ECOTOURISM is probably the most misused term in the travel industry’s lexicon. What one travel site calls ‘‘eco’’ another calls ‘‘sustainable’’. And while many of us pay attention to those little signs in hotel bathrooms asking us to reuse the towels to save water, are we being led up the rainforest path if we think we’re reducing our carbon footprint just by going for a nature walk?
There is a difference between ecotourism and sustainable travel,’’ says Bradley Cocks, senior vice-president of business development for Kiwi Collection, a luxury hotel and resort travel booking website.
‘‘Ecotourism is visiting isolated or remote areas usually located in pristine environments. It has a high emphasis on conservation. Sustainable tourism is reducing your footprint while travelling to local cultures and eco-systems so the development of tourism has a lasting positive effect.’’
We can do this, Cocks says, by adopting simple measures such as buying products that will last the holiday and be taken home, leaving no waste; contributing to local conservation initiatives such as tree planting; or donating money to offset carbon emissions from your flight.
But does taking a sustainable or eco-holiday mean having to rough it in the wild? Not according to Cocks. ‘‘More and more luxury resorts across the globe are making the move to become lean and green,’’ he says, adding that one of the best examples of sustainable tourism is Nihiwatu Resort in Indonesia, which set up the successful Sumba Foundation (sumbafoundation.org) to tackle poverty on the island of Sumba.
‘‘The hotel produces 100 per cent of its energy needs from biodiesel made from coconuts; they recycle absolutely everything and even have a carbon-offset program, to date planting more than 64,000 trees,’’ says Cocks.
And, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Richard Branson is creating what he calls “the most environmentally friendly resort on the globe”.
The Mosquito Island development, in the British Virgin Islands, will feature 20 villas and a beachfront restaurant powered entirely by wind turbines and solar panels. All motorised transport will be powered by biofuels. The guests’ food will come from a local organic orchard.
Chiva-Som health resort in Thailand reduces plastic waste by giving guests refillable metal water bottles, among other measures designed to conserve resources.
But hotels can’t just declare themselves sustainable. There are rigid auditing schemes such as Green Globe, a travel and tourism industries’ certification program (greenglobe.com).
One of the newest trends in green travel is ‘‘voluntourism’’, where visitors give something back to locals on their travels.
Sri Lanka holds the Lanka Challenge (lankachallenge.com) where teams compete in a tuk tuk race around the country, raising funds for local charities (via donations from home) and spend their days planting trees, digging wells or participating in other local initiatives.
And in Costa Rica, visitors can teach English, build wildlife shelters or put their dental or medical qualifications to use while visiting one of the most beautiful and biodiverse places on earth.
So next time you’re on holiday, think about the impression you’d like to leave behind – starting with reusing your towels.