Ecotourism is quite the catch phrase in today's tourism and marketing circles. But what does it really mean?

In Martha Honey's 2008 book, "Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise?," ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas that strives to be low impact and (often) small scale. It purports to educate the traveller; provide funds for conservation; directly benefit the economic development and political empowerment of local communities; and foster respect for different cultures and for human rights. Eco tourism is held as important by those who participate in it so that future generations may experience aspects of the environment relatively untouched by human intervention."

The definition answers many of the questions as to why the ecotourist is a desirable visitor to attract to the community. Inherent in the theme of ecotourism is a desire to protect and preserve the location being visited. Also inherent in the ecotourist is a desire to benefit the local economy and increase the self-sufficiency and overall sustainability of the local economy.

The true ecotourist shuns big box stores, chain restaurants, fast food, and disposable goods choosing to spend their money in locally owned businesses and on locally produced products wherever possible. Ecotourists are often advocates for social justice which goes hand-in-hand with that sustainable local economy and choose to spend their dollars in businesses that pay living wages to their employees and give back to the community.

Ecotourists -- like their somewhat kindred spirits, the cultural tourists -- have been shown in study after study to stay at their desired destinations longer then almost any other type of tourist. They also have been shown to spend more on food, art and experiential opportunities such as spa treatments or cooking classes.

The ecotourist votes with his or her money. While some studies show many tourists are willing to spend substantially more money on environmentally friendly lodging and products as our economy has struggled, other studies question just how much more these visitors are willing to spend in the current market.

Interestingly, there is very little debate that a very large number of tourists will make an environmentally sensitive choice over businesses that do not evidence such consciousness at the same price point, still giving the eco-friendly business a strong advantage over competitors.

All of which means that the ecotourist is a near-perfect fit with the amenities and spirit that we have to offer here in Cannon Beach.

It's not easy being green

Our community has made many hard choices, year after year, decade after decade, that have been geared toward protecting our pristine and stunning natural environment and creating a sustainable and livable community. Cannon Beach is walkable, buildings are made of understated natural materials that enhance rather than detract from our environment, streets are lined with open and neighborly front porches, and our beaches are indeed pristine and open to all.

None of this happens by accident, and our very special and sensitive community development is the result of layers of numerous difficult decisions made by our community. These kinds of decisions often pit-short term profits and savings against long-term benefits and returns on investment. We should be proud that the community has time and again taken the long view and sought the sustainable solution over the quick fix.

We are now discussing (and sometimes arguing about) Smart Cars, electric vehicle charging stations, new bus runs, to-fly-or-not-to-fly, dark-skies ordinances, cut flowers at the local farmer's market, protecting our watershed...even protecting our "viewshed." All in all, it's a rather remarkable discussion.

While these debates may sometimes even become unpleasant and painful, as has been evidenced in the seemingly never-ending trials our community has endured in its effort to develop a much-desired pedestrian trail, at least we're having the conversations, making the hard decisions...and continuing to move forward.

It really isn't easy being green! However, as this is the only Cannon Beach we have to love, and the only planet earth we have to live on, the long-term benefits are surely worth all the effort.

Jeff jewel represents the cannon beach chamber of commerce.

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