I recently interviewed Gregor from GlobalBasecamps.com to dig deeper about what sustainable tourism and traveling green really means. Since it’s a popular trend, many resorts and travel agencies will just hop on the ‘green train’ to attract customers. Here are some tips on how to leave a light footprint, an not be lured in by your good intentions.
How do you define sustainable travel? How is it different or similar to eco-tourism?
One of the biggest challenges with sustainable travel (encompassing eco/nature/responsible/conscientious/heritage and about 20 more names) is that there is no universally accepted definition and because of this it becomes very difficult to put together accurate guidelines. We take a very holistic and in some ways very scientific viewpoint as for us sustainable travel encompasses every environment from jungle to city and is an integral part of sustainable development in both the third and the first world. At it’s most simple sustainable travel is “tourism (and tourism development) that sustains or enhances the environmental, ecological and cultural characteristics of a destination.” Pretty wordy but basically travel that doesn’t make the environment or culture of a destination pay for hosting visitors. There are five categories that we look for:
Hotels, lodges and tour operators that focus on lowering their footprint in terms of energy consumption and water/waste management, try to integrate their development into the ecosystem, treat locals as shareholders rather than just a potential work source and attempt to make education an integral part for everyone involved really define our focus.
Eco-tourism is best defined as nature tourism who’s primary focus is on visiting/learning about/studying the ecology of an area. This is most commonly seen as wildlife safaris, rain forest exploration or similar. The basic tenets are the same as Sustainable Tourism but with a focus on nature.
Why should travelers attempt to travel this way?
As our global population increases exponentially and the number of travelers increases alongside it we really don’t have an option but to develop new ways of lessening our impact on the places we visit. This is just as true for visiting a suburban shopping mall as it is for visiting an indigenous group deep in the Amazon. Again, this is intricately tied in to sustainable development not only in theory but in actual practice. A perfect example is a pristine coral reef. Travelers visit in order to dive/snorkel the reef and as the numbers of visitors grow the small beach bungalows turn into medium sized
hotels and finally huge chain resorts. Construction of the hotels, overfishing to feed the tourists and a variety of other factors kill the reef. With no reef the tourists stop coming and the entire natural and cultural balance of the area has been irreversibly destroyed. It doesn’t have to be that way and I think the biggest steps being taken towards sustainability are actually happening in cities where larger hotels are trying to integrate green building practices and sourcing as well as energy, water and waste conservation into their development and management plans. Everyone is a stakeholder so everyone works together to try to find solutions that balance capitalism with conservation.
What kind of traveler can afford to plan a trip in a sustainable way? Is it more expensive?
At this point every kind of traveler can travel sustainably.
Backpackers have always been pretty sustainable by necessity (taking local transportation instead of flying, spending time and money in local communities etc) but over the last 5-10 years everyone from small local tour operators to large international luxury travel consortiums have made sustainability and green business practices an integral part of the industry. At this point it is less about cost and more about truly finding where the sustainable options are. That was really the inspiration for Global Basecamps.
Which kind of destinations are most popular, and what kind (if any) new demands are put on you as you cater to this niche market?
In general the more “eco-travel” destinations remain the most popular, primarily Eastern and Southern Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. Luckily at this point working with our partners, both in-country operators and hotels/lodges/cruises remain pretty straightforward and fairly simple. I would say that the biggest demand is really to keep close tabs on our recommended base camps and excursions as the list grows and carefully choosing new properties not based on hype or marketing copy but on actual dedication to sustainability in one or many of it’s forms and proven interaction with local communities. The dark side to the boom in sustainable travel is the overwhelming use of “Greenwashing” by non-sustainable properties and organizations trying to cash in on the trend towards sustainability without practicing what they preach.
Do sustainable trips involve volunteer opportunities?
There is an entire category of travel affectionately known as “voluntourism” that deals specifically with volunteer opportunities and this is certainly one facet of sustainable travel. In general many if not most properties, operators and local organizations are more than happy to have travelers contribute either financially or physically to their local communities and causes. This can really be incredible aspect of each trip and brings such an amazing viewpoint to
the whole experience.
Can you give our readers small tips on how to positively influence, or influence very little, the places they visit?
Sure! To keep it simple here are my top tips that anyone can do anywhere in the world:
- Do your research or work with someone who already has. Work with a travel agent or tour operator who really understands what sustainable travel is all about or research the environmental policies of each hotel before making any individual bookings…a surprising number of companies, organizations and hotels throw around terms like eco-travel without having any idea what they actually mean or how they are implemented.
-Spend Locally. This one is huge! Money spent in large hotels goes directly to the home office in another country…get out and experience local culture by eating in restaurants and supporting shops outside of the hotel or resort grounds.
-Travel lightly. Although it may be impossible not to fly to your destination, once there use alternate means such as walking, biking or using local transportation wherever possible. This also gives you the opportunity to interact with local cultures on a level that is impossible through the window of a moving vehicle.
-Reduce resource use. Conserve water by requesting that your towels and linens are not washed every day and limit energy consumption wherever possible. Consider using a carbon offset provider to offset the amount of greenhouse gasses your trip has generated.
-Explore! Really enhance your trip by getting off the beaten path and exploring the side of your destination that many vacationers never see. A good travel company should be able to put you in contact with local companies that will proudly show you what their home has to offer.