Going on holiday is all about feeling great, and it’s much easier to feel great when you know you’re respecting your environment and doing your bit to minimise the eco footprint you leave behind. And fortunately, there are plenty of online resources these days to help travellers make responsible decisions.
The Eco Traveller Guide is one such useful site, providing readers with tips and advice on everything from sustainable culinary travel to green travel gear. The guide’s founder and editor, Linda McCormick, was recently kind enough to take the time to share with us her thoughts on the environmental future of the tourism industry, her favourite eco-friendly stays and her picks for some of the greenest destinations across the globe:
When did you first become interested in eco-friendly/sustainable travel?
I asked myself this question when I was writing the ‘about’ page for Eco Traveller and realised I’d been interested in eco travel for a long time. Even on my first round-the-world trip in 1996, I avoided doing certain things that every backpacker seemed to be doing – just to tick it off the list.
I had really wanted to visit the hill tribes of Northern Thailand, but when I found out how they were treated and that they would prefer to go to school rather than dress up for tourists I just couldn’t bring myself to go there. I’ve never seen the draw for elephant rides; I would much prefer to see animals in their natural habitat. And I have always veered off the beaten track. Wherever the usual backpacker trail led, I found a different route and it often led to some of the most amazing experiences like meeting locals and being shown around by them, or taking their suggestions on board of what to do and where to go, rather than the guide book recommendations. Even in cities I tend to seek out green/eco things to do. I can’t help myself!
Don’t get me wrong though, I am very happy to go along the usual tourist route too – there’s often a reason why so many people travel along a certain route. And when you’re a beginner solo traveller, it’s often the safest way to go.
How do you think Australia rates in terms of eco-friendly tourism initiatives?
Australia is brilliant at promoting itself, but more often than not it advertises in other countries. By doing this, they’re missing a massive market in their own back yards. A lot of Australians aren’t aware of some great eco-friendly initiatives as they’re rarely advertised in the mainstream, you need to really search for them. It’s usually the more obvious holiday destinations or accommodations, which is a shame because there are so many amazing eco-friendly options available.
Ecotourism Australia is a good website to check, as is Green Getaways Australia. More recently there have been big drives by some of the state tourism boards, too. Queensland especially – renowned for the Best Job in the World – is doing big things in the ecotourism sphere, so it will be exciting to see how things go.
What’s the biggest misperception people seem to have about sustainable travel?
When some people see the words ‘sustainable travel’, many treat it with the same respect they do ecotourism or responsible travel – with a massive eye roll. Often people don’t necessarily understand what it means, and don’t bother finding out, so lump it in with the type of treehuggin’ travel they’d rather leave to someone else.
We ran a series of articles last year defining different types of ‘eco’ travel, including sustainable travel which stated: “Sustainable travel doesn’t just preserve the natural environment so that future tourists can benefit, it preserves the environment so that it meets the current and future needs of the local community and funds conservation.”
When you read it, it describes the type of travel so many partake in already. Most conscientious travellers travel sustainably without thinking about it.
Which have been your top eco-lodge experiences?
Hmm, can I say green stays rather than eco-lodges? I have stayed in some amazing places with impressive eco credentials, but they don’t necessarily fit the eco-lodge criteria.
The Great Ocean Eco Lodge in Cape Otway in Victoria, Australia is still one of my favourite stays. The surrounds, guided nature walks and owner’s passion for the place stand out. In Spain this year we stayed at an amazing 14th century farmhouse in Tiana (Ca L’Andreu), near Barcelona, which has been family-run for generations using eco principles and has some great plans for the future. Then in Ireland, we stayed at a tiny cottage in the wilds of Donegal that only has a stove in the kitchen to heat the water, yet because of the location and what was available in the surrounds it was a truly great green stay.
And of course I have to mention the Aboriginal Community we stayed in outside Broome in WA a few years ago – Gnylmarung. That’s what I’d recommend people do, as well as the usual top things to do in Australia, see how the other half live, the first Australians. I think more tourism could be directed towards the Aboriginal Communities here, who like so many indigenous people have been ousted out of the big cities and densely populated areas. It’s them who need the tourist dollar. See… I’ve gone all green again, without meaning to – it just happens!
What’s the main faux pas most hotels seem to commit when it comes to being environmentally-friendly?
Not having a clue what being environmentally-friendly means.
Having a sticker on the bathroom mirror encouraging people to re-use their towels does not a green hotel make! It involves a lot more than that. It’s also about people educating themselves. Find out what greenwashing means, and don’t be so easily fooled. Of course, there will always be people who don’t give a damn, so really it’s down to hotels to be socially and environmentally responsible. And in this giant-sized tourism business that’s not always going to happen. Still, as the general public are becoming more aware of their impact on the environment, businesses know they’ve got to step up, eventually.
What do you think the future holds for eco travel?
While eco travel is still something of a novelty to many and still endures a lot of eye rolling, slowly but surely people are realising – especially frequent travellers – that something has to be done to sustain the amount people are travelling now, and prepare for how people will travel in the future. A record 1 billion tourist travelled the globe last year, and tourism is set to grow, so I think eco travel will just become a bigger part of the market than it is now. I’m hoping it will eventually be absorbed into the mainstream and all the eye-rolling will stop. It would be great to see eco travel perceived in the same way as adventure travel or budget travel, for example, rather than regarded as contrived.
I honestly believe there is no one way people should travel, everyone is free to make their own choices, but if there are options available on how to travel, it only serves to enrich their experiences and those they meet.
What are the most eco-friendly travel destinations in the world?
I would say a lot of the most eco-friendly places are quite well-known. Costa Rica is a great leader in ecotourism, many places in North America often frequent the yearly lists, and New Zealand is perfect for its diversity of things to do and see. But I think there are quite a few places not often mentioned that have wonderful eco opportunities, and maybe deserve a bit more attention.