EarthTalk: I’ve heard of ecotourism,
but what on Earth is “geotourism?”
—Sally Kardaman, Sumter, SC
describes tourism that sustains or enhances the
geographical character of a given place, including
its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and
the well-being of local residents. The idea is that
tourism can be a positive force that benefits both
travelers and local environments and economies.
Pictured: The Rio Tropicales Lodge, a geotourism
operator in Costa Rica
© Anjum Malkana, courtesy Flickr
describes tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical
character of a given place, including its environment, culture,
aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of local residents.
The idea is that tourism can be a positive force that benefits
both travelers and local environments and economies.
Geographic Senior Editor Jonathan Tourtellot coined the
term in 1997 to distinguish it from “ecotourism”
or “sustainable tourism,” both which more narrowly
focus on travel’s ecological impacts. In addition
to a “do-no-harm” ethic, geotourism seeks to
enhance prospects for sustainable development based on the
specific character of a given place rather than on standardized
international branding, generic architecture and food, etc.
In other words, a geotourism tour won’t involve sending
you to an exotic locale only to put you up at a Hilton or
Marriot and give you discount coupons to Taco Bell and McDonald’s.
the world’s great destinations are under assault as
visitor numbers rise exponentially every year,” reports
the non-profit National Geographic Society, publisher of
National Geographic. “The result is damage to the
sites, overcrowding and erosion of the local culture and
environment.” The Society hopes to reverse these trends
with geotourism. Its Center for Sustainable Destinations
(CSD) helps local communities, governments, tourism bureaus
and private businesses enhance and sustain their distinct
character while harnessing the power of tourism for positive
impact: “Residents discover their own heritage by
learning that things they take for granted may be interesting
to outsiders,” reports CSD. “As local people
develop pride and skill in showing off their locale, tourists
get more out of their visit.”
Society’s “Geotourism Charter” lists 13
principles that qualifying sites must adhere to in order
to earn a geotourism distinction. The main current running
through the Charter is appreciation for the distinctive
aspects of a given place and culture, and an eagerness to
showcase them to curious and supportive visitors.
term geotourism is fairly new, but several places have offered
“geotourism”-worthy travel for years. Costa
Rica’s Rio Tropicales Lodge takes visitors white water
rafting, horseback riding, hiking and on other rainforest
excursions. It hires and trains locals to manage operations
and teach guests about local cultures first-hand—and
has launched several reforestation efforts and an education
program that teaches elementary students across Costa Rica
about the importance of protecting the rainforest in their
organization is 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking in Nepal, which
trains local women to be tourism professionals and trekking
guides. In just a few short years the group, which promotes
low-impact treks in the Himalaya region, has trained 600
women as ambassadors to the outdoors across Nepal and beyond.
geotourism professionals can learn about their future profession
by focusing on it as part of a new concentration within
the geography department of Missouri State University.
State University Geotourism Concentration.
NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!
EarthTalk: How is it that climate change is
negatively affecting the health of rivers and, by extension,
the quality and availability of fresh water?
—Robert Elman, St. Louis, MO
may well be hard hit by climate change, given the
likelihood of increased droughts, floods and the
associated spread of waterborne diseases. Pictured:
The Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, which
has lost 14 percent of its water volume since the
1950s due to higher temperatures and shifting precipitation
is no doubt going to cause many kinds of problems (and,
indeed, already is), and rivers may well be some of the
hardest hit geographical features, given the likelihood
of increased droughts, floods and the associated spread
of waterborne diseases.
For one, rivers
are already starting to lose the amount of water they channel.
A 2009 study at the National Center for Atmospheric Research
(NCAR) found that water volume in the Columbia River in
the Pacific Northwest declined by 14 percent since the 1950s.
This trend is similar in major rivers all over the world.
will see their water supplies shrink as temperatures rise
and precipitation patterns shift,” reports the nonprofit
American Rivers, adding that a rise in severe storms will
degrade water quality and increase the risk of catastrophic
floods. “Changes in the timing and location of precipitation
combined with rising levels of water pollution will strain
ecosystems and threaten the survival of many fish and wildlife
species.” These shifts will have dramatic impacts,
threatening public health, weakening economies and decreasing
the quality of life in many places. In the U.S., the number
of storms with extreme precipitation has increased 24 percent
since the late 1940s—and the trend is expected to
impact on rivers is more pollution as more frequent and
powerful storms increase runoff from urban and agricultural
areas that contain fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals and
motor oil. “In older communities where storm water
and sewage are transported together in one pipe, heavy storms
can overwhelm the system and send raw sewage and polluted
storm water into nearby streams and rivers,” says
American Rivers. “These combined sewer overflows will
grow more frequent as extreme storms increase.”
Lower water flows
and rising temperatures compound problems caused by more
runoff. “More frequent droughts and shifting precipitation
patterns lower water levels in rivers, lakes and streams,
leaving less water to dilute pollutants,” says the
group. “Higher temperatures cause more frequent algal
blooms and reduce dissolved oxygen levels, both of which
can cause fish kills and do significant harm to ecosystems.”
American Rivers reports that the health of our rivers in
the face of increasing warming will depend largely on community
preparedness. Municipalities that fail to address aging
infrastructure “will experience greater increases
in storm water runoff and sewer overflows.” And communities
that have damaged their wetlands, forests, streams and rivers
will have fewer natural defenses to protect against the
effects of climate change.
There is much
we can do to protect rivers besides reduce our carbon footprints.
American Rivers is promoting green infrastructure—an
approach to water management that protects, restores or
mimics the natural water cycle—as the way to bolster
the health of rivers. “It means planting trees and
restoring wetlands rather than building a new water treatment
plant. It means choosing water efficiency instead of building
a new water supply dam. It means restoring floodplains instead
of building taller levees.”
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