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Authentic Travel

The shift to geotourism - engaging in cultural travel experiences

eTN Staff Writer  Dec 03, 2009

It used to be that American tourists sought familiarity in even the most exotic destinations they traveled to. Today, vacationers are looking to immerse themselves in the authentic culture of a destination. This industry-wide travel trend is called "geotourism," and many in the industry believe this shift is here to stay.

Jonathan Tourtellot, the director of the National Geographic Society's Center for Sustainable Development and an American geotourism pioneer, coined the term "geotourism" to define responsible, authentic travel. Tourtellot observes, "Geotourism is no flash in the pan; travelers around the globe are seeking it out in both rural and urban settings."

Environmental responsibility is one reason the trend is gaining ground. Like sustainable tourism, geotourism wants to preserve the ecological attributes of travel locations. But unlike sustainable tourism, geotourism appeals to the mass market. It isn't just for the altruistic few who want to save a place; it is for anyone looking to reap all the unique benefits a place has to offer: the cultural, historical, archeological, architectural, and natural elements that combine to create authentic vacations.

Before the emergence of geotourism, destinations often sacrificed their distinctive characteristics in order to make consumers feel at home. As a result, many vacation destinations gave up the very things that attracted travelers in the first place: unique customs, cuisine, architecture, etc. Conversely, geotourism enhances a destination's natural and cultural distinctiveness while still providing a high-quality visitor experience.

Amble Resorts, an environmentally responsible real estate development company, has tapped that very idea. Owner Benjamin Loomis remarked, "Amble was basically founded to cater to the geotourist market segment, which we think will grow significantly as travelers become more and more sophisticated and demanding."

Loomis is preparing to break ground next year on an eco resort in Panama's Gulf of Chiriqui, The Resort at Isla Palenque. "Isla Palenque and the surrounding islands offer all kinds of activities that interest geotourists, from the villages of the Ngobe Bugle, to archeological sites, to an astonishing diversity of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife," said Loomis of his island resort. "We're offering travelers a chance to get to know a uniquely special place and the assurance that it will stay special."

The Resort at Isla Palenque and other geotourism destinations are attracting travelers in droves. For these vacationers, all the elements of geographical character must act in harmony to deliver an experience richer than the sum of its parts. Geotourism has become a popular, effective way for travelers to experience their vacations in a deep and meaningful way - without detracting from the destination itself.

The shift to geotourism - engaging in cultural travel experiences
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