The earth-friendly species of travel often goes by the dangerously hazy term ecotourism. Its ambiguity has often led to what conservationists call "greenwashing"—cashing in on the ecotourism label without living up to the name. Some ecotours visit stunning locations but leave trash and disruption in their wake. More alarmingly, indigenous groups are increasingly being evicted from their land, sometimes violently, to make way for lucrative ecoparks in destinations such as Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Despite its vagaries, nature-based tourism—the fastest-growing sector in the world's largest industry—is more than a passing fad. In Asia, places such as Indonesia's Sulawesi Island and China's Yunnan province have established themselves as destinations where tourists can conscientiously go green. NGOs are also getting on the bandwagon. Last year was designated by the U.N. as the International Year of Ecotourism. The World Bank and other global heavyweights have funneled millions of dollars into sustainable tourism projects. And a worldwide ecotourism accreditation system called Green Globe has been introduced to enforce standards. But whether the looming tourism boom will save or spoil Asia's remaining natural splendors is still anybody's guess.