Alternative Tourism: Tendency or Evolution?

Our days are full of change, linking together and becoming a storm of persistent movement in search of definition. What was used as a reference yesterday is obsolete today, and vice versa. These changes follow the line of evolution, not necessarily implying progress: time is the final judge because it shows what is feasible, in the same way that it has defined what is important in history or what is “art” in culture.

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Sunset on the River Orinoco | Julio Arreaza

In the field of tourism and travel, there are many concepts that are defined as, and included under, the alternative term because they simply do not belong to the standard. They are born as a response to mass or conventional tourism, recognizing the problems that this form of travel creates. They propose a different way of relating to the environment, of enjoying leisure and free time, and provide a more personalized catalog of options from which you can choose, according to personal interests, tastes and habits. They are based on the attitude and behaviors that humanity must undertake to optimize conservation, and to generate value in everything that goes unnoticed on a daily basis.

So, we enter into the world of alternative tourism, which often assumes different names: ecological, ethical, responsible, intelligent, sustainable, authentic, rural, green, natural, etc. Each of these may differ in specific form, but shares the same background: promotion of an authentic experience and of a closer understanding of the destination. It invites us to reflect and more deeply understand the world, as well as ourselves. For example, two important concepts defined in this framework:

  • Ecotourism, summarized as “responsible travel to natural areas, preserving the environment and improving the welfare of local communities.”
  • Conscious tourism, proposed by the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador: “Conscious Tourism is a life-transforming experience that generates personal growth and makes us better human beings. This new concept is based on the principles of sustainability and ethics, and promotes the values of peace, friendship, respect and love of life as the essence of tourism practice. It is a pact of coexistence, responsibility, mutual respect and fellowship among tourism agents, communities, tourists, and the natural and cultural heritage. Conscious tourism is a living, dynamic and ever building concept. It’s an experience of giving and receiving.”

Unlike mass tourism, these new forms make niche proposals or small format business models to suit each audience, and this has generated a rising business interest in recent times, allowing for growth and notoriety. For all stakeholders to practice alternative tourism, there must be a true understanding of its meaning and benefits. Any proposal that is cataloged in this group has the following characteristics:

  • Planning that benefits the place’s welfare, culture and local aspirations, which in turn adds value to the user.
  • Low environmental impact, reducing waste and excessive consumption, and maintaining biodiversity as the key to balance and self-sustainability.
  • Generation of profit to make the business model viable and to aid in the location’s development.
  • Development of educational and scientific activities that help achieve set goals.
  • Combination of different forms of alternative tourism.
  • Monitoring of environmental and local impact, and constant research to improve the mode of tourism and its effects.
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Rafting a Wild River, a Sustainable Way to Enjoy Nature | Julio Arreaza

So far, everything sounds ideal and as a result, we wonder why this type of tourism has not become massive, leading us to question what obstacles it faces. Firstly, we verify that traditional forms continue to be imposed, because although they have shown and proven their harmful effects, they haven’t been prohibited or controlled because of their strong economic and political implications. On the other hand, there’s still a large gap of practical and concrete actions to sustainably improve the quality of life on the planet, because important problems such as the destruction of ecosystems continue to emerge. We also know how difficult it can be to induce change as humans due to the existence of engrained habits. All these aspects add up and help to strictly categorize and classify, as well as build myths corresponding to the new forms, which is naturally human.

Based on this premise, the challenge is to demystify by creating modern, fun and attractive proposals that persistently promote growth and generate increasing pressure on the system. The sum of this reciprocation is actually present in all aspects of human life, each of which develops from one root concept: health. Much more than the absence of diseases, health implies a state of physical and mental well-being that comes from living in harmony with nature and everything around us. And even though we note that trends and tendencies focusing on key factors like health are becoming stronger each and every day, new questions continue to arise: are the activists of this movement really conscientious?

Analyzing the motivations of each activist and/or participant is a very complex matter. It’s better to realize that we all have the same right to live experiences and to be conscious of our own personal actions, which is where the value of this type of tourism really lies. Regardless of the motivations of those who practice it, alternative tourism always encourages reflection and respect of both the place and its culture in some form or fashion. Thus, the debate should not focus on the feasibility of it, but instead on spreading its advantages. If the best way to effectively spread the word is not by inviting or offering it as an alternative, what is another way to efficiently reach our objective(s)? Naturally, laws and regulations that control various activities related to responsible tourism should be propagated, such as those corresponding with the protection of national parks and natural areas.

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Canaima National Park, Venezuela | Julio Arreaza

As we can see, all of the analyzed aspects converge to show the need for changes – those that extend beyond trends or fashions, even though these may be indicators of a major upcoming shift, or may even form parts of a strategy to achieve it. The trend may end up becoming a pattern or standard, meaning it is no longer a trend. In such, we realize that the best forms of change do not remain pigeonholed or strictly classified as trends, but instead serve as evidence of human evolution. And if these changes result in improvement, then this means that they signify human progress.

As the Alt Experience team, we consciously invite our readers to understand, promising to never impose our ideas and views as the undeniably correct ones. On the contrary, we invite our audience to discover a world of possibilities. We’re sure that in the future, we will see more clearly and understand these changing times: it’s part of our human nature and it’s part of our evolution as a species. We will laugh at ourselves, or the generations that come after us will.

Julio

Translated by: Julio Arreaza, Kirstin Meyerhoeffer

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