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Sustainable tourism—or a selfie? Ecotourism’s fans may be in it for the ’gram

Ecotourism offers a specific travel experience: It focuses on nature, education and sustainability. Often, these destinations highlight endangered or threatened species and engage visitors in making socially responsible choices.

But a new study by researchers at the University of Georgia suggests ecotourism’s altruistic attractions may be overshadowed by another benefit: photos for social media. Recently published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, the research could help guide tourism operators as they weigh the costs and benefits of attracting visitors who care most for natural beauty only when it can be captured on their phone.

“It’s been traditionally presumed that people are pursuing ecotourism because they are interested in making an environmentally or socially responsible choice—and this understanding is important for a host of reasons, including management and market segmentation,” said Justin Beall, the study’s lead author. “But our study throws a wrench in that a bit by showing that not only is it environmental values that are influencing people to participate in ecotourism, but people are also engaging in ecotourism so they can get good photographs to post online and present to their friends and loved ones.”


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