Firstly, what is ecotourism? Before anything else, it represents the human need to travel. We’ll never stop doing so because it’s an intrinsic part of our being. We love to explore and discover what might be new to us, whether it be the known, unknown or rediscovered. It is that great sense of being awakened—we all need that too. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). Ecotourism, therefore is a global ethical statement. It is a way of embracing both climate change and the human ontological crisis at the same time (one dictionary defines ontological as ‘relating to the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.’).
Ecotourism is about recognising that we have lots of needs as humans, but so does the living planet which we inhabit. Fundamentally, it is about putting nature first at the heart of our local economy.
Scotland and particularly Perthshire, is an ideal destination for ecotourism thanks to its natural beauty, biodiversity, accessible wilderness and fascinating local history. A major aspect of ecotourism is inspiring those people from all over the world that come to visit Perthshire’s local landscapes to find a renewed appreciation of nature—rather than the dogmatic perspective of seeing nature at our disposal and as a thing to exploit for our needs, it helps bring us to the full realisation of our own part in looking after our surroundings. Crucially, it is about remembering that nature supports all forms of life, each life being essential to the other.
It was last year when I decided to start my own ecotour guide business, Eternal Mountain. The idea came after a move to Inverness didn’t plan out so well. Although I knew nothing about ecotourism at the time, when I came back to Killin (which is where I now live) I felt that this mountain landscape needed me, that I was now seeing the village with new eyes. Even, that I had abandoned this landscape, but it had not abandoned me – I owed a certain gratitude to the mountains. Being an artist and writer, I saw walking as a real and genuine way of embracing Climate Change with a new narrative. Subconsciously, I knew that the relationship between the human imagination and our natural landscapes was, and still is, essential to that process of changing how we live today. Local history is in many ways therefore sacred—evidence of our past relationship with nature. But we must keep it going.
For locals, part of this ethical statement of putting nature first at the heart of our local economy creates the opportunity for more ethical job-roles within our communities, that are low-carbon and less damaging to our planet. This, I believe is the future of humanity and it represents the serious need for a Universal Basic Income for everyone. It is also about remembering that a connection with nature has the power to transform and transcend our lives daily; bringing back meaning, identity, function and so much more. We can establish a loving connection with nature—one that is reciprocal and therefore life-enhancing. Putting nature first will contribute to the quality of our lives. We are now beginning to awaken to the revolutionary idea that it is possible to measure and create an economy that is based on the well-being of every human being, as well as nature.
Another important aspect, if we are to take on the task of putting nature first, it will give us the opportunity to redefine our present culture. Most of our culture today is still based upon our present socio-economic model. Meaning, we have become too dependant upon a consumer-based ontology which is made up of artificial interactions, rather than natural ones.
Eco-tourism is a way of embracing the challenge of today’s human ontological crisis, but only if we are prepared to put nature first experiencing it in a richer and deeper way. Our history can truly ground us, keeping the human imagination alive and well and helping us to look towards a future with continued, and renewed hope.
Text & Photographs by Patrick Phillips (C) 2020
Patrick Phillips is an artist, thinker, revolutionary writer and dreamer. His photo memoir, The Lawyer’s Dream, about a lawyer who started his own circus, will be published in 2021. He also runs an historical and ecotour guide service, Eternal Mountain (based in Scotland); to see the many creative and holistic walking tour guides on offer click here for inspiration.