You're eco-friendly, right? Course you are. You recycle, you do Meat-Free Mondays, you get Uber Pools instead of one on your own, you're far more mindful than you used to be when it comes to your fashion choices, and of course you don't print anything at work that you don't absolutely need to.
Okay, you could probably do more.
One area you are probably lagging far behind in is eco-tourism – trying to be responsible to the planet when you're on holiday. Admittedly, adopting an eco-warrior ethos when you're trying to relax doesn't sound that fun but consider, if you will, the size of your carbon footprint from the plane journey, the life of the captive elephant you rode through the jungle, and how your big fancy resort plonked right in the middle of an area of outstanding natural beauty has impacted the community. Did it provide jobs and training for local people? Here's hoping.
To find out how we can be more responsible travellers, we spoke to Giuseppe Sarro from travel website Holiday Pirates to find out the little things we can do to be friendlier to the planet when we head off on hols and rounded up a list of places doing good things for the world which you can support by visiting.
Hello Giuseppe! We hear the word 'eco-tourism' bandied around quite a bit, but what actually does it mean?
So, the core belief behind eco-tourism is being a 'responsible' tourist. Basically, showing consideration for the environment and the impact your presence has on it, as well as preserving and enhancing the local community that you are visiting.
I'm probably committing a billion sins without even realising it every time I step off a plane – what are some common mistakes?
It's actually probably in the process of getting there. Many of us will choose roundabout flights, as they are cheaper. However, it's the taking off and landing of a plane which uses the most fuels and as a result, produces a lot of carbon emissions. So if you can, fly directly to your destination, even if it is slightly more expensive.
Here in the UK we're slowly getting better at recycling, but what if you're in a country where you can't find any recycling bins?
Try asking the concierge at the hotel or ask locals where you could take your items to be recycled. If this isn't an option, then try to limit the amount of packaging you use. So try to buy fruit, vegetables and other foods directly from local markets, so you avoid over-packaged foods in the shops. Try to reuse any items such as plastic bags or plastic containers, and if possible consider taking some items home with you to recycle.
Here's hoping I still have space in my luggage. Speaking of hotels, are there any big chains that are particularly good at being green?
So the Hilton hotel group has reduced their water consumption by 10% and waste by 20%, and 94% of the Hilton’s energy is green energy. Additionally, Hilton hotels donate all of their excess foods to local food banks and are dedicated to recycling their mattresses. Hyatt hotels too are working at reducing their energy and water waste, and are participants of Clean Up The World initiative, as well as partnering with the World Wildlife Foundation to ensure that their seafood is only sourced from sustainable waters.
Okay, what about non-chain hotels?
If you want a really nature-filled experience, head to Treehotel in Sweden. Not only are all the rooms located within an expanse of trees but they also have showers from Orbital Systems, which is a Swedish clean-tech company that manufactures and installs showers containing NASA-certified technology, which can save up to 90% water by circulating clean, warm water in a closed loop.
You can also search for eco-friendly, boutique hotels online, which are all over the world! Just look out for a LEED certification, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a green building certification, meaning that the building was built with the aim of improving energy savings, water consumption and CO2 emissions.
Booking into Treehotel ASAP. What can you do as a guest to limit your waste?
Just small things like switching off your air-conditioning and the lights when you leave your room. Also, don't have your towels laundered every day – just hang them up to dry instead of leaving them crumpled on the floor, that way staff know not to collect them and bring fresh ones in.
Is there any benefit to staying in an Airbnb over a hotel?
A survey we did at Holiday Pirates recently found that 75.1% of UK tourists would consider booking sustainable accommodation. A bed & breakfast or an Airbnb is a good example of this. Not only do they give you more interactions with the locals, but they also make sure you support local businesses, which creates a waterfall effect.
What about destinations – are there any countries that have really committed to eco-tourism?
Costa Rica has loads of eco-friendly hotels, and the country is also known for its pro-sustainability stance, with 75% of its energy being generated by hydroelectric dams. The mouth of the Bulungula River in South Africa is another great option, as it is owned by the local community and is completely solar and wind-powered.
Also, look to Ljubljana in Slovenia. The capital was voted Europe’s Green Capital in 2016 by the European Commission and is the first city to begin the zero waste movement. Røros in Norway is another great location and was named as the Sustainable Destination by the Norwegian Tourism Board.
What about buying souvenirs and things? What should your policy be?
Try to ensure that they are locally sourced items. Look for items which have been made in the community and by the local people, as this ensures that they didn’t have to travel far and are likely made from local materials or produce.
How can you make sure the tourist attractions you’re visiting are okay? Like if there are animals; how do you know they're well looked-after?
There's SO much information available to you about your choice of holiday location, so there is no reason not to research the tourist attractions before you visit to ensure that they're in keeping with your ethical expectations. If after doing this you're still unsure about a specific attraction, then try seeking opinions of other tourists who have already visited. If you plan to use a tour operator during part of your trip, then research the operating company beforehand, to see if they support sustainable and ethical tourism. Finally, just use your common sense! If a tourist attraction features displays of captive animals, or animals are being used as photographic props, then you should probably consider avoiding giving this attraction your time and money.
Check out these sustainable travel destinations
By 2020, if all goes to plan, Costa Rica will be the world's first zero carbon country, eliminating all fossil fuels. The country's approach to clean living is firmly woven into its tourism policy as well. Look into one of its many eco-lodges as a place to stay; they all promote local industry and often give visitors a chance to get involved in the conservation of the rich natural surroundings, from the sumptuous rainforests to the far-reaching coastlines.
It may not seem like an obvious choice but Slovenia actually has a huge range of things to do, from outdoor activities in stunning mountainous countryside complete with thermal springs, to cosmopolitan city breaks. It's even got its own version of a beautiful riviera. The capital Ljubljana was named as Europe's greenest city in 2016 and the country has implemented the Green Scheme for tourism – rewarding areas, hotels and tourist activities for cutting waste and adhering to sustainability policies.
Sustainable tourism has been on Norway's radar for ages – it launched its first campaign back in 2007. Many places in the country have been certified "sustainable" meaning they have to prove that they can perform at a high standard over many years. To help tourists looking to stay green, there's a number of different classifications that can be awarded to hotels, products and businesses which fit the right criteria.
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