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De-mystifying Sustainable Travel

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

De-mystifying Sustainable Travel: Three Things You Need to Know
de-mystifying-sustainable-travel-1What does the term sustainable travel mean to you? Does it conjure up an image of roughing it at a campsite? Does it mean doing your part by staying close to home so as not to add to our collective carbon footprint? Or do you think about traveling to a location where your dollars support wildlife conservation projects or other socioeconomic initiatives that help sustain an entire community through revenue sharing opportunities?
When we talk about sustainable travel, we’re talking about actions that have a meaningful impact on the community or region to which you’re traveling. Lowering your carbon footprint, or reducing the waste you generate while traveling by choosing reusable items, are great ways to decrease your overall impact. But true sustainable travel is about supporting people and infrastructure long after you’ve departed: supporting a region socially, economically and environmentally (SEE).
By seeking sustainable travel experiences, you will also find unique opportunities to connect more deeply with the people and places you visit, experiencing the culture, people, wildlife, and diverse experiences each destination has to offer in a more authentic way.
Tip #1: Connect with Communities Socially, Economically and Environmentally
For many developing countries, such as Costa Rica, Botswana and the Philippines, tourism represents the biggest source of revenue. As a niche, sustainable travel is also growing at a rapid pace. So, how can you ensure that you truly SEE a region and are supporting businesses that are contributing to the long-term prosperity and health of a region? Sustainable travelers seek out tourism businesses that are locally owned with community systems in place that link natural resource capital (environment) with financial capital (economies).
For example, Vumbura Plains Camp in Botswana operates as a joint venture with the Okavango Community Trust (Wildlife Trust) that brings the benefits of ecotourism to five rural villages. Travelers gain by participating in unique, conservation and heritage focused safaris. Meanwhile, some of that revenue is reinvested in the community raising the standard of living through social and health initiatives, infrastructure development, as well as employment and skills development opportunities.
de-mystifying-sustainable-travel-2In addition, sustainable travel supports the creation of a citizenry that feels rooted to the region so they proudly participate in thousands of small education, restoration and conservation tasks. For example, 30 years ago, the Sierra Gorda region of Mexico was a deforested land full of logging communities and residents who did not see the value in biodiversity protection. Then, a grassroots environmental movement began to offer sustainable development education and training. Eventually, employees became small business owners and a sustainable travel industry flourished. Today, Sierra Gorda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its communities offer a tourism model for the rest of Mexico.
Tip #2: Look for Authenticity in Your Travel Experience
People, landmarks, ecosystems and wildlife are not the same all over the world, so why should vacation experiences be the same? Sustainable travel incorporates decision-making by the entire community without the marginalization of certain groups for the sake of time, money, and convenience. Cohesive communities work to develop tourism services that support schools in India, medical clinics in Kenya, and wildlife conservation programs in Peru, to name just a few. In turn, visitors’ travel experiences emphasize cultural immersion that includes learning about the history of an area, its architecture, and experience the amazing sights it has to offer.
By choosing to support sustainable travel businesses, you could have the opportunity to:
• Stay in remarkable lodges, built entirely out of native materials such as bamboo
• Learn practical uses of innovative technologies, such as pool sanitizing ionization techniques
• Taste locally-sourced delicacies from nearby farms grown using natural irrigation methods
• Purchase unique artwork supporting women and children
• Share in music and dance performances that explain the tie between the land and cultural values
• Participate in guided educational activities reinforcing and supporting the value of communities maintaining their heritage and protecting their local environment for long-term gain instead of destroying the natural resources for short-term gain
de-mystifying-sustainable-travel-3Tip #3: Avoid Greenwashing by Looking for Certified Sustainable Travel
Greenwashing is when companies intentionally mislead consumers by claiming to be green only when these “green” actions add to their bottom line. For example, if a hotel gives you a voucher to forgo changing your sheets or towels each day, making a green choice may really mean “cost savings by deflecting cleaning costs”. If this is the only “green” effort the hotel is making, and you can’t find additional examples of financial investment in the community or local environment by that hotel, it’s pretty safe to assume the hotel is not committed to a truly sustainable operation.
One way to screen out greenwashers from legitimate sustainable travel is to look for businesses with sustainable travel certification. Such certification provides consumers with knowledge and transparency about a region’s specific criteria for conservation, ethical marketing, employment practices, fair trade policies, customer satisfaction, and renewable energy standards, among other criteria. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s ‘Travel Forever’ accreditation recognizes legitimate certifications that can help you identify authentically sustainable hotels and guide companies.
By choosing sustainable travel, you’ll not only be supporting local communities and the environment in a deep and meaningful way, but you’ll also have opportunities and access to travel experiences that will not only do well for the environment, but for the world!
~ Irene Lane, Founder of Greenloons
Greenloons is a premier online resource dedicated to inspiring people to think different, be different and travel different – in ways that help to ensure a more sustainable planet.