Understanding green tourism, ecotourism and sustainable tourism

Posted on 5 February 2019

With the rise of green, eco and sustainable tourism, being environmentally-conscious has become a practice that you can take with you wherever you go.

Countries can be damaged by the impact tourism has on natural environments and ecosystems. Overcrowding, for example, can have a long-lasting negative impact, such as Maya Bay in Thailand, which has had to close indefinitely.

Becoming a more informed and responsible tourist by understanding what the terms green, eco and sustainable tourism all mean is of the utmost importance, and can help you when you’re selecting your destinations.


Green tourism

Hotels that are considered ‘green’ are essentially environmentally friendly and practice sustainable operation methods. Using recycled water for toilets and encouraging guests to take showers instead of baths and re-use their towels are some of the practices that will lead to a hotel being categorised as green.

Green hotels are extremely appealing to travellers, who feel a sense of virtue when booking a stay and supporting these establishments. However, it is for this very same reason that many hotels may deploy this as a marketing scheme and brand themselves as green hotels when they technically don’t qualify as such. It’s important to do a little further research into such declarations, although luckily most environmentally-friendly hotel will disclose information on their websites about their sustainability practices.

Some South African green hotels include:

The Oyster Box Hotel, Unhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal

Verde Hotel, Cape Town, Western Cape

iKhayalamafu Eco Estate, Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal


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Last stop! #viewfromthebalcony #drakensberg #seriously #timefliessofast

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Thaba Eco Hotel, Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve, Gauteng


Ecotourism has been defined by the International Ecotourism Society as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education’. Ecotourism is essentially about respecting and supporting the natural and social environment of the area you are travelling to. Making use of local guides and supporting conservation-based initiatives and local trade is part of this. The concept of ecotourism is about the activities that you partake in rather than whether you are staying in sustainable accommodation.

Some South African ecotourism destinations include:

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal

Agulhas National Park, Bredasdorp, Western Cape

Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park, St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal


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I barely managed to gulp down my hot coffee before we headed out with @fi.evans7 at 4am in search of a pack of wild dogs. Our efforts were rewarded with the most incredible interaction with the Bhejie pack, who we followed for a few kilometers as they started their morning hunt. One of the most powerful moments I managed to capture on camera was this, a small herd of zebra watching as the pack moved past them, obviously searching for a smaller more vulnerable quarry… Being a part of the conservation efforts of @wildlife_act has to be one of the most profound experiences anyone who loves African wildlife could wish for… #AfricanWildDog #PaintedWolf #PaintedDog #AfricanWildlife #WildlifePhotography #NatGeoAfrica #NatGeo #BBCEarth #RedList #EndangeredSpecies #Conservation #Imfolozi #Canonrsa #Canon7d #canonwildlife #canonwildlifephotography #VSCO #VSCOx #WildlifeACT

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Garden Route National Park

Sustainable tourism

This term shares almost the same definition as ecotourism, but sustainable tourism also entails the caring for, and fair paying of, communities, along with the practices of ecotourism. The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines sustainable tourism as ‘referring to the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development.’

As consumer’s demands begin to shift toward engaging in sustainable efforts, there are ample opportunities for tourists to explore South Africa in a sustainable way.

Sustainable tourism companies in South Africa include:

Local Knowledge Tours based in Cape Town

Zimele Community, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

WESSA, based across South Africa


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Thank you to everyone who came through to Sunrise beach for #internationalcoastalcleanup day. We are #peoplecaringfortheearth

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Image source: Pixabay


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tcat - Environment
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tcat2 - Responsible travel
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