Eco travel is a holistic approach to tourism that puts conservation and public welfare ahead of entertainment and mainstream tourism practices. It is often confused with nature tourism, which is strictly interested in leading tours through natural habitats without concern for the impact it has on the land or people who live there.
At its best, eco travel is extremely sustainable and sets up the tourism market to continue hosting visitors for generations to come. Unfortunately, the term often gets misused and applied to programs that do more harm than good. A discerning eco traveler plays an active role in researching which organizations are doing the most good and gives their business to them.
The hallmark of eco travel is minimizing the impact tourism has on the environment while maximizing its benefit for the community. Estimates show the eco travel industry is growing by 10-15 percent every year as greater numbers of tourists are looking for ways to travel responsibly.
This is an important break from the old school of tourism, where world travelers were more interested in luxury tours, big game hunting, rustic accommodation (at the expense of the natural habitat) and enjoying exotic cultures without any concern for the wages or living conditions of the locals involved in the service industry.
Tourists who actively seek more meaningful cultural connections with people in the country they’re visiting are more likely to have a meaningful experience that stays with them. When they return home and talk about their experiences, they motivate others to travel more responsibly as well. It’s a contagious kind of tourism.
With this in mind, prospective eco travelers are advised to watch out for ‘greenwash’, which is more commercial than eco travel and has little or no concern for culture and conservation. Before signing up with a tour, don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions about how the tour agency is working to better the community.
Agencies that employ local guides, work with small groups of tourists and proudly display their mission of eco-friendliness are probably the genuine article.
Here are a few resources and tips you can use to transform your next outing into eco travel:
- Do plenty of research before you set out. Look for organizations that actively try to educate visitors about the environmental and cultural needs of the destination.
- Calculate the carbon footprint of your flight with an online calculator like the one at www.climatecare.org. Organization like Climate Care sell carbon offsets that are used to fund tree-planting and research into alternative fuels.
- Look for a hotel that is minimizing its impact on the environment. Low-flow toilets, energy-efficient lighting and recycling projects are good features to look for.
- Leave excess packing material at home so that you’re not importing trash that the host country has to dispose of.
- Use public transportation when possible or better yet, ride a bike or walk.
- The Lonely Planet website operates a good checklist for eco travelers at www.lonelyplanet.com/responsibletravel/travel_tips.cfm.
Green travel is part of a growing trend among travelers who are concerned with the impact their holiday has on the world. At its heart, green travel is looking for effective ways to preserve the environment, conserve resources and promote local cultures in the course of a vacation.
In the age of global-warming awareness, carbon emissions have become a key aspect of green travel. Airplanes are the fastest-growing contributor to climate change so green travelers have to ask themselves a few hard questions before boarding a jet for another country. It’s possible to cut back on emissions by taking alternative modes of transport like the train whenever possible. The best way to cut down emissions is to enjoy a holiday close to home.
Carbon emissions can also be reduced through carbon offsets. Numerous online services help tourists estimate the carbon footprint of their journey by calculating the distance traveled. These companies offer carbon offsets, allowing tourists to donate to green causes like tree-planting and green research foundations.
Another way to cut down on holiday emissions is to stick to public transportation. A bus on a fixed route is going to emit the same amount of carbon dioxide whether you’re onboard or not. Taxis, on the other hand, only run when they have a passenger, a fact that makes them less favorable for green travelers. The ultimate means of cutting out carbon is to walk or ride a bike whenever feasible.
Conservation is another key aspect of all green modes of travel. Travelers research the destination ahead of time, looking for businesses and foundations that are involved in campaigns like resource management, sustainable projects and recycling. Bottled water is often no cleaner than locally-filtered water, but it introduces excess plastic trash into the local environment. Along the same lines, locally-produced food has a smaller carbon footprint than imported varieties.
Beyond typical environmental concerns, many types of green travelers try to reduce their impact by conforming to the local cultures in the places they visit. Simple steps like learning phrases in the local language and working hard not to offend local sensibilities go a long way toward improving cross-cultural relationships. Green travelers see themselves as ambassadors.
Potential travelers that are interested in making their next outing a little greener have to be careful that they’re not taken in by a greenwash ploy. Greenwash is a counterfeit form of green travel that capitalizes on buzz words without worrying about the environmental effect of their tour packages. For example, a wildlife-viewing tour that disrupts the local ecosystem is not green.
Green travel doesn’t have to be expensive. For just a few dollars, travelers can offset the carbon emissions of their flight through a number of green foundations. And many components of green travel will actually save you money.
Tourism is a vital part of the global economy, and as the industry continues to expand, there’s an increasing push to lay new infrastructure and capitalize on the natural and cultural attractions that draw tourists. By avoiding hotels, restaurants and tourist programs that neglect the local environment and giving business to green-conscious organizations instead, tourists can help shift the focus from mainstream to green initiatives.
Above all, remember that every little bit helps. Every dollar you spend on a tourist service or program that is green-friendly is essentially a vote cast for more programs like this. When businesses see that the money is in green tourism rather than rampant development, they’ll change their tactics.
Here are a few ways you can make your next trip greener:
- Inquire about local recycling programs and recycle your waste while on holiday.
- Look for hotels that reduce waste by using low-volume toilets, low-energy lighting and renewable energy sources.
- Turn off the lights, television, heat or air conditioning when you leave your hotel room.
- Take shorter showers, conserving water and the energy used to heat it.
- Reuse towels and sheets. Most hotels are happy for you to save them the expense of repeated washings.
- Use public transportation, rent a hybrid car or use a bicycle to get around.
- Take a trip closer to home to cut down on airplane emissions.
- Be a conscientious hiker and stay on the trail.
- Look for environmentally-responsible tour operators that guard and give back to the local community.
The following websites can help you plan your next green travel experience:
- The National Geographic green travel project: www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/sustainable/about_geotourism.html
- This website lets you calculate the carbon effect of your flight: www.climatecare.org
- This organization works to reduce flight emissions: www.greenskies.com