Ecotourism: How To Travel Sustainably

Photo: David Cannon/Getty

Photo: David Cannon/Getty

In today’s truly global world, with advances in transportation and information technology, even the most remote places on earth have become accessible to the international traveller. However, while we may be broadening our horizons, and populating our Instagram feeds, the increasing appeal of exploring these far flung places is sadly putting some of the world’s most fragile environments and their communities at risk.

In order to mitigate the negative effects of our ever-growing wanderlust, and perhaps more importantly, ensure that our travels benefit the places and peoples we visit, many of us are now seeking out nature-friendly experiences, which in turn has led to the growth in ecotourism.

Defined by The International Ecotourism Society as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education", ecotourism as a travel ethic is becoming increasingly popular. However, although many of us are now looking to get behind and actively support these principles, endeavouring to determine which companies and resorts uphold them, and to what extent, is far from easy.

The awarding of certifications, confirming the green credentials of an establishment or operator, has been one way in which the travel industry has endeavoured to provide some clarity, but with a myriad bodies each operating their own schemes using different sets of criteria, and without 100% participation, the waters remain muddied.

Perhaps the most reliable way to satisfy ourselves that our chosen vacation spot does indeed support sustainability is to carry out some simple checks before we click to confirm. Here are several pointers to help determine the eco-friendliness of that next trip.

Solar panels installed at the Hurawalhi Island Resort in the Maldives

Solar panels installed at the Hurawalhi Island Resort in the Maldives

What steps have the hotel or company taken to employ energy-efficient technologies?

Have they reduced their reliance on standard forms of energy in favor of renewable power? Solar energy, wind energy, hydroelectric and geo-thermal energy are just a few of the alternative energy options that can improve the sustainability of a property.

Are they actively working to reduce waste and pollution?

What measures have they put in place to conserve water? Do they reduce the amount of waste they create through re-using and recycling, and do they use sustainable products?

Is the hotel or resort involved in any community development initiatives?

Not only should local culture, traditions and values always be respected during the building and ongoing management of a property, but there should also be a commitment to supporting and strengthening the local community. Actively supporting the community implies a true green agenda, and it’s likely that a company which takes an interest in its local people and their welfare is also taking decisive action on the environmental front.

Sustainable dining at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida

Sustainable dining at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida

Are activities that allow guests to discover and appreciate the beauty of the natural environment, its wildlife and the local culture on the agenda? 

Engaging with a new environment not only gives us an understanding of other cultures and their traditions, but can be inspirational, challenge our ideas and change the way we see the world. Local arts and crafts, hiking or walking, and even cookery classes are the types of activities that give a great insight into a chosen destination.

While this information may be available online, either all or in part, when contemplating a stay at a large or well-established resort, it is not a given, and especially unlikely if we’re considering venturing to somewhere less well known or off the beaten track. Making contact with a hotel or company directly to raise any concerns will not only be more likely to give us the clarity we need, but will also demonstrate that there is an appetite for delivering on environmental issues. And if more of us actively push this agenda, we will hopefully see a corresponding increase in the number of resorts offering truly green getaways in the future.