How to make your next vacation a green getaway
By Chandra Orr
Copley News Service
Ecotourism. For many, the word conjures images of unspoiled, exotic locales with an emphasis on the outdoors - backpacking through lush Costa Rican rain forests or sailing the Galapagos archipelago.
But ecotourism has less to do with location than you might think.
In short, ecotourism minimizes the impact on the environment, preserves natural resources, builds cultural awareness and provides financial benefits to conservation efforts and the local people.
That's no small feat, but it's one with a broad appeal.
"The appeal is strongly based upon a 'guilt-free' experience - that the experience is not only not having adverse impact on the local environment, but in fact, helping to protect it," said David Guggenheim, president of 1planet1ocean, a nonprofit organization devoted to exploring, restoring and sustaining the world's oceans.
Ecotourism first appealed to nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers, but its appeal today is much more mainstream, thanks to the growing environmental awareness of the past few years.
"Green has become the movement of our time," said Ted Martens, director of Outreach and Development for Sustainable Travel International (STI), a Colorado-based nonprofit group whose mission is to promote sustainable tourism. "Ecotourism is a way to incorporate green ethics beyond our daily lives and into our vacations."
It may sound like a tall order, but, according to STI, tourists can turn any vacation into an eco-friendly getaway by putting a few positive principles into practice:
- Do your homework. Ask your travel agent or resort operator about local ecotourism initiatives. Does the hotel have policies in place to reduce its impact on the area? Does tourism support the local population? What efforts are being made to support and protect natural areas?
Check out the eco-directory at www.sustainabletravelinternational.org. Search by activity, business type or location to find a listing of hotels, resorts and tour groups committed to eco-friendly practices.
- Learn the local customs. Read up on the area to get a sense of the local culture. Learn to speak some of the language, familiarize yourself with native customs and etiquette, and consider packing small personal, practical gifts for your hosts.
Remember that guidebooks are merely guides. For the full experience, make plans to get off the beaten path. Talk with locals, take their recommendations on the must-see sights and have fun exploring.
- Choose appropriate accommodations. Look for hotels, lodges and resorts that walk the walk. Book reservations with hotels that use renewable energy, water and waste disposal systems. Look for lodging that encourages onsite recycling and conservation of resources.
- Opt for green transportation. Take the bus or train when possible. Taking public transportation, including group taxis and vans, helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions - and it's a great way to interact with the locals. Look for opportunities to cycle or walk while exploring the area. If you must rent a car, spend a little extra and get a hybrid.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle. During your stay, take steps to reduce your water and energy consumption. Opt out of daily laundering of linens and towels. Take shorter showers. Turn off the lights, television and air conditioner when not in use.
Be mindful of waste disposal, especially in less developed areas. Carry out batteries and other toxic or non-biodegradable items. Avoid using foam products and non-recyclable plastic. Bring a refillable, water-filtering bottle.
- Spend money wisely. Shop and dine at locally owned, community-run businesses. Support local artists, performers and craftsmen - but never purchase products made from ivory, tortoise shell or teak. Avoid any souvenirs made from old-growth trees, endangered forests or endangered animals.
When spending, be generous. While bartering is the custom in many areas, suppress your desire to strike the best deal possible. It may be just a few pennies to you, but for a local family, it could mean an entire meal.
- Respect nature and wildlife. Familiarize yourself with the local laws and regulations, especially if you're planning to visit any protected nature reserves. Stay on the trails, leave the area cleaner than you found it and don't disturb the wildlife. Never take souvenirs from nature. Leave plants, animals and other natural objects where you found them.
- Offset your impact. From your round-trip flight to the energy required to light your hotel room, your vacation comes at a cost to the environment - no matter how eco-friendly your efforts. Plant a few trees to offset your carbon dioxide emissions or purchase a renewable energy certificate. Created by the Environmental Protection Agency, green energy certificates help offset your fossil fuel consumption by investing in non-polluting energy from solar, wind or biomass sources.
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