“Eco” as a prefix has gained some potent marketing cachet for all sorts of goods and services in recent years, not least for travel. Nearly every jungle accommodation in Costa Rica seems to bill itself as an “eco-lodge,” for instance, and ecotourism is promoted as an important, even essential, means of protecting species and habitats.
So, how can a conscientious traveler know for sure that a lodge, or safari camp, or small boat operator, is actually contributing to the well being of the environment and local people, and not just capitalizing on an appealing term?
How to travel responsibly
This British organization is committed to greening up travel worldwide, undertaking a series of campaigns from pushing cruise lines to adopt clear environmental policies to fostering more demand for low-carbon vacations that rely less on flying.
In addition to its educational mission, Responsible Travel is a clearinghouse for well-vetted eco-travel suppliers, calling itself “the world’s first dedicated travel agent for responsible holidays.” It represents more than 300 tour operators and 600 villas, lodges, B&Bs and small hotels, all available for booking (by Americans, too) on its Web site.
The company also sponsors the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards, providing criteria to evaluate hundreds of operators, accommodations and destinations. In 2008, the overall winner was New Zealand, for “demonstrating what a national government can achieve — working with the private sector, local communities and local government — by harnessing tourism to benefit their people and their environment,” according to RT.
Best company in a marine environment
On a personal note, I was pleased to see that the Ecuadorean company Ecoventura, which owns the M/Y Letty (the yacht we sailed on in the Galapagos with Natural Habitat Adventures last January), was named “Best in a Marine Environment.” Ecoventura received kudos for contributing scholarships for education and developing micro-business for local women through converting a fishing boat into a restaurant and boutique, which provides alternative livelihoods for the wives of fishermen. Ecoventura was also among the first cruise operators to be independently environmentally audited.
While there is plenty of greenwashing going on in the world of travel, what’s exciting is how many opportunities there are to support businesses that are deeply committed to doing right by the earth, its local people and its wild inhabitants. Seek them out!