Ecotourism has been described as “the practice of low-impact, educational, ecologically and culturally sensitive travel that benefits local communities and host countries” (Martha Honey, 1999).
From the beginning, the Jesus Trail has been designed to follow principles of ecotourism and responsible tourism closely. Walking is a non-threatening, low-environmental-impact means of travel that stimulates interaction with local people. The trail encourages local people to be involved in environmental care, as stakeholders in a project that brings business and prestige to their community. Several family-run guesthouses have opened their doors in small communities, which provide a more authentic alternative to big chain hotels, while bringing income to families and stimulating intercultural interaction. When local business owners and visitors meet face to face, more tourism dollars stay in and benefit the community and more positive respectful relationships can be built.
Some guidelines for sustainable ecotourism:
- Seek to learn, taking the posture of a student of the culture, rather than reinforcing presuppositions.
- Think local. Eat local foods, hire local guides, use local transport, talk to local people, try to experience local culture rather than seeking out the familiar or comfortable.
- Show respect for the culture by learning a few phrases in the local language, by wearing appropriate clothing (especially at religious sites), by asking permission before taking photos of people.
- Pay fair prices and appreciate expertise with adequate tips. In many cultures, haggling over prices is expected, but do not bargain ruthlessly. When possible, purchase handicrafts at a fair trade co-op to ensure that artisans are paid a living wage. (See www.tenthousandvillages.com).
- Select a balanced itinerary that allows for interaction with different narratives, ideologies and people groups for a more complete picture, rather than favoring one group.
- Respect shortages in water, electricity and other limited resources by restricting your own use.