Jonathan Tourtellot is a classic product of this infamous society I’m sitting in: wise, whimsical and, despite a head cold, full of wonder for the world – he is the stereotypical adventurous professor leading an ambassadorial training session deep inside the arteries of natgeoHQ, Washington DC.

And the subject of his images of Norweigan fjords and Costa del Concrete? Geotourism . Coined and defined by Tourtellot as:

“tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of the place, such as its culture, environment, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.”

In other words, tourism that doesn’t have a negative impact on a destination, and beyond this adds value to the place and it’s people, making it pay to protect it.

But what about eco-tourism, sustainable-tourism, responsible-tourism, heritage-tourism, or even tribal-tourism I hear you cry?

Why another?

Why now?

Well, because the ‘geo’ – of place – includes all of the above and more. Geotourism is all inclusive. But unlike the packaged tourism of before – this new form specifically describes practise that does not degenerate a place or it’s people, and often in fact does the opposite.

so. are we geo-tourists?

So where is all this geotourism happening?

Well, in a lot of places already. The reason I attended this conference was because I was fortunate to be asked to help judge on last year’s geotourism changemakers competition . 611 entries from 81 countries. The top ten made it to Washington and three were voted for online as being outstanding.

The winners included ‘Nature Air’ , Costa Rica’s and the world first ‘carbon neutral airline’, reaf

firming some of my lost faith int he benefits of carbon offsetting when it is local; ‘PEPY Ride’ in Cambodia giving people rural bike riding adventures whilst simultaneously engaging them about development in the country rather than throwing them unguarded to volunteer in orphanages that haven’t asked for their help; and ‘Wikiloc’ an online tool for anyone to log a trail or trek they know and love online – think wikipedia for trails. Very cool.

Tribewanted and Geotourism?

I took part in a panel session at the conference and was able to share some of the Tribewanted story. Amongst the audience there seemed to be a strong interest in our version of geotourism in Fiji and also how to develop a toolkit to turn each tourist/ tribe member into a changemaker on their return home.

We discussed that perhaps an exciting legacy for geotourism projects might be giving their visitors the opportunity to take their inspiring experience back into their lives. This is something we’ve always been keen to try and do on Vorovoro – connect island life with city life. I hope our new Tribewanted credits model which we’ll start testing soon will incentivise our members do this even more.

And you’ll be interested to hear that next year’s geotourism competition is focusing on: ‘Places on the edge – saving coastal destinations’

So when you next travel, take the geo-tourist test by simply asking:

“Are we sustaining or enhancing the character of this place?”

If the answer is yes, then maybe the future of travel just arrived.

Geotourism on Twitter
On National Geographic