Exploring Michigan’s ecotourism industry

The Michigan Eco-Traveler: A Guide to Sustainable Adventures in the Great Lakes, identifies recreational sites in Michigan that practice sustainable ecotourism and conservationism.

Sustainable tourism is defined in a USA Today article as “the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying to make a positive impact on the environment, society and economy.”

The article goes on to say, “A key aspect [of sustainable tourism] is respect for the people who call the location home, the culture and customs of the area, and the socio-economic system. While sustainable tourism is sometimes confused with ecotourism, ecotourism is actually only one aspect of sustainable tourism.”

Ecotourism can be defined as the practice of traveling to natural places, which may include rural or urban areas, without damaging the environment. The ecotourism visitor supports sustainable tourism and conservation of the environment by leaving a location in exactly the same condition they found it.

Michigan author, Sally Barber coins the phrase ‘eco-explorer’ to further describe the ecotourism visitor. In her book, The Michigan Eco-Traveler: A Guide to Sustainable Adventures in the Great Lake State, Barber extends the definition of an eco-explorer as someone who “bends to the inner call of travel and recreate without negatively impacting ecosystems. [It is the combination of] the ecotourist, the responsible tourist, and the nature explorer all in one curious, adventurous package.”

Barber emphasizes that responsible tourism is up to every traveler. An ‘eco-checklist’, included in each chapter, can assist a traveler by creating awareness about a business’ eco-policies as well as what the eco-explorer themselves can do to tread lightly and preserve Michigan’s natural environment. Included are questions such as inquiring if the lead organization offers an interpretive program focused on resource protection? Or are soy-based oils and cleaning products used at the facilities? And, is there an aggressive recycling program?

Each chapter focuses on an outdoor theme (sailing, skiing, wildlife, golf, trails, etc.) and Barber identifies examples of standout eco-tourism businesses located in Michigan. It is easy for the reader to learn more about these specific areas in Michigan and the ‘eco-checklist’ offers an ecofriendly lens from which to review any sustainable tourism experience.

The Michigan State University Extension tourism team offers a workshop, Understanding Tourism in Michigan Communities, which includes discussion about a variety of niche tourism markets, such as eco-tourism, nature-based tourism, heritage/cultural tourism, food-based tourism and voluntourism

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