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Published on December 18th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans


Ecotourism and Adventure Travel

Are you an avid adventure-seeker with an international travel bug?  Maybe you’d love to fly to foreign, exotic places or set sail on a cruise ship to maximize your vacation’s relaxation potential?  Maybe you’d like to travel while you help the world become a better place.

If you’re looking to have a great time and minimize your travel-inspired carbon trail in the process, our green travel tips will help.  Let’s visit the principles of eco-tourism and fill your resource suitcase with eco-friendly itinerary tips.  These tips are your passport to the greenest ways to invest your greens in globe-trotting travel.

The travel industry is making a drastic shift towards conceptualizing tourism in a new light.  Conventional tourismRainforest emphasizes maximizing the traveler’s experience based on the currency of the dollar.  Eco-tourism is more principle-based, emphasizing a mutually beneficial partnership between the traveler, the environment, and the local population.  By participating in “eco-vacations,” whether with an institution or individually, tourists gain the richness of a cultural experience while creating a positive impact on the local economy and ecosystems of their travel destination.

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”  Eco-tourism is a broad concept, encompassing more of a green “mentality” than any green brand or internationally-approved organization.  Eco-tourist principles emphasize:

  • Leaving a minimal impact
  • Utilizing local guides or tour services
  • Encouraging use of local eco-friendly accommodations
  • Supporting local businesses geared toward sustainability, which in turn, supports the local economy.

Tailoring a trip for greenness does take a bit more research and effort than two clicks of the mouse to secure a flight and hotel, but the rewards are unparalleled.  Giving conscious thought and attention to the impact of your travel in advance allows you to breathe easier once you’re in a new environment, and you’ll gain the respect of local populations and gratitude from the planet.

Traveling green offers you a chance to minimize your travel footprint while providing direct and much-needed support to local economies that depend on tourism—many spots in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and parts of Europe increasingly depend on the profits of eco-tourism, which createsa market for more eco-friendly businesses and accommodations.  The money that these communities receive recycles itself into improving not only the natural environment, but also the lives of local people by creating vocational niches that would not otherwise exist.

Many reputable organizations offer eco-adventure travel packages, but we’re operating under the assumption that you’re designing your own green get-away.  While no comprehensive database for eco-friendly travel options currently exists, we have organized some resources and tips to give you a head start on greening your latest adventure.

Eco-Tourism Travel Tips

  • Be Safe. Research the legitimacy of any tour that you’re participating in.  Check on the organization and tour operator for licensing credentials, training, etc.
  • Know Where Your Money Goes. Directly support local community as much as possible by buying from local producers.  Patronizing local restaurants and purchasing locally-crafted products made from renewable resources are a couple of very positive ways to participate with the local community.  Your monetary contributions can then be put back into preserving and improving your choice destination for locals and future travelers.
  • Minimize Impact. Traveling in small groups—a hallmark of eco-tourism—and keeping tabs on your trash minimizes your impact.  Certainly, the places we travel to leave a lasting impression on us—our goal should be to help these places thrive by not making our own impressions on them.  Ask yourself how you can leave the smallest possible footprint.
  • Getting Around. Consider and weigh various modes of transport available to you during your stay.  For localized travel, check on the public transportation system and relatively low-impact rental options such as bicycles or small motorized vehicles.

Far-Off Places

  • Research. The most important preparation that you can do for your green vacation is research.  Start out with a solid idea of where you’d like to go and what you’d like to do there—what is the purpose of your trip and what types of places will you visit?

Once you have a strong vision . . .

  • Be Aware. Know what’s happening in your destination area—what is important to the local people and economy?  Spend a little pre-trip time familiarizing yourself with the spot by reading up on the customs, industry, political situation, economy, available green accommodations, and local tours or places of interest.
  • Be Informed. In addition to official websites, many countries and regions have Eco-Tourism Associations with corresponding websites that can provide you valuable consumer-based information, including lists of local organizations and hotels with certified sustainable business practices.  The World Conservation Union (IUCN) spotlights current issues of interest and concern, by region.

The Rainforest Alliance has published Eco-Index Sustainable Tourism, a searchable online database of accommodations and tour operators which must be certified by a reputable environmental organization.  Unfortunately, this resource currently applies only to Latin America and the Caribbean, but hopefully a wider-reaching database is in the works.

Tailoring a trip for greenness does take a bit more research and effort than two clicks of the mouse to secure a flight and hotel, but the rewards are unparalleled.  Giving conscious thought and attention to the impact of your travel in advance allows you to breathe easier once you’re in a new environment, and you’ll gain the respect of local populations and gratitude from the planet.

By Land or by Sea?  The Cruise Industry Boards the Green Ship

BeachIf you are leaning towards a cruise adventure and still want a relatively green vacation, you’re in luck.  Over the past few years, the cruise industry has made huge green strides—the Ocean Conservation and Tourism Alliance (OCTA) has created a partnership of member cruise lines committed to shifting their practices towards environmental awareness.  Approximately 90% of North American cruise providers participate in the program, which focuses on improving conditions on ships (such as adopting advanced wastewater purification systems) and establishing partnerships with local governments and communities of cruise destinations, with the goal of working to preserve their natural and cultural integrity.  View the Conservation International article for more information and a list of participating ICCL members.

Lending a Helping Hand—Volunteerism

Many eco-tourism opportunities are volunteer-oriented, giving you the option to actively participate in humanitarian or conservation-based efforts that enhance local communities.  Volunteer trips can range from reforestation projects to participating in research on an endangered species.

A solid vision of where you’d like to go and what area you’d like to impact are crucial for deciding on a volunteer opportunity.  Most will cost you and are longer than a traditional vacation—generally, they range anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months, though many run longer.  Opportunities abound close to home for those that don’t want to travel far.  Here are a few thorough databases that you can search by region, program, or area of interest:

Research and/or Conservation based:

Various International Programs:

Getting There

You’ve considered the principles, researched your options, and booked the details of your adventure—now, for getting there!Earth in Our Hands Of course, from a travel perspective, the most eco-friendly option would be to stay at home or travel locally, but our world is here to be seen, explored, and experienced!

Though not yet a widely-established practice, carbon-offsetting provides travelers with an attractive option.  Several companies offer programs that turn dollars into “green investments” by supporting efforts in reforestation, renewable energies, and the reduction of industrial emissions, among other projects.  The price of offsetting air travel generally ranges anywhere from $5 to $30 per person, dependent on distance.

Currently, there is no certifying organization or standardized process in the U.S. to verify that offsets are used appropriately, though offset verification programs are in the works to establish “gold standard” certifications.  Visit Environmental Defense to read up on offset quality criteria.  American Forests and Climate Care both offer features that allow you to calculate your airfare-related footprint and offer recommendations for offsetting.

Here are a few offset-offering companies with reputable track records:

Though trip-specific research is left to your imagination, honoring the general principles of eco-tourism in your travel helps you to create the best and most interactive experience possible by building a strong, healthy partnership with communities and areas.  By respecting the places you visit and the people you meet in the process, you, the ecotourist, are actively helping to create a better, greener future for our world—the future is in your hands!

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