Just who are Asia’s ecotourists?

These statistics may be a bit old, but according to the United Nations World Travel Organization, ecotourism made up 7% of the international tourism market in 2007. All signs pointed towards major growth and we have seen that, in tourism in general and in so-called sustainable or responsible tourism. However, just what defines ecotourism and differentiates the eco-tourist from the ordinary tourist is a bit blurry.

Currently the only countries that have national certification programs for eco-tourism (that I know of) are Australia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Norway and Sweden. Only one of these, Australia, is in the Asia-Pacific region. These of course define the services and specific destinations, not the actual tourists!

Ecotourist.com defines eco-tourists briefly, but comprehensively:

Ecotourism appeals to a wide range of travelers, of all ages and interests. Travelers who choose ecotourism are responsible consumers interested in social, economic and environmental sustainability. Seeking authentic local experiences and opportunities to give back to the communities they visit, many eco-tourists participate in voluntourismactivities. Increasingly, eco-tourists are also seeking to minimize the carbon footprint of their travel, traveling with climate in mind,by planning wisely and choosing consciously.

The profile of eco-tourists according to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) is outlined in more specific terms: Aged 35-54, male and female equally, 82% university educated, 60% traveling as couples, 15% with kids and 13% alone. Most travel for 8-14 days and they typically spend more than ordinary tourists. (Source: Norwegian Ecotourism)

A study by the World Bank found that there are slightly more female than male eco-tourists, with the United States as the key market. US travelers are more likely to use package tours, while Europeans are more likely to travel independently. Those from the US tend to visit Latin America for eco-tourism, while Britons and Germans head to Asia. Japanese also prefer to stay a bit closer to home, visiting destinations within Asia and Oceania.

Northern Thailand, pic: Eric Molina (Flickr CC)

In Australia, which as mentioned, has an ECO-certification program (although it only currently extends to eco-themed accommodation) is an eco-tourism hotspot. Visitors to the Great Barrier Reef region are mostly foreign (64%), but 25% are from other Australian states. Read more about Great Barrier Reef tourist profiles here.

Currently, domestic travelers aged over 55 contribute 19 billion AUD to the Australian economy. However, due to the lure of lower prices and exciting eco-destinations in Southeast Asia, Australia’s well-known “grey nomads,” who characteristically traverse their own country in motorhomes and camper vans, are increasingly looking to overseas destinations.

From the Herald Sun:

Self-funded retirees, grey nomads and baby boomers will start looking at what their alternatives are to spend a fair component of their year travelling in countries where the cost of living is significantly lower than living in their own country. If you have a house in a capital city, you can rent your house out and come back to Australia two or three times a year. They’re not likely to work, it’s more likely they will just explore and enjoy the culture and experience.

–Tourism consultant Tony Charters

Other new developments in the profiles of eco-tourists in the Asia Pacific region include the LGBT community. That’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, for those who are not hip to the acronym. According to an article by AFP, South and Southeast Asian nations are actively trying to attract LGBT holidaymakers. Though the article doesn’t mention eco-tourism per se, the development of this kind of tourism – along with gay-friendly holiday packages, accommodation, etc. in Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia, Vietnam and India as well as currently established LGBT destinations of Thailand and Bali – will surely see plenty of crossover. Although Singapore has LGBT-friendly hotels and resorts, homosexuality is still considered a crime in the city state.

eco-lodge in Bali, pic: Susan Catherine (Flickr CC)