Latvia scored highest in environmental protection among the ethical destinations. It is one of only ten countries with high performance in the areas of environmental public health and ecosystem vitality. Photo: Flickr/kokotoni
Latvia scored highest in environmental protection among the ethical destinations. It is one of only 10 countries with high performance in the areas of environmental public health and ecosystem vitality. Photo: Flickr/kokotoni

How the Destinations Are Selected

To start, Ethical Traveler’s team of researchers spends two and a half months reviewing the world’s developing nations to determine the best travel and tourism destinations. They use 35 different metrics in the categories of environmental protection, social welfare and human rights. The organization strives to keep an objective point of view; it does not accept money or gifts of any kind from any nations, governments, travel bureaus or individuals in the creation of the list.

Because Ethical Traveler is an all-volunteer nonprofit, there’s no budget for visiting each destination. They rely on local news media and recent reports and surveys from sources such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Reporters Without Borders, UNICEF, Greenpeace, Save the Children and the World Health Organization — and their respective local representatives within the destinations in question — taking note of any significant progress made in the environmental, social and human rights areas. The process begins with 150 countries; later, those choices are narrowed to a short list of 25 candidates.

The researchers consider everything from the quality of the drinking water to the percentage of forest conserved to education and women’s rights. With regards to environmental protection, they look for clear markers of environmental health, preservation of resources and cultivation of sustainable practices. They also look at how journalists and LGBT persons are treated.

This year, in response to a request from many of its members, Ethical Traveler added the category of “animal welfare” to the criteria, although it isn’t weighted as heavily as the original three.

“Some of the countries that make our list have really primitive treatment of animals,” Greenwald says. “We’re talking about large-scale animal welfare situations; for instance, the overabundance of captive-dolphin theme parks in the Bahamas, or laboratory monkeys being bred in Mauritius. These are the things we look at and … call for improvement when we see a problem.”

From the short list, 14 countries are selected and a final team of three researchers winnows it down to 10.

Next page: Why Ethical Travel Matters