Although some travel companies use the term loosely to mean adventure travel or nature travel, there are international standards which have been set to establish the definition of ecotourism. An ecotour is a small, individually guided tour that takes into consideration conservation and preservation issues, donates to the local economy, and teaches the travelers something about the nature and culture of the area in which they are located.
The Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism was created at the UN International Year of Ecotourism meetings, where over a thousand people from 132 countries met to discuss issues. The Quebec definition of ecotourism is a firm that:
- Contributes actively to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage,
- Includes local and indigenous communities in its planning, development and operation, and contributing to their well-being,
- Interprets the natural and cultural heritage of the destination to visitors, and
- Lends itself better to independent travelers, as well as to organized tours for small size groups.
The International Ecotourism Society was founded in 1990 to "promote responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." Its member companies pledge to run tours that:
- Minimize impact,
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect,
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts,
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation,
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people,
- Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate, and
- Support international human rights and labor agreements.