Ecotourism gets a boost in new Laos-Thailand agreement

There’s good news for travelers who want to see the world’s natural sights and wildlife in an environmentally responsible way.

Laos has signed a new cross-border cooperation agreement on tourism with neighboring Thailand as part of its broader efforts to boost regional hospitality links, especially ecotourism.

Definitions of ecotourism vary. The International Ecotourism Society defines it as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

Laos has placed greater emphasis on ecotourism since 2009. “As a result of ecotourism development, villages earn more income directly from tourists by selling food and homemade products as well as providing tourism-related services,” Bosengkham Vongdara, Laos’ minister of information, culture and tourism, said.

The agreement came during a recent official visit to Thailand by Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.

The popularity of ecotourism vacations has grown tremendously in the United States and around the world.

Overall, the travel industry contributed US$7.2 trillion, or 9.8 percent, to world gross domestic product in 2015 and is forecast to grow by 4 percent per year over the next 10 years, according to the Center for Responsible Travel, a nonprofit institute based in Washington.

“The robust performance of the sector is contributing to economic growth and job creation in many parts of the world,” said Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization, based in Madrid, Spain. “It is thus critical for countries to promote policies that foster the continued growth of tourism … including sustainability.”

The U.S. has supported projects that improve sustainable ecotourism in various countries, including Brazil, Tanzania, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.

Within the U.S., federal, state and local governments have been active in promoting ecotourism through such activities as setting aside natural areas and upgrading hiking trails through pristine areas.

This article draws on a report from the Voice of America.