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Ecotour Guide


"Take only photographs, leave only footprints". So goes the motto of ecotour guides everywhere. From Himalayan mountain scapes to local arboretums, the idea that we should visit nature in a gentle and unobtrusive manner is quickly spreading through tourist culture.

Ecotour guides enable people to enjoy and learn about the natural, historical and cultural characteristics of unique environments while preserving the nature and beauty of those sites. They are responsible for leading, guiding and teaching tourists as well as helping to stimulate the economic development opportunities in local communities.

Ecotour guides function in the same way that regular tour guides or adventure tour guides do. Except, instead of showing people historically significant locations or guiding people on exciting bungee jumps, ecotour guides help tourists appreciate animals and nature in a new way. Often, this means using bikes and hiking boots instead of cars, rowboats and canoes instead of motorboats, and touring parks out of season, to lessen the stress visitors have on natural environments. They often travel in smaller groups.

These differences can allow for a more rewarding tour. With only 10 tourists on a dolphin-watching trip, in a small, quiet boat, dolphins and other sea animals might be more willing to surface and visit with the tourists, while a larger boat with 60 tourists might just scare them off.

Ecotour guides are often environmental activists, who want to share their love of undisturbed nature with others. They have a tenderness for nature, and a respect for the animals and plants that live within it. They are concerned with issues like urban encroachment, development, agribusiness, and pollution. Yet, they still want to travel and visit natural landscapes. They do so by touring responsibly, promoting meaningful contact between tourists and the natural world. They lead long hikes and camping trips, and short walks to waterfalls. During their tours, they educate tourists on responsible behaviors, human-imposed dangers, and encourage them to use their new knowledge and appreciation of nature to educate others about the importance of ecotourism.

Different levels of government usually support ecotourism initiatives. As well as providing a new source of economic growth for areas, ecotours preserve natural resources, promote conservation, and support sustainable development. Ecotours raise money for developing parks, environmental services, and for natural resource management. They even sometimes clean up messes made by other people (some ecotour guides lead trips up Mount Everest with the intention of cleaning up empty oxygen canisters left on the mountain by climbers).

Ecotours are only some of the many tours offered by tour groups and travel agencies. But tourists who travel with ecotour guides learn wonderful things and witness natural occurrences which, without the efforts of these environmentalists, could shortly disappear.
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  Interests and Skills  
Ecotour guides have a tendency to be interested in environmentalism, ecology, wildlife, and nature. They need to be mature, responsible, and open to other cultures and beliefs. They should be extremely organized, have a lot of self-confidence, and be skilled at hiking, camping, boating, horseback riding, or plant and animal identification. Ecotour gudies should also be logical thinkers, who can react to difficult situations calmly and professionally. It is also beneficial for ecotour guides to have some skills with another language, and be patient, tactful, and pleasant to be around.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Advertise services
  • Answer phones, set up tours (including pre-arranged accommodation, food, and transport)
  • Meet members of a tour upon arrival
  • Accompany them on tours of ecologically significant areas, animal sightings, or clean-up trips
  • Research and share information on indigenous cultures if appropriate
  • Provide first aid
  • Maintain written reports of daily activities and perform other administrative work
  • The typical day for an ecotour guide will depend on the type of tours they do. Some spend a few hours on a boat, looking at whales, while others take small groups on month-long treks through mountains. Regardless of their job, ecotour guides must be sure to be always on the lookout for the safety of the tourists as well as the environment and its inhabitants. Ecotour guides meet many types of people, and get to travel, either throughout their own community's natural areas or through natural areas far away from home. They spend most of each day outdoors, unless they are concentrating on administrative duties.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Ecotour guides work in natural environments, including national parks, mountain ranges, rivers, and forests. They may travel for months on end, or only spend a few hours a day out of doors. They may work alone with the tourists, or they may work alongside one or more guides. Their hours depend on the type of work they do. They work indoors at desks, on the computer, and on the phone when arranging for tours, contacting clients, or responding to inquiries.
  • They are employed by tour guide agencies. Sometimes they freelance, or work with a few partners, in a smaller independent business.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Ecotour guides can start their own ecotour agency or company, they can get into environmental and animal rights advocacy, or open an environmental store. They can work in adventure tours, or return to school and become environmental lawyers, geographers, environmental scientists, urban and park planners, or anthropologists.

  Educational Paths  
There is no set path for people who want to become ecotour guides. However, there are some suggested guidelines. It is a good idea to complete a university degree in environmental science or environmental studies, or a college diploma in travel and tourism. Some colleges offer programs in eco and adventure tourism, but as this is a fairly new career, there are a limited number of specific education programs available.

You should try and supplement your education with courses in geography, other languages, history, communications, as well as master some outdoor skills like hiking, skiing, canoeing, horseback riding, or white water rafting. You should also get some first aid and CPR training, especially if you plan on working as an overnight tour guide.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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