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Ecotourism in France - environment friendly holidays 

What is Ecotourism ?

The now established definition of Ecotourism is: "Responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people." (As defined by TIES, The International Ecotourism Society)

The market for ecotourism and nature tourism
While France is a country that offers great opportunities for environmentally-friendly tourism, eco-tourism is a global business. The WTO estimated in 2007 that "Ecotourism" accounted for 7% of the global tourism market, and was growing globally far faster than any other sector of the tourism market. However, putting a precise figure on this, or even a vague figure, is an art more than a science, as definitions of ecotourism and nature tourism can be and are interpreted in so many different ways. Ecotourism is sometimes taken to be synonymous with nature tourism or wildlife tourism: it is not.
   Nature tourism can be  defined as tourists visiting a destination to experience and enjoy its natural environment, and wildlife tourism is described as visiting a destination with the specific object of observing its wildlife. (e.g. bird-watching). Nature tourism or wildlife tourism - which are at best just a sector of ecotourism, at worst nothing to do with ecotourism - were growing even faster at the start of the century; but estimates that they could account for 25% of the world travel market by 2015 seem wildly exaggerated.

Examples of ecotourism and nature tourism - and completely un-eco-tourism: 
Nature tourism and wildlife tourism do not automatically mean ecotourism, as the following two examples show.
  • The nature tourist: Ben Brown, a well-off young London banker, plans a trip to Belize to discover its exotic natural environment. He flies to Central America by British Airways, stays with full board in a large hotel belonging to an international chain when he arrives, enjoys the jacuzzi, then hires a small 4x4 from Hertz or Avis to go out and visit exotic jungle or palm fringed beaches. Although he is clearly undertaking "nature tourism" or even "wildlife tourism",  he is not an ecotourist. Most of the economic advantage of his trip is going into the pockets of multinational corporations for the benefit of their shareholders in developed countries.
  • The eco tourist: His colleague Gilbert Green likes Ben's idea, and decides to go to Belize too. He too flies to Central America by British Airways, but then being more aware of environmental issues than Ben, he stays in a locally owned and run "eco lodge" built in traditional locally-sourced materials. In his hotel the showers are equipped with water-saving heads. Gilbert also eats local produce, and takes local transport or hires a local guide to hike in the jungle and observe its wildlife, and for this reason he is an ecotourist. Once he sets foot in Belize, his trip is bringing economic advantage to local populations, and he is encouraging good environmental practices in the country he visits.
  • The un-eco tourist: As for Ben's other friends Kev and Ken , they're just interested in "having a good time". So they fly to Marbella in Spain, stay with full board in a four-star hotel belonging to a multinational hotel company, with heated pool, spa, sauna. They hire a big 4x4 and use it to visit local golf courses which take too much of Andalucia's scarce water resources. On a couple of days they hire a powerboat , and roar around in the sea off Marbella; the boat, badly maintained, leaks oil into the sea - but that doesn't bother Kev and Ken. On another day they both hire powerful and noisy quad bikes and race around the dry hills inland. Kev nearly collides with a flock of goats. They have a great holiday - but one that has cost a lot, in very many different ways.

What pushes ecotourism?
Ecotourism is developing faster than tourism in general for a number of reasons:
  1. Dissatisfaction with the pressures of modern urban life
  2. The fact that modern mass tourism replicates the stresses of urban life in new seaside holiday ghettoes (Benidorm, Torremolinos, Cap d'Agde, etc.)
  3. Growing public awareness of "green" issues
  4. Encouragement of green tourism in rural regions and developing countries where tourism is a vital part of economic survival (a means to stem the rural exodus).
  5. Growing popularity of nature programmes on TV
  6. Growing culture of exoticism, adventure and the "outdoor life".
  7. Growth in the proportion of well educated and affluent tourists.
The positive aspects of Ecotourism.
  1. It helps transfer wealth to poorer areas and nations, and creates jobs.
  2. It stimulates the development of new economic activities placing a value on the quality of the environment (a value on living animals, not just on dead ones, for example; or giving a forest more value as a living tourist attraction, than as a lot of trees to be cut down for their wood. )
  3. It stimulates awareness of the value of the world's environment, which in turn is slowly starting to have an impact on international political decision-making.
  4. It encourages the improvement of infrastructures in inaccessible places, which benefits local populations.
The negative side of ecotourism
  1. In some cases, "ecotourism" can rapidly destroy the very nature of the environment in which it takes place, unless ecotourist flows are managed with great care, and sometimes with strict controls on access (Examples: degradation of cave paintings at Lascaux, severe erosion of hiking paths across many parts of the English uplands, notably along the very popular Pennine Way; "westernisation"  of  communities in developing countries, on account of increased contact with tourism.)
  2. In other cases, particularly in non-developed regions, the arrival of affluent eco-tourists can put strain on natural resources and drive up prices for local people, who have little money in the first place. For example, tourism development can put intolerable strains on scarce water resources, when affluent westerners demand swimming pools and daily showers – not to mention golf courses in arid areas.
  3. Supposed "Eco tourism" can also fail to help developing nations, when most of the money developed by ecotourist activities ends up in the bank accounts of tour companies and car hire firms, not in the local communities.
  4. In National Parks, the archetypal eco-tourist destination, environmental damage is being caused as a result of high density car usage (as for example on Dartmoor, England, and at Yellowstone and Yosemite NP's in the USA).

More information: Ecotourism websites

To discover France and its regions, visit these pages
France tourist attractions - a guide to the main tourist attractions in France
France off the beaten track - wild France
Villages in France - but not those that have been damaged by excess tourism
Small towns in France - away from the crowds
Alsace:  travel and tourism guide
Aquitaine: guide and tourist attractions
Auvergne guide: travel and regional guide
Brittany guide: a travellers guide to Brittany
Burgundy: regional guide and tourist attractions
Centre - Guide to the Centre region of France
Franche Comté: guide to Franche Comté and its tourist attractions
Languedoc-Roussillon: regional guide and tourist attractions
Midi-Pyrénées tourist information
Nord – Pas-de-Calais
Normandy: a short guide to the region and its tourist attractions
Paris: a guide to the tourist attractions of Paris
Pays de la Loire regional guide
     Chambres d'hôtes - B&B in Charentes
Provence-web: A traveller's guide to Provence
Area guides: North-west France  -  Northeast France  -  Central France  -  Southwest France
  The South of France
And more useful links:  Cheap ferries to France - beware of misleading offers    Guide to the wines of France 

Happy camping! And don't forget the countryside code. Respect the natural environment, don't throw litter, clear up after you have camped or had a picnic, don't make unnecessary noise, and don't disturb wildlife.
Don't take motor vehicles (that means 4x4s, quads or motorbikes) on paths and tracks that are meant for ramblers and hikers, or otherwise unsuitable. Four-by-fours, quads and bikes cause serious damage to footpaths, which in turn causes erosion and makes them very difficult for ramblers; they also cause pollution, and spoil the peace and quiet of the countryside, which are among its great assets, and among those that most ramblers and hikers enjoy most. If you want to get your kicks by roaring round the countryside making as much noise as possible - and let's face it, some people do - find tracks and areas that are specially designated for this type of activity. In France, many departments have maps indicating the routes and tracks that are open to quads, motorbikes and four by fours.
    Links above will provide you with information about the main popular, historic or natural tourist attractions in France.