ByNaima Montacer

Jun 25, 2015

“We travel not to escape life, but for life to not escape us.” – anonymous

The desire to travel is engrained deep in millions of people creating a multi billion dollar industry. Travelers long for experiencing small town cultures, big city hot spots, and many are looking for a tourism adventure to add depth to their trip.

And yet like other industries, the travel industry unfortunately contains shades of greenwashing too. Consumers have to be keen to determine the environmental honesty of the companies and organizations they choose to travel with, and we’ll share tips on how to best navigate these claims below.

Calm water at Skontorp Cove, Paradise Harbor. Image courtesy of Colin Mitchell.

True ecotourism

Take for example even the word ecotourism, which is often times overused. Countries and businesses are looking to capitalize on the ecotourism market leading to an over saturation of greenwashing in the industry.  Ecotourism has been linked with habitat degradation on land and in the ocean at coral reefs and offshore. Studies have found native wildlife is impacted even by the most discreet ecotourists.

True ecotourism is the “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” as defined by the International Ecotourism Society. Since the early 2000s, ecotourism has grown globally three times faster than the tourism industry as a whole.

Ecotourism, at its best, offers a unique and enriching way to offset the harshness of the tourism industry. Support companies that maintain their environmental ethics while providing an enriching opportunity for you and the local community.

So what’s an eco-conscious traveler to do?

Do your research

The more information you can find on each entity of your trip, the better for the environment, the local people and your experience. Research extensively online before investing in your trip.

  • Read reviews from other guests to find out actual standards.
  • If the company claims the lodging is environmentally friendly, have travelers noticed their efforts?
  • Do they have low flow water fixtures, staff people from the local community, and change out towels and sheets only on request?
  • Does their website have detailed information on their sustainability efforts and do you see those matched up in traveler reviews?
  • Investigate certification programs in the area you wish to travel in and research marketing claims to make sure you are really building a better world through ecotourism, while also traveling in it.

Creating standards and regulations to encompass a worldwide ecotourism market remains the challenge.  Many countries, regions and even states have their own certification programs.  For example, the Hawaii Ecotourism Association has a rigorous Sustainable Tourism Certification program in which standards of community involvement and environmental sustainability must be met to ensure activities do not degrade the environment.

From the moment you leave for your trip, tread lightly in the natural world.  Ultimately it’s up to the travelers to respect the space of wildlife, preserve the habitat you explore, and take only photographs.

Feature image courtesy of Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

By Naima Montacer

Naima Montacer is an environmental writer and passionate teacher with a wildlife focused M.S. in Biology. Through her freelance writing and own environmental website at EnviroAdventures, she works to inspire and encourage others, to explore and connect with nature, and take small steps in their everyday lives to conserve energy and resources. Naima is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Texas Outdoor Writers Association.