Geotourism: Preserving the Wonder of Places and People

Wendy Redal February 18, 2010 0
Portugal's Douro River Valley of Wine

Portugal’s Douro River Valley of Wine

The hallmark of Natural Habitat Expeditions is a passion for adventure. While there are few adventures on earth as exhilarating as a kayak expedition in remote Greenland or trekking to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro or encountering a polar bear in the wild, it’s an equally grand adventure to discover the world’s diverse cultures.

With Natural Habitat Expeditions , we also sample grapes and drink wine while paddling Portugal’s Douro River. We explore the jungle-draped ruins of Angkor Wat and share a meal with Buddhist monks in Laos. We join in traditional Georgian festivals in the Caucasus Mountains.

There is a new term gaining prominence in the world of travel that captures much of our diverse agenda: Geotourism.

While ecotourism has been a buzzword in the adventure travel business for many years, geotourism’s mandate is broader. Geotourism, as defined by National Geographic, which as far as I can tell coined the term, is defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the entire geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.

At the heart of geotourism is the concept of sustainability: that travel should help preserve the unique character of a place. As with ecotourism, conservation is a central value. Geotourism extends it to culture and history as well, celebrating our planet’s diversity and working to retain the distinctive assets.

National Geographic has launched the Center for Sustainable Destinations as a way to promote these principles. The center’s website offers tips on how to be a positive geotourist. It is also a resource for finding places and partners committed to extending geotourism. Portugal’s Douro Valley – the wine region that is a popular Natural Habitat Expeditions destination — is among them.

The CSD is working with 21 local municipalities and the Douro Valley of Portugal Stewardship Council to strengthen sustainable tourism in the region, which is full of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The project will enhance the area’s economy through developing new geotourism-based business opportunities, while preserving its unique natural and cultural legacy as part of the Douro Basin World Heritage Route.

Earlier this month National Geographic hosted the second annual Geotourism Change Summit, showcasing success stories from both major cities and countrysides, with the purpose of preserving the character of the world’s special places and furthering sustainable travel. The program included the

Geotourism Challenge, a competition to recognize innovative examples of geotourism around the globe. Among the finalists were River.India.com, the world’s first outfitter on the challenging Siang River, which has trained locals to be river guides, and Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, which took an abandoned brick factory and turned it into a vital part of the city, offering farmers markets, summer camps and an ice-skating rink.

Geotourism celebrates geography and human spirit and the captivating interplay between them. And that synergy creates rich, authentic experiences that make travel at its best so fulfilling.

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