Ecotourism versus Green Travel or The main prejudices that come to mind when talking about green traveling

How many of us would be willing to sacrifice comfort or luxury in order to be a green traveler? Personally I do enjoy luxury from time to time, say frequently (yes yes, I am a true princess to paraphrase Denis). It’s during my research on green destinations that I discovered that 70% of the so-called ‘green’ vacation spots are anything but luxurious, amongst them a large number of hostels, home stay accommodation or places that no one has heard of in the middle of nowhere. The green traveler is a traveler who cares very little about comfort and who goes on vacation in communities where he/she will help locals plant their vegetables, or will, by choice, assist in cleaning trash on the beach.

The stereotypes of the green traveler

Before I attract the rage of my readers, I must say that I have myself travelled this way and I appreciate doing this kind of travel one time, from time to time. But with only 25 days of holidays per year, I have a limited amount of time to spoil myself. Therefore I want to have some comfort during at least one part of my vacation; unfortunately I can rarely combine so-called ‘green’ holidays with holidays in places deemed ‘comfort’ spots. When I talk to the people around me about green holidays – try to do this test amongst your acquaintances also – they give me rather sketchy looks; ‘you are going camping then?’ ‘oh you go on holidays by bus?’ or ‘oh you’re going backpacking?’. It looks like it’s only backpackers who are viewed as eco travelers. It’s not at all obvious that one can chose a luxurious resort and at the same time be involved in environmental causes and want to reduce one’s environmental impact. It seems that being a ‘green’ traveler is synonymous with nomadic traveler, with his/her fair-trade backpack and 100% recycled cotton sneakers, who hitchhikes or travels by bus – or who walks or bikes for the most adventurous ones – who sleeps either with locals, or in hostels or in yurts. Ok I realize I am simplifying things a little – or a tad too much? – but if we look closely, the concept of green travelling seems suitable only for a certain type of traveler.

Well I am an eco traveler, therefore I don’t stay in big hotels chains, and anyway I prefer human contact (meaning often sleeping on a mat/rug)

I certainly do like human contact and I must admit that staying with locals gives a certain dimension to your stay on many levels. However, who doesn’t like the comfort of a hotel from time to time? I have looked for the few luxurious resorts or hotels that are labeled ‘green’. Well, there are some but in the end there are only a few that remain, or at least there are few resorts that pay to obtain the label as are those who would possess a priori more ways to get it. The question therefore arises; is it an issue of demand or supply? How many travelers are looking to travel green? And how many travelers chose a hotel based on their green or sustainable policy? I am the first to be concerned about environmental issues, but I must say that research engines such as tripadvisor or expedia, etc, don’t really highlight green accommodations, and, above all, no website puts forward the additional green label attached to the regular labeling for hotels or other accommodation types. All in all, I must make a choice between travelling green and travelling to a place that fulfills my expectations (service, food, bedding etc.).

And yes, I am a green traveler, therefore I do not travel by plane, I prefer the train or the bus

And yes, it is true that the plane is one of the worst enemies of green travel. Aviation represents 2% of the human production of CO2…Therefore it’s obviously understandable. But personally, I don’t really have the opportunity to take the train/bus to go to Asia for example since I live in Amsterdam. It would take me 1 month to get there! The good news is that Airbus and Boeing dedicate 80% of their R&D budget to research the eco-efficiency of their aircrafts. They are hoping to produce less polluting planes. The most recent models like the A350 (2014) or the 787 Dreamliner (2011) are the most eco-friendly aircrafts of their type. Overall if you desire to travel greener, if you can’t do the voyage by bike or by train, take advantage of the most recent aircrafts! If possible, book direct flights and of course, take alternative means of transport, meaning if you are doing a round-the-world trip for a long time, maximize your land based transportation but if you can’t afford to spend more time on travelling than actually being on holidays (like me), then focus on the green airlines and try to chose your flights by aircraft type.

And, after all, since I am green, I will only eat in the small corner shops and organic places

Finally, another aspect of green travel: the restaurants and all other spots for grabbing food. Eco travelers will prefer street-food or will get in line to get to know the few ‘organic’ spots that can be found in their surroundings. But then I think…mmmm…no. Once again, how can one be certain that the practices of a restaurant, although bio or organic, are indeed green? How to figure it out in a country that only has 1 or 2 places of this kind? And honestly, I do enjoy my share of street-food, but when I see the conditions in which fish and meat are preserved for example, I ask myself If I can afford 4 days of my holidays to be sick and to talk about ecology, I think that we are far away from it. Small street vendors/restaurants are the ones who usually buy the least expensive products and couldn’t care less about their origin or the manner in which they recycle. Certainly they will avoid the expensive purchases and the loss, but they won’t truly have processes in place to minimize their waste. And despite my research on this topic, I only found very few restaurants with green practices. I discovered that one of the few existing labels is Sassi – South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative – which allows consumers to know if their seafood and fish are a part of a sustainable fishing program. Besides that, there are very few existing labels and even worse, restaurants are not required to display the origin of their products in the menus or anywhere else for that matter. Moreover, a waste policy is not currently put into place. That remains dependant on the restaurant’s own policy. Therefore there is a big blur with regards to what our plates contain and what actually happens in the kitchen.

So, despite many initiatives in each of the domains, there is no globalized or standardized approach to truly facilitate green travel. The hotel industry seems to be the most advanced in terms of sustainable development, but there are still major challenges ahead before ecotourism becomes truly ingrained in current practices.

Cet article est disponible en Français (French)