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What Eco Travelers Need to Know About Eco Tourism

Problem

Going Green: More Than Everyday Living

Going green is the newest fixation in everyday living. As long as we pull taut those wobbly faucets, twist in those new CFL light bulbs and throw a brick in the back of the toilet, we are doing everything we can, right? Well, maybe not.

Tourism the world over is on the rise by leaps and bounds. From New Zealand and Australia to Hawaii and the Artic, people are becoming weary of the local theme park scene. They’re venturing to brand new borders and fresh frontiers. With this gumption to gallivant more globally, the environment takes the biggest hit.

Make sure that when you call yourself an eco-friendly lifer that this stance permeates to your travels. There are ways to aid the environment all the while having a good time. Here’s how to be a clever eco-traveler in today’s good (and bad) ecotourism enterprise and tell if green wash tactics are hidden in your eco vacation.

What is Green Wash Exactly?:

Quickly, green wash is essentially when a company or individual advertises the use of green or eco friendly practices, but is really doing so for the sake of the bottom dollar. This is to say that a (green washing) company who uses a “green” label on their product—with accompanied ads showing trees, All Natural and Organic—are really misleading consumers, such claims being false, ambiguous and/or deceptive. 

Beware Eco Traveler: Fabricated Ecotourism On The Rise

Believe it or not, there are a many a number of shady companies out there trying to trick you for your greenbacks. The money you have saved all year to finally take that greener trip may be going to something of a blacker cause. Here are some green wash claims you might (or will) have seen:

*Note: See the eco green wash/green sheen, tactics matched by the corresponding number in “Beware Eco Traveler” section directly below.

  1. The hotel or eco resort that you’re sojourning claims to be an eco-friendly establishment. Their ads suggest the same so you should believe them, right?
  2. The airline company you’re flying with tells of their green enhancements. The ticket cost more, but you book it for the greener cause, right?
  3. The eco tour operator you’ve paid insist that they are the leaders in the ecotourism market. You take their word at top value and book, right?
  4. You read that there are lots of ways to get involved with the community and conservation efforts during your holiday. You figure this must be a good place to go, right?
  5. The ads all say sustainable, eco-friendly, greener and holistic, using all the right lingo. They seem to know what they’re talking about so you should go, right?

Solution

Beware Eco Traveler: Factual Ecotourism On The Rim

Everything may not be as hunky-dory as they make you believe. There are some very simple steps to prevent being duped into green washed white lies while in search of greener truths. The real deal and no frills ecotourism market is generally found more on the periphery of the larger companies.

  1. A lot of hotels or lodging establishments these days claim to be eco-friendly. Find out from the inside. That is, call them directly and ask them questions about their so-called environmental pursuits. How do you reduce waste? How is the water heated? What chemicals do you use to clean with? And so forth. If their budget is going to advertising green but with little implementation of eco-friendlier services, then you’ve probably been green washed.  
  2. Make sure that when you book with the airline, you look into what it is they have done so far for the environment—an early proven track record is a good predictor of future ambitions? An easy way to tell is if they offer carbon offsetting during the process of booking your ticket. You can check their FAQ pages, too, to read up on posted eco questions.  *Note: Don’t be surprised if this is difficult to find: According to the UK e-blog website e-photoframes.co.uk, one blogger details that the US has 175 airlines with listed websites but only 2 of them sell carbon offsets! The UK is currently top of the class with 16% of airlines offering offsets.
  3. There’s a big difference between ecotourism and adventure tourism. Ask questions: Is the eco tour company a local company? Or at least employ locals? What have they done to better the lives they’ve touched? How are they involved? Are there educational opportunities? Perhaps the tour company does trekking or hiking, for example, and you visit a local’s house where you share a meal. This local then becomes involved in the monetary and sustainability loop of the business.
  4. A tourist trap is generally not eco-centric. If you want to go somewhere where your dollars make a difference, then choose a place that maybe isn’t overly visited. A place closer to home, for instance, reduces thousands of carbon waste. If you do want to fly, choose a locale that really needs your help.
  5. Again, hoodwinking the eco-traveler through green washing is a multi-million dollar business—and businesses know it. The companies will spend thousands to give an advertisement front that they’re in pursuit of a better world.

There’s More You Can Do

Sustainable Travel International offers up a list of sustainable travel options on their website at http://www.sustainabletravelinternational.org/documents/op.html. It’s easy to read up on everything from carbon offsetting, education and training to booking travel, memberships and advisory services. Being an eco-traveler in a non eco travel market starts with self education and public services. 

Effectiveness / Result

The Facts

Fast Facts: Eco-Tourism Tables Are Turning

  • According to Sustainable Travel International—a non-profit company that offers global eco-certification programs in sustainable tourism—says, “In the U.S. alone, more than half of all adults say they would be more likely to select an airline, rental car or hotel that uses more environmentally friendly products. And 58.5 million Americans say they would pay more to use travel companies that strive to protect and preserve the environment.”
  • In 2000, 26.8 million Americans traveled abroad, spending $6.3 billion outside the country. A fifth of those travelers visited national parks or went hiking, biking, camping and skiing while overseas (9% visited national parks, 5% went hiking and/or camping, and 2% went skiing).
  • In the United States, LOHAS (“Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability”) estimates that ecotourism (including eco travel networks, green tourism, eco-volunteering trips, active sports trip programming, and environmentally responsible tourism) are among the fastest growing travel trends, and are estimated to be a $77 billion market. This represents 5% of the overall U.S. travel and tourism market.
  • Over 55 million U.S. travelers are classified as “geo-tourists” or interested in nature, culture, and heritage tourism.
  • In the U.S. on federal lands alone, there are an estimated 900 million visits per year to national forests, parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas, protected areas, wildlife refuges, reserves, and management areas—most of these visits include sightseeing, hiking, wildlife observation, swimming, snorkeling or other forms of ecotourism
  • Spending on outdoor activities for U.S. domestic trips has risen almost 30% between 1996 and 2001.
        
    Above Facts gathered by the Interanational Ecotourism Society

Though the abovementioned facts are American-centric, Americans are some of the highest spenders and eco travelers the world over. Other first world and rising nations are sure to follow the growing eco-trends listed above.

Submitted by Terry on Aug 3, 2008