Green travel – or sustainable travel, or ecotourism, or any number of pseudonyms – focuses on holidays that minimise the impact on the local environment and culture. Good green travel companies emphasise sustainable practices over maximising their bottom line. This can include recycling water, offsetting carbon emissions, and positively supporting the local culture.
The argument for ecotourism is that with over a billion people travelling internationally each year, there is an enormous environmental impact, including more than just extra water and fuel. Unregulated tours overpopulate some destinations, leaving wildlife areas trashed, crowded and marred with excessive roads. Neither tourists nor the native people benefit from these spoiled habitats. The essence of sustainable travel is to create an enjoyable vacation that benefits the locals but doesn’t harm the land.
But finding green companies can be a difficult affair: just because a company claims a green standard, doesn’t make it so. Doing a little bit of legwork can confirm that one’s travel dollars really are supporting sustainable travel: here are four essential qualities that a good green travel company will consider.
Environmental impact. Do they use small, less intrusive group sizes? Are they proactive in minimising their carbon footprint? Do they emphasise the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles in their trips? Companies that they partner with, like the local hotels, should also be geared toward conservation.
Cultural impact. It is important that the travel company shows respect for local culture and highlights its traditions. Not only is this beneficial to the native people, but it provides a more authentic trip.
Economic impact. Do they support the local economy? Hotels, tours, and transportation companies owned locally are a few of the businesses they might work with. This gives a more genuine experience, removing the sterile feel of a worldwide chain, and keeps more money in the local economy.
Certificates or memberships. There are a number of organisations that promote sustainable travel. For example, the International Ecotourism Society promotes environmental conservation throughout its worldwide network of members.
There are also a number of established and respected green companies that travellers can fall back on. WWF – the World Wildlife Fund – has expanded its mission to include travel. Specialised trips are available in many exotic locations, highlighting indigenous people and wildlife. As an added bonus, portions of the trips also benefit this amazing organisation.
Adventure Life was identified by National Geographic as one of the best adventure travel companies on earth: offering tours to South and Central American destinations, as well as Antarctica tours, it prides itself on offering excellent expeditions with a high standard of sustainable travel. ResponsibleTravel.com offers one of the largest selections of eco-friendly travel, including luxury tours and safaris. Locations are available worldwide, and there are also a number of special interest trips to choose from.
Being a green traveller means more than finding the right provider. The ‘Leave No Trace’ slogan provides a simple message – take only photographs and leave only footprints – but means much more. Nature should be respected, and wildlife admired at a distance. Respect should be shown for locals, too: be sensitive to other cultures and their differences, and always ask before taking photographs.
Green travellers should remember what they practise at home. Recycle where possible, take short showers to save on hot water, and use alternative transportation like walking and biking. While it is tempting to indulge on holiday, remember that it’s perfectly possible to have a great experience and be responsible at the same time.
These are just a few of the things that travellers can do. Green travel can offer a new way to travel, and the adventure of a lifetime. One can experience new cultures, see amazing wildlife, or just relax on the beach. Whatever one’s reason for travelling, green is the way to go.
Beth Conway is a travel writer and marketing director for Adventure Life. She has travelled all over the world, from the mountains of Alaska’s Denali Park to the jungles of Belize. Her ideal next destination is Antarctica.