Ecotourism is often described as a form of tourism "with high motivation". There is no universal definition of ecotourism, usually considered as a "favorable tourism to the environment", which, on a practical level, variously interpreted by country.
In the absence of clear and recognized definition for the International Ecotourism Society (1991) it is responsible tourism in natural areas that conserves the environment and contributes to the well-being of local people.
Although it is difficult to define ecotourism, it presents some common elements:
- The destination is usually a non-polluted natural environment
- Its attractions are its flora and fauna and more generally its bio-diversity
- Ecotourism should support the local economy and the specificity of the place
- It must contribute to the conservation of the environment and, more generally, promote nature conservation
- Eco-tourist stays often include an educational component
While the first definitions of ecotourism put the emphasis on closeness looked for with the nature by the tourists the latest definitions sought instead to highlight a variety of principles associated with the concept of sustainable development.
It is currently accepted that ecotourism embraces the principles of sustainable tourism regarding the impact of this activity on the economy, the society and the environment and, in addition, it includes the following specific principles which distinguish it from the wider concept of sustainable tourism:
- The ecotourism actively contributes to the protection of natural and cultural heritage;
- The ecotourism includes local and indigenous communities in its planning, development and operation, contributing to their well-being;
- The Ecotourism offers visitors an interpretation of natural and cultural heritage;
- The ecotourism lends itself better to individual travelling and travelling organized for small groups.
In Tunisia, several attempts and initiatives were developed and implemented mostly during the last decade. At this stage it is appropriate to cite a few following achievements:
- Design and implementation of eco-tourism circuits such as the circuit of Olives, the circuit of forests, the circuit of the memory of the earth
- The construction / building the necessary infrastructure at several protected areas (reception center, open-air museum, playgrounds, accommodation cottages for visitors, ...
- Furnishing of eco-tourism circuit inside protected areas ...
However, the valuation of these achievements and potentials encountered to legal and regulatory difficulties dictated particularly by the laws and procedures of the Forest Code (especially protected areas and forest areas).