Though "ecotourism" is a vague term to most consumers, Andy Drumm, a senior ecotourism specialist at the Nature Conservancy, says there are specific components to look for in a vacation marketed with the word.
Where the environment is concerned, Drumm says tourists should ask whether or not a tour operator or hotel is certified and incorporates sustainable energy practices like solar power or water conservation.
Companies should also make clear exactly how they contribute to local communities. Volunteer time, financial contributions or donations of needed materials can be effective depending on the location. If a company doesn't comment on these issues or doesn't respond to questions, chances are they may be "greenwashing" — just using the "eco-" term as a marketing tool.
"You don't want to turn your vacation time into labor," he says of researching ecotourism travel options, "but you have to be pretty determined."
Awareness of one's impact often helps convince travelers to explore so-called ethical measures. At the Komodo National Park in Indonesia, for instance, independent travelers contribute about $100 to the local economy, whereas those on a package tour spend half that and those who arrive via a cruise ship have a local impact of only three cents. With this knowledge, a tourist might decide against a cruise and instead book local alternatives and buy keepsakes from native artisans.
"The important thing to note," says Ezaki, "is that when you say 'ecotourism,' it's not just about one particular group of companies you can travel with. It's about doing everything possible to make your experience more sustainable and more responsible."