Published on December 18th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans1
Ecotravel and Green Vacations
Vacations consist of more than congested jet airliners and smog-filled cities. While tourism is often pointed to as a big contributor to global warming, it’s important to understand that travel wears many faces. There will always be a place for those who like to bake on the beach and lounge at the resort, but The International Ecotourism Society reports that nature tourism has been growing at a rate of more than 20 percent a year since the 1990’s. Nature travelers prefer to go beyond generic hotels and tired monuments and venture deep into the countryside or the forest. Several environmental groups go so far as to offer their own “green trips”. Trip fees go toward habitat protection, and volunteer-travelers are invited to participate in research and conservation activities.
Eager to ride the green wave, tour operators are offering more photo safaris, whale-watching expeditions, aboriginal-led hiking tours and various other nature-based packages. Organizations such as Sustainable Travel International and Ecotourism Australia have developed a system of third-party audits that is being piloted in other countries to ensure the green travel programs are legitimately “green.” Although both nature tours and eco tours focus on natural settings, Ecotourism Australia suggests that certificate worthy eco-tours must go one step further by emphasizing environmental education and by making a contribution to conservation. This labeling will help travelers distinguish between different shades of green.
The number of adventure travelers is also climbing. These travelers seek some degree of risk and like to grapple with rugged environments such as the Arctic or the desert. The Adventure Travel Trade Association explains that an “engagement with nature” may be a component of this type of tourism. There is little mention of conservation or awareness. The plastic water bottles, medical waste and beer cans often left behind on Mount Everest are evidence that some climbers engage with nature as they might with an obstacle course. The mountains are incidental to the thrill. Of course, there are adventure travelers who genuinely respect nature’s strength. So how do we find “green” adventure travel expeditions?
It is becoming more common to find adventure trips, such as white water rafting, glacier climbing and rainforest canopy tours, wrapped up in a sustainable package. Responsible tour operators will limit group size, employ local guides and resources and manage waste. Even if we opt for tamer vacations, our choice of transport, food and accommodation will have far-reaching consequences on the environment.
Green travelers should patronize establishments that value the environment as much as they value their profits. Some beaches and parks, for example, limit environmental impact by limiting the number of visitors and campers allowed at one time. Concerned travelers can opt for smaller lodging, such as organic bed and breakfast’s (B&B’s) or cottages/inns. In recent years, several hotel chains have also changed their consumption patterns. “Green hotels” that implement energy-efficient systems, conserve resources and encourage recycling have sprouted all over the globe.
Home exchanges offer another way to save energy and money while on vacation. When people leave their homes for extended periods, they usually leave large appliances plugged in and use timers for their lights. Then they stay in a hotel and pay for these same amenities going to waste back home. Travelers can trade spaces – even vehicles – through home exchange programs. There are several web sites devoted to facilitating this type of trade.
In addition to choosing sustainable accommodation, green travelers try to reduce the emissions produced by their journey. Some environmentalists advocate staying close to home. While we need to reduce our carbon footprint, refusing to leave our local region may not only deprive us of educational opportunities, but it could also cut jobs in poor countries. In developing countries, the growth rate of receipts from tourism exceeds the world average. In fact, The United Nations World Tourism Association sees 2007 as a pivotal year for using carefully managed tourism to fight poverty.
Nonetheless, it is challenging to find eco-friendly options for overseas travel. One return flight produces more carbon than a year’s worth of car travel, and gases produced at higher altitudes can linger longer than those produced at ground level. But, there is hope on the horizon: new airplane designs cut down on fuel burn and the Clean Airport Partnership is helping U.S. airports improve energy efficiency. Moreover, several airlines have adopted recycling and carbon offsetting. Offsetting doesn’t erase the smoke trail of travel, but it helps reduce overall global emissions by diverting money into tree planting and renewable energy projects.
Alternative forms of transportation offer some advantages. According to Sustainable Travel International, trains use half the energy per passenger of air travel, and in some regions, such as Europe, a dense rail network and discount passes make trains a popular option. Traveling by boat, on the other hand, has its ups and downs. Travel by cargo ship, which accommodates only a few passengers and offers little luxury, produces fewer emissions than air travel. The cruise ship industry, on the other hand, churns out diesel fumes and tons of sewage. The recent establishment of more waste treatment facilities in port cities and of tighter laws on dumping close to shore may help set a new course for the industry. Sailboat and electric riverboat cruises provide lower-noise and lower-emission alternatives that are less disturbing to marine animals.
Travel is only one of many human activities that generate emissions, so it’s important to examine all of our lifestyle choices. The value of green travel is that it can also generate a change in attitudes. It can take an issue that is half a world away and bring it closer to our hearts and minds.