Buzzwords like ecotourism, eco resort, responsible travel, and sustainable tourism have likely crossed your social media and news feeds within the past decade. Who doesn't want to be on trend, especially when nature's involved! But what does any of it really mean, and why should you care? Regardless of their trending status, these terms and concepts are important; they’ve never been more relevant, yet they’re not as young as you might think.
A Few Definitions
While often used interchangeably, sustainable tourism and ecotourism are not, in fact, synonymous. According to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, sustainable tourism is not a specific type of tourism but rather efforts made by the tourism industry to acknowledge the impacts of tourism, good and bad, and work toward minimizing the bad.
The UN World Tourism Organization defines it as “tourism that takes full account of its future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” Bottom line: the goal is for all travel to be sustainable.
Ecotourism, on the other hand, is a type of tourism specific to natural areas. It is sustainable tourism but with a focus on local environments and cultures and proactive efforts in preservation, conservation and sustainability.
An eco resort, then, provides eco-friendly accommodations for your stay within these natural areas served by ecotourism. We’ll circle back to this momentarily.
Ecotourism: A Brief History
Natural wonders of the world and historic landscapes have long enchanted, sustained and engaged humankind, considered not only beautiful but sacred by cultures and adventurers over thousands of years. Met with surges in population and advancements in accessibility and technology, governments have historically and repeatedly faced the inevitable question: how do we protect these areas? How do we safeguard and help unique ecosystems thrive while appropriately benefiting from their meditative, healing and reflective properties that undoubtedly make us better humans for experiencing them?
Establishing protected areas throughout the world has been a giant step toward large-scale preservation. Whether preserving sacred mountains, giant glaciers, or endangered species, countries around the world have historically made great efforts to establish and maintain protected areas.
First Global Protected Lands
Bogd Kahn Mountain in Mongolia was protected by the local community as early as the 1680s and was officially declared a protected site by the Qing Dynasty in 1783.
Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in the United States in 1872.
The Royal National Park in Australia was established in 1879.
Sarek National Park in Sweden became Europe’s first protected park in 1909, home to glaciers, elk and other wildlife.
Virunga National Park (formerly Albert National Park) in the Democratic Republic of Congo was established in 1925 to protect mountain gorillas.
Nahuel Huapi in Argentina was named the first national park in Latin America in 1934.
Yellowstone River Falls, Yellowstone National Park
As natural areas worldwide gradually came under the protection of various branches of government, environmental and conservation clubs and organizations were formed and books on related topics were published; research performed by explorers, scientists, naturalists and the like proliferated as did the interest in visiting these untouched places in informed and conscientious ways so as not to harm or disturb their unique environments and local cultures.
The origin of the term “ecotourism” is debatable. Some attribute the coining of the word to Claus Dieter Hetzer in 1965. An adventurer at heart, he began leading what he called "ecotours" in the Yucatan in the early 1970s. Architect and researcher Hector Ceballos-Lascurain has also been considered the father of the term ecotourism. Also doing work in the Yucatan, he increased interest in and popularity of the concept by creating an official definition of ecotourism in 1983:
Ecotourism is that tourism that involves travelling to relatively undisturbed natural areas with the specific object of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural aspects (both past and present) found in these areas.
The definition has since been modified and adapted by many individuals and organizations, making it difficult to pinpoint a standard. But the gist across the board today suggests that ecotourism is observing and appreciating nature in a way that minimizes ecological impact and is proactive in having positive and sustainable effect.
Back to Eco Resorts
For every government-protected area there are thousands of other natural environments that should, too, be protected by those within them and those who visit them. And choosing where and how we will stay on adventures to these locations (protected or not) is a huge component of ecotourism.
Resorts are designed to accommodate, entertain and provide rest, relaxation and recreation for their visitors. Unfortunately, offering common resort amenities is sometimes achieved through wasteful practices that come at a cost to the local environment and culture. Eco resorts are designed to provide the unique and authentic stay you’re looking for while focusing on sustainability and preservation of the surrounding environment through materials, practices and offerings.
Backland: The Natural Choice
Backland Luxury Glamping Resort is an eco resort located on 160 acres of private land in Williams, Arizona. Surrounded by beautiful meadows and the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world, it’s a secluded and pristine site at which to responsibly recreate, observe local plant and wildlife, and unplug.
With an onsite restaurant, spa, hiking trails, beach and water activities, fire pits, nature scavenger hunts, birdwatching and more, we have the variety in amenities that you might expect at a typical luxury resort. But we are anything but typical as we have worked tirelessly to create an eco-friendly environment with existing sustainable features and planned projects that firmly place us in the family of ecotourism.
Backland lodging consists of luxury tent suites that redefine the glamping experience. All are fully insulated, energy efficient, and automatic climate controlled using ultra efficient heat pump heating and cooling systems. This is very rare for tented lodging. Provided toiletries are all eco-friendly as are the cleaning products used in all resort structures. You’ll find recycling receptacles in public spaces and complimentary electric car charging stations.
Being in a high desert environment, we take water saving seriously. All our water fixtures are efficient and low flow. For shower heads we use state of the art Nebia water saving shower heads, which provide a luxurious shower experience at half the standard flow. Our toilets use proprietary vacuum flush systems that reduce toilet flushing water by half. Our vanity sinks utilize push button faucets that significantly reduce flow. In the restaurant our meals are served on high quality compostable palm leaf dishware to limit dishwashing water usage. Finally, our landscaping is predominantly native and natural, requiring no irrigation. These water saving initiatives may seem small individually but they add up. Even in our first phase alone we estimate that we save roughly 1,000,000 gallons of water per year compared to a similar sized hotel!
Positive Impact Initiatives
We don't want to be content with just limiting our environmental impacts. As committed as we are to implementing sustainable practices, we are equally dedicated to making a positive impact on our land.
Native Plant and Pollinator Gardens
In 2022 we seeded two acres of milkweed. Milkweed habitat loss due to pesticides and agricultural and roadside management practices has contributed to the decline in the monarch butterfly population. Our planting will support the monarch as well as other prolific pollinators.
We have big dreams for what Backland can become. Backland is young, and we have future phases to complete and projects to carry out. But even upon completion of all build phases, we will still be 95% open space.
Here are some of the plans and initiatives we are hoping to implement as we grow.
We are planning for our future tent phases to utilize an advanced wastewater treatment system to purify the wastewater and release it into constructed wetlands or underground drip systems that will be used to create new habitats for a wide variety of plant and wildlife.
Solar electric generation to achieve net-zero electrical use
Development of a rainwater catchment system will help provide water to any future limited landscaping, plantings and green house.
Native tree orchards will also be cultivated for additional habitat and natural use.
Hydroponic green house to produce food for our restaurant.
Holistic Managed Grazing. In our meadows we would like to utilize livestock in holistic planned grazing. This method of grazing is used to restore native grasslands and improve the depth and quality of the soil.
As an eco resort, it is our extreme pleasure and honor to participate in ecotourism and continually add to our list of positive impact projects. We are here to provide an authentic experience that honors the land and helps it thrive. But now it’s your turn.
Responsible tourism involves you: the conscientious traveler. It means adopting habits in your travel practices that limit your own impact on the environment and help places like Backland remain pristine and protected. We hope that a sustainable stay with us will inspire you to sightsee responsibly wherever you choose to adventure, and we encourage you to seek out other eco lodging options as you travel the world. During your time with us as well as when you leave our secluded oasis, we hope you’ll consider the following suggestions.
Tips for Responsible Travel
walk or use public transportation when possible to reduce carbon emissions
carry reusable water bottles
reduce the amount of water you use when bathing, showering, brushing teeth, etc.
take only what you need when it comes to maps, brochures and other travel publications or, better yet, find the information online to eliminate excessive paper material production and waste.
shop locally, eat locally
minimize waste and reuse/recycle whenever possible
respect wildlife and nature—look, but don’t touch or disturb animals or your surroundings
Our relationship with the earth is like any other relationship: it requires respect, collaboration and nurturing to be successful and fulfilling. It takes not simply appreciation but effort and commitment. Backland’s commitment to you is that we will forever strive to positively impact our land in implementing the tenets of ecotourism while providing you with a one-of-a-kind, immersive experience. We hope that you, in turn, will be inspired to seek out other travel experiences and amenities that support these values and apply them to your own communities and wild spaces.
Humans have an incredible responsibility to care for the earth and protect it. But we mustn’t forget that the relationship is reciprocal. Communing responsibly with nature fundamentally changes us. It can help us become more patient, tolerant, and compassionate. It can remind us of what we truly value and increase our awareness of important issues. Furthermore, it inspires us to act. We’re trying our best to do our part, and we hope you will too.