Top Eco-Tourism Destinations in Asia

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Eco-tourism is about both the appreciation of the natural world and ensuring that the impacts are minimized. It is different from traditional nature-based tourism in that its primary focus is to educate the traveler and to provide funds for ecological conservation. Travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people. Eco-tourism is tourism that relies on the natural environment as its main attraction and is of relatively low impact. Nature-based travel and tourism, eco-tourism strives to minimize impact, build environmental and cultural awareness and respect, and provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts. Eco-tourism provides financial benefits for conservation and local people and empowerment of local people. Eco-tourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles: minimize impact, build environmental and cultural awareness and respect, provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts, provide direct financial benefits for conservation, provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people, raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.

Types of eco-tourism: nature tourism, mass tourism, alternative tourism. During the 1980s, several divergent terms – ecotourism, nature tourism, and sustainable tourism – were used in reference to travel to natural areas. Environmentalists agreed that these terms all referred to types of travel that were “low-impact” and strove to achieve similar goals. Today, the terms are often used interchangeably but the underlying principles and philosophies are held by those who identify themselves with each term. Preserving the environment and ensuring the well-being of local people is possible by following the aforementioned ecotourism principles and acting with awareness. The World Conservation Strategy, produced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the United Nations Environment Program, and the World Wildlife Fund, identifies protection of the natural environment and the attainment of social and economic development as critical global issues. This inspired the 1982 UN World Charter for Nature and the 1992 UN Earth Summit. Both of these events provided a natural environment conservation directive for all countries and sectors of society. Although the effectiveness of these international events and directives are topics of global debate, there is little doubt that the growing concern for the state of the global environment has led many people to reassess their role as global citizens and consider the impact of their decisions on the environment. As a result, consumers in general have growing concern and awareness for their effect on the natural environment and increased interest in taking steps to prevent negative environmental impacts. Known for a focus on conserving nature, natural resources, and responsible travel, eco-tourism provides the mechanisms to realize these aspirations. Measures such as the World Conservation Strategy provided a framework for national and regional conservation strategies and allowed for integration of individual efforts in natural resource management and environmental protection. Evident in the Charter for Nature, integrated conservation and development strategies are proving to be a highly effective way to link conservation of natural resources and sustained development. This approach aligns closely with the principles of eco-tourism and provides the reassessing global citizens with the opportunity to make choices that benefit both the environment and themselves. It is clear that eco-tourism aligns with the goals of those who desire a better quality of life for themselves and future generations. By continually providing the framework and crucial link between a healthy environment and societal well-being, eco-tourism can move towards becoming the dominant way of utilizing tourism for social and environmental ends.

What is eco-tourism?

The term eco-tourism is a relatively new buzzword in tourism. It is an attempt to provide tourists with an opportunity to benefit from the natural and cultural resources of an area, while at the same time promoting conservation and improving the welfare of the local people. According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), eco-tourism can be defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people”. This involves the integration of the travel and tourism industry with the goal of adopting practices that reduce the adverse impact on the environment, taking steps to recover its health, and also attempting to educate the tourists and local population in making contributions to environmental conservation and political and economic planning. The main aim of eco-tourism is to offer something different to the typical sunlight package tour to the Mediterranean. This form of tourism aspires to be something fresh and new, and travelers that partake in eco-tourism may well find a wide range of activities to take part in during their stay in a country. Activities that are tied into the natural and cultural surroundings of the area and are also environmentally friendly. Some examples might be bird watching in the rainforest or even a visit to a historical building in a town. In addition to this, eco-tourists are offered new experiences in terms of accommodation, striving to find places for their clients to stay that are comforting and also environmentally and culturally sensitive. An example would be a wilderness lodge in Africa, where they are minimizing the ecological impact.

Importance of eco-tourism in preserving the environment

Eco-tourism provides a range of benefits. It provides revenue for governments to fulfill various needs. It generates a range of jobs and hence provides employment for unemployed or underemployed personnel. It is particularly a major source of employment in areas where alternatives are very limited, such as remote rural areas or protected areas. In order to prevent overexploitation in fragile and pristine areas, the development of a low volume, high-cost tourism is encouraged. This can be a high revenue-generating industry and can provide an economic alternative to some of the destructive land uses. Eco-tourism can also act as a learning experience for both the local and global visitor. It can present environmental issues to the general public and can educate them on how they can conserve natural areas and use resources in a sustainable manner. The tourist also learns about the environmental, social, and economic issues in the places that they visit. This can create awareness in the visitor and can influence them to change their lifestyle and consumption patterns.

It is widely regarded as an effective tool in achieving the dual goals of economic growth and conservation of the environment. It is a conservation strategy for natural areas that utilizes sustainable tourism to support the management of natural resources.

Today, environmental degradation and overexploitation of natural resources result in the destruction of many natural ecosystems and loss of biological diversity. It compromises the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Most of the global threats to forests, protected areas, marine and coastal areas can be linked to human activity in pursuit of economic development. A rapidly increasing tourism growth provides economic development and is a gateway for many countries to achieve development; hence, it is often one of the main reasons for the destruction of natural areas. The need to conserve natural areas and biological diversity is not the question in point; the real issue lies in finding ways and means to accomplish it. Eco-tourism offers a solution to this problem.

Eco-Tourism Destinations in Asia

Indonesia is the second country of eco-tourism destination. Indonesia has a very high potential for eco-tourism; it is ranked third in the world in terms of biodiversity. Indonesia’s natural wealth is extraordinary with the existence of 50 million hectares of tropical forest and a variety of flora and fauna. It also has hundreds of small and large islands, with beautiful beaches and a wealth of underwater marine life. Many of the heritage and culture of Indonesia are still a part of the lives of the community and displayed in its society’s customs, art, and traditions. Most of Indonesia’s notable eco-tourism locations are also home to the friendliness of the locals, making it highly appealing to come once again.

Eco-tourism in Thailand is very famous worldwide. Thailand’s natural resources, including its white sand beaches and crystal clear water, pristine islands, diverse marine life like coral reefs and underwater creatures, forest vegetation, variety of wild animal life, huge amount of bird species, mountains, caves, and waterfalls, make Thailand one of the most beautiful and ideal locations for eco-tourism. All in one single area. A small quantity of Thailand’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries have allowed a small number of eco-tourism and nature tourism operators to conduct their kind of tourism within national park boundaries.

Eco-tourism is stated to have a significant contribution to the efforts of conservation by providing benefits for both the local society and nature. It is also mentioned that Asia is beginning to be noted as the premier spot for eco-tourism. Asia is rich with natural beauty and culture, which gives a lot of choices to develop eco-tourism with various tourist destinations. Here are some of the choices of tourist destinations in Asia.


The Kingdom of Thailand, covering an area of 514,000 km2, lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, roughly equidistant between India and China. It shares borders with Myanmar to the west and north, Laos to the north and northeast, Cambodia to the east and Malaysia to the south. Thailand is amazing. It is everything you’d expect from an Asian country – it’s a bustling mix of the ancient with the utterly modern, all wrapped up in a colourful explosion of beauty. More than 15% of the country is designated as national parks and it is a world leader in eco-tourism. The popular activity in Thailand’s eco-tourism is seeing the wildlife and the leading wildlife sanctuary is Kao Sok National Park, the best place in Thailand to see wild elephants. North of Kao Sok is Pang-nga Provincial Hills, which has a wild population of gaur, banteng, tapir and serow. The park service has a few bungalows on the river and park rangers have reported sightings of tigers in the area. However, your chances of seeing tigers are very slim, as there are very few left. But arguably the best place to see wildlife is Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary and Adventure Tour. Here you can see all of Thailand’s species of wildlife. In the wild cave tours it is common to see tigers and panthers but the best chance of seeing these carnivores is to do the rare clouded leopard observation. Though it is not exactly easy to see these cats, the money from the tour goes to funding more clouded leopard research, so you are still contributing to the conservation of the species by signing up. All of the money generated from eco-tourism goes into the conservation effort of the park it is in.


Indonesia is famous for its countless islands, humid climate, and abundant plant and animal life. With 516 protected areas throughout the country, Indonesia offers a wide array of ecotourism destinations for those with a keen interest in the natural environment. From the tropical rainforests of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Irian Jaya, to the marine national parks of North Sulawesi, to the rice terraces of Bali, Indonesia has much to offer its visitors. First among Indonesia’s ecotourism attractions is the Ujung Kulon National Park, located in the westernmost part of Java. A tropical rainforest and the last natural shelter for the nearly extinct Javan rhinoceros, Ujung Kulon offers its visitors a chance to view this rare creature in its natural habitat. The park also boasts varied bird life, monkeys, mouse deer, and a wide array of tropical flora. The 42,000-hectare offshore island of Peucang is a popular tourist site, offering fishing, swimming, snorkeling, and wildlife observation. Ujung Kulon’s convenient location and the close proximity of the islands of Krakatau and Handeuleum make it a simple and accessible destination for those with an interest in natural ecosystems.


Borneo, the third largest island in the world, is divided among three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. It is bound by the South China Sea to the north and northwest, the Sulu Sea to the northeast, the Celebes Sea and the Makassar Straits to the east, and the Java Sea to the south. The island is a haven for a rich variety of rare and endangered species unique to the area, making the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak prime ecotourism destinations. The two states have protected large tracts of rainforests in national parks and wildlife reserves. In the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, the Gunung Mulu National Park, a World Heritage site, is home to millions of bats, more than 5000 species of insects, and the world’s most extensive cave system. Loagan Bunut National Park, with its large floodplain swamp forest, is also in the highlands. Sabah’s Danum Valley Conservation Area protects 43,800 hectares of lowland rainforest and is home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds, and insects. Endangered species such as the Sumatran rhino, elephant, and orangutan are still found in this protected area. The Tabin Wildlife Reserve in central Sabah, covering 1227 square kilometers, is home to the endangered green and hawksbill turtles which come to nest at the reserve’s 23-kilometer long coastline. The Maliau Basin, also known as the Lost World of Sabah because of its almost impenetrable terrain, is home to an astonishing abundance of biodiversity. Its 392 km2 area, the heart of which is still virgin forest, has been gazetted for conservation and research and is the most complete protected area in Malaysia.


Beppu is another famous area, located at the base of volcanic mountains. The ground is always hot and steam rises out of the earth, and the sounds of boiling water can be heard all around. Beppu is Japan’s most famous hot spring resort and produces more hot spring water than any other resort in the country. The six main Beppu hot spring areas take pride in their respective charm and features, which span from the eight hells (multi-colored boiling springs) to sand baths and mud baths.

Japan is a land of striking natural beauty and believe it or not, less than 7 percent of Japan is developed. Its mix of high, rugged mountains, steep coastlines, thick forests, and rushing rivers offer the visitor unlimited opportunities for adventure and exploration. Japan has a vast network of national parks, the largest of which is Daisetsuzan in Hokkaido. There are also many other natural parks that are easily accessible from Tokyo, Kamakura, Kyoto, and Osaka.

Sustainable Practices in Eco-Tourism

A common practice of many large-scale tourism operations in foreign countries is to bring their own people to do the skilled work in building tourist facilities. This can have a detrimental impact on local communities, as it reduces the employment opportunities of the local people. The international foreign aid and other voluntary organisations have recognised this and pressured many ecotourism organisations to support the local communities by creating job opportunities for the locals and aiding in the increase of skill levels. An example of this is seen later in New Zealand with the tourism operation involving the native Maori people to zip line tour in Rotorua.

Conservation of the natural resources in the visited area by eco-tourists is usually the first step of the international programmes. This may be through direct action by eco-tourists to remove an invasive plant species or replant forests, or may be through the payments that they make to the ecotourism organisation. These payments can then be used by the organisation to lobby the government to change the laws in order to reduce the impact of non-sustainable industries, for example gold mining, logging, hunting, etc., on the natural environment. It is also used to compensate the locals for the income that they would have gained from these industries.

Conservation of natural resources

Thirdly, repair of damaged environments is, in many cases, possible. Most damage to the environment is not permanent and can be restored if people change their actions. Tait (2009) states that people need to understand that they can have a positive effect on the environment and that they can help to repair damage. This must be done in conjunction with an awareness of environmental issues and the most complex understanding of how change can occur.

Protection of the environment from further damage is a necessary second step. The Earth’s environment is constantly changing, but some change is caused by human activity. For example, air pollution and soil erosion have changed the environment in certain areas, and these are global problems. Although we cannot reverse the damage that has been done, we can minimize further change, which will, in turn, conserve the current state of the environment. Recommended methods are legislation and regulation of industry and development, as well as changing patterns of resource use by consumers. Although not all countries have come to an agreement on what is best for the environment, a start has been made with large meetings such as the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, and every little step that is made will help the future.

Conservation of natural resources includes sustainable use of land, water, vegetation, and air. It can be achieved by protecting the environment and repairing environmental damage. One of the first prerequisites for successful conservation of natural resources is sustainable resource use. It is a scientific fact that the world’s human population is increasing, so we need to be aware of the use of our natural resources. The more people there are, the more resources will be used. We need to carefully consider how to conserve resources and which types of resources are the most important to conserve. For example, tropical rainforests contain about 50 percent of the Earth’s species, and the use of these resources often destroys the entire resource and species. We need to carefully consider the importance of conserving such resources and establish the most appropriate methods and awareness for conservation.

Support for local communities

Support will be an important component of an eco-tourism project. Income generated by tourism will be reinvested into the local community, giving stakeholders an alternative to exploitative labor-intensive industries such as logging and fishing. Tourists, in many cases, will be asked to contribute a percentage of their tour fee to a community fund. Decision-making in how this money should be spent could be through direct democracy, involving all members of a community, cultivating a sense of shared responsibility for natural and cultural heritage. Fostering empowerment and this link with the tangible benefits of conservation is important, especially in developing countries where the connection between the environment and well-being is not always apparent. Income generated from eco-tourism can even have spillover effects into wider regional development and act as a catalyst for conservation in protected areas or provide a buffer to fragile environments which might otherwise be threatened. In the long term, the success of eco-tourism may lead to some communities being able to opt for complete self-sufficiency to meet their energy and water needs, thus further reducing their impact on their surrounding environment.

Minimization of environmental impact

Steps to minimize environmental impact include establishing carrying capacity for the area, monitoring activity on the facilities to check for breach of carrying capacity, and when necessary establishing quotas or limited access to these facilities. Reducing the environmental impact of tour vehicles can also be an effective part of an overall strategy to minimize the impact of a tourism industry. This can be achieved through engine modification, use of low-sulfur fuel, and use of alternative fuels. The EcoTrans Project is an initiative by the World Conservation Union to design and implement a multi-stakeholder based planning guide to greening transport sectors in emerging economies. Another way to minimize environmental impact is through formulation of a sustainable policy that is adhered to throughout an entire tourism industry. Establishing a non-regulatory agreement among industry partners can be a good starting point. In scenarios where resources that are shared by competing industries and are vital to local economies, sustainable marketing strategy can provide a basis for cooperative strategies to ensure sustainability of the resources. There is however an ongoing debate over the best way to implement sustainable policies. Simulation studies have shown that “a carefully designed and implemented eco-tax was the best single option to ameliorate climate change. But it was not so much better than a mix of high fuel taxes and industry regulation.” The mix of high fuel taxes and industry regulations binds both producer and consumer to its provisions. It raises the cost of polluting for producers, shifting their supply curve to the left until they internalize the externality. The outcome is a higher price for a product reflecting the true cost of production with less of that product being produced and consumed. However, in the current political climate, fuel taxes have been effective at reducing CO2 emissions and so the best environmental policy is specific to the situation.

Education and awareness programs

Many ecotourism enterprises consider educating the public or undertaking environmentally aware actions as a very important element of their mission. The reasons for these can be many and varied, but some of the most common ones include: * Education of the travelling public, provision of an informative experience, to directly increase their awareness of conservation issues and provide funds for protected areas.

Minimize the impact of their own operations. The travelling public is becoming more aware of environmental issues and are making a decision on the basis of operators having a sound environmental philosophy. If ecotourism operations damage the environment, they are self-defeating.

Provide a “model” for the local populace i.e. demonstrating that an activity can be sustainable, that non-renewable resources need not be exploited, that the short term economic gains of an activity need not destroy the long term economic opportunities from an alternative activity, and that if properly managed, the environment in a degraded area can be rehabilitated. These ideas can be put into practice in many ways. A simple and cost-effective method is interpretation using signage. This can inform the traveler about a particular site, direct them on a designated path, and inform them of the dos and don’ts of the site. This knowledge can be vital in enabling a traveler to appreciate a site without causing damage to it. Another method commonly aimed at the traveler is provision of information booklets. These are often given to travelers upon entry to a site and can also be available from a local tourism office. Often a more elaborate method such as a visitors center with displays, slideshows or talks is used. An interesting experience in a safe environment can be highly informative and to a local or a traveler, it may be an eye-opener.

Tips for Eco-Tourists

Respect local cultures and traditions. Research the destinations you will be visiting and learn a bit about the customs and traditions of the local people. This will help to prevent you from unknowingly offending someone, and will also foster a spirit of understanding between you and your hosts. For instance, physical contact in public between men and women is strictly forbidden in Arab countries. In Japan, there is a custom of presenting business cards with both hands and bowing slightly upon meeting someone. Understanding and respecting practices such as these will lead to a more enriching travel experience. Remember, you are a guest in the countries you are visiting, not the other way around. Always show respect for people’s customs, and be gracious and polite if you are corrected in any misunderstandings. Demonstrating a willingness to learn and abide by another culture’s ways is a sign of both respect and humility.

Choose eco-friendly accommodations. When selecting your lodging, ask the proprietor about their environmental policies. Do the hotel employ locals and attempt to preserve the native culture and traditions? Do they utilize local produce to cut down food miles? Do they employ water conservation methods, such as reusing towels and sheets rather than automatically laundering them, and low-flush toilets? Do they compost or recycle? Incorporating these concerns into your decision-making process when booking a place to stay will help to reduce your impact.

Choose eco-friendly accommodations

When considering a place to stay while on an eco-holiday, look for businesses that are environmentally responsible. A few examples of how a business might minimize its impact on the environment include reusing towels and sheets instead of washing them daily, using energy-efficient lighting and appliances, minimizing water usage, and serving organic food. It is important that it won’t get in the way of your holiday and you will still be able to do everything that you desire to do, so be sure to ask the proprietor how their business is environmentally friendly. Sometimes it might even be to stay in an eco-friendly room in a more traditional hotel and help contribute to the development of environmentally friendly practices in the larger hotel industry. If you are having a difficult time finding eco-friendly accommodation at independent businesses, look for ecolodges, hostels, bed and breakfasts, and small inns as these businesses may be more environmentally friendly than large hotel and resort chains. There are also websites and travel agents specializing in eco-tourism that can assist you in finding environmentally responsible accommodation. One should be wary of greenwashing – a term used to describe businesses that make false or misleading claims about how environmentally friendly their products or services are. To avoid greenwashing, be sure to ask the proprietor specific questions about their environmentally friendly practices.

Respect local cultures and traditions

Before you travel, learn as much as possible about the local traditions and customs of the places you will be visiting. It will help you to better understand the people you will meet and the places you will see, and it can also be a great conversation starter with the local people you encounter. By learning about the customs of a certain area before you go, you can also prepare yourself to be a respectful and conscientious traveler.

Do your best to familiarize yourself with local customs, traditions, and etiquette. It will help you to recognize the importance of these practices and aid you in respecting them. Be aware of different gender roles, forbidden topics of discussion, and food and dining taboos. For example, it is customary for a Buddhist to make a prayer of thanks before eating, try to acknowledge and respect their act even if you do not participate in the prayer yourself. In some Asian and African countries, it is traditional for women to walk behind men. Non-locals are not expected to conform to this custom, but they should respect it and not engage in behavior intending to challenge this tradition. This may be difficult to swallow for people strongly led by feminist beliefs, but remember that many customs like these are the product of a different time and may already be fading away.

You may be an ocean away from your home, but it is important to remember that different doesn’t equal wrong. What may seem unnatural to you might be a practice deeply rooted in a culture and tradition. An open mind is best when you are a visitor in a place where people hold values and beliefs different from your own.

Practice responsible wildlife viewing

Perhaps the most rapidly growing form of eco-tourism, wildlife watching can be an incredibly stimulating (mental and physical) and potentially educational experience. It can also be a significant threat to the creatures it is intended to benefit. Therefore, those who wish to observe and learn about animals in their natural habitat should do so with a respectful distance that does not intrude upon the creatures’ space or disturb their activities. This usually requires a good pair of binoculars and a camera with a high-powered lens. If an animal changes its behavior in the slightest way due to human presence, the viewer has approached too closely. Chasing, baiting, or trapping animals for photo opportunities is also highly discouraged, as these practices are stressful to animals and can have long-term impacts on their well-being. Those seeking to go on guided wildlife viewing tours should be selective about the companies they choose. Some so-called eco-tours visit feeding stations or captive animals. Many people, guides, and tour boat operators from gorilla (or other primate) tours, for example, habituate animals to human presence in order to allow tourists to get a closer look. While the tourist gets a great photo op and story to tell, this can have dire consequences when habituated animals revert to their natural (potentially dangerous) behaviors around humans after the tourists and guides have gone. Before booking a tour, it is important to ask the right questions to ensure that all viewing is non-invasive and conducted from a respectful distance. This way, tourists can get the rewarding experience they seek without leaving a lasting negative impact.

Reduce waste and recycle during your trip

Reduce waste and recycle during your trip – waste disposal is always a huge problem in tourist areas. Make sure you ask where the trash goes and if there is a recycling program. If not, perhaps it is a place you should not be visiting. Take a trip with companies who are environmentally aware. Ask for your drinks without straws and refuse the small, individually wrapped portions. Bring your own shopping bags to the market and reuse the bags you are given. This is an easy way to save thousands of plastic bags. In remote or rural areas take as much of your waste away with you as possible, or burn it. Consider going paperless! Take digital photos instead of buying souvenirs and take notes on a palm or pocket PC. If this is not an option, be sure to buy products made from sustainable resources. Pay attention to the packaging and avoid buying anything that will produce a lot of waste. Be creative and reduce as much waste as you can.