage tourism officer, sustainable tourism manager, ecotourism project manager, rainforest station manager, ecolodge manager, cultural tourism project facilities manager, rural tourism officer, sustainable tourism operator, ecotour leaders, green caretakers of tropical island, coastal tourism and conservation program officer, sustainable consumption and conservation manager, conservation expedition country coordinator

  • Managing natural lands: Nature tourism ranger, nature tourism park manager, parks and recreation director, wildlife visitor center advisor, reserve director, conservation program manager, conservation project manager, preserve manager, naturalist programmer, conservation expeditions field positions, conservation program assistant

  • Scientific roles: Conservation scientist, nature center research technician, biodiversity specialist, wildlife research assistant

  • Promoting ecotourism: Guidebook writers, protected areas communications officer, responsible tourism communications manager, adventure travel promotion manager, responsible tourism marketing manager