In March 2021, the website Booking.com surveyed 29,000 travelers across 30 countries and found that the majority feel a commitment to go green — and travel sustainably. Due to the pandemic’s influence, travelers are increasingly interested in sustainable accommodations and reducing waste, energy consumption and overcrowding due to tourism.
Sustainable tourism seeks to minimize negative impacts, such as overcrowding and damage to the natural environment, while boosting positive impacts, such as job creation and wildlife and cultural heritage preservation. Ecotourism is generally considered to be an offshoot: low-impact travel experiences within natural parks, wild habitats and other areas, which benefit both the natural area and the people who conserve the area.
Wondering how to plan a great eco-friendly vacation of your own? Here are tips to get you started.
Investigate the carbon load you’ll generate en route, whether you’re traveling by train, boat or plane. Some airlines, such as Qatar Airways, now offer carbon offsets for purchase alongside tickets, as well as reducing food waste and recycling. And now with flights out of Seattle, it’s easy to create an eco-friendly itinerary.
Qatar Airways offers an opt-in carbon offset program for travelers booking flights through their website. Emissions are offset with climate and sustainable development expert ClimateCare — specifically the Fatanpur Wind Farm project in India, which uses 54 turbines to offset electricity previously generated from fossil fuel sources. In total, the farm heads off 210,000 tons in greenhouse gas emissions, annually.
“I look for hotel brands that can marry luxury and sustainability,” says Valerie Joy Wilson of TrustedTravelGirl.com. “Look for properties and brands that take the guess work out of it for you, so you can relax and rest easy knowing you aren’t contributing to the problem, and instead, are trying to be part of the solution.”
While recently in Seychelles, Wilson stayed at a Six Senses hotel. The boutique hotel chain, now on four continents, is aiming to be plastic-free by 2022 at all properties, even glass-bottling fresh water for guests.
Eric Stoen of travelbabbo.com and his 10-year-old son also stayed at the Six Senses in Seychelles while on an around-the-world trip. Whenever possible, Stoen seeks out smaller boutique hotels, or sustainability-promoting hotel chains like Six Senses. At Six Senses Zil Pasyon, they planted trees as part of the hotel’s effort to restore the islands with indigenous species. The duo also toured the hotel’s gardens, where virtually all the resort’s fruits and vegetables are grown.
“We don’t choose destinations because they’re eco-friendly, but we make sure that we’re eco-friendly wherever we go,” Stoen says.
Immersed in environment
Several years ago, Wilson visited Phuket, Thailand. But instead of heading to overcrowded beaches, she went on a John Gray sea canoe tour to explore wildlife-rich sea caves and lagoons. This ecotourism sojourn uses an approach of careful preservation, waste avoidance, and serving organic and free-range food. While aboard her sea canoe, Wilson got to observe macaques, mudskippers and dinoflagellates (bioluminescent plankton).
Destinations in Africa have become increasingly popular for eco-tourists, including Uganda, Rwanda, Namibia and Kenya. For example, Entebbe, Uganda offers multiple options for those interested in the nation’s stunning ecological treasures. Among the options: working as “zookeeper for the day” at Entebbe Wildlife Education Centre; watching for spider monkeys at Entebbe Botanic Gardens; staying at an eco-lodge at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary; going on a safari among the savanna, forest, and wetlands of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Rwanda offers gorilla watching at Volcanoes National Park, while Windhoek, Namibia is where many travelers land to launch into their Kalahari Desert safaris.
Stoen visited Kenya for a two-week, two-country safari with his wife and three children (ages 6, 8 and 10). He visited Maasai Mara National Reserve and Amboseli National Park, and finished the trip at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, which cares for endangered elephants, and the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife’s Giraffe Centre, a sanctuary for Rothschild’s giraffes.
Wilson will soon be heading to Kenya, and conservation considerations were important when choosing which safari to book. Her tour also visits Maasai Mara, protected by the Mara Conservancy efforts. The local guides at Olare Mara Kempinski wisely prohibit plastic and reduce crowding with limited vehicles. While on safari, Wilson hopes to see lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, Cape buffalo and giraffes in their natural habitats.
Ecological travel choices
Small decisions can make a big difference. For example, Stoen and family always bring along their own refillable water bottles.
“If we’re in a small community or on an island and we generate trash from snacks or toiletries, we’ll take it back with us and throw it away somewhere that can handle it better,” he says. “I can’t imagine visiting a sustainable resort, then leaving a bunch of plastic waste in our room for them to deal with.”
He also avoids overcrowding through large bus tours: “Nothing ruins a cultural experience like 55 tourists arriving on a bus and then walking around in a group.”
When visiting a community, Eric speaks with locals about their experiences and attempts to counterbalance tourism’s negative impact by supporting local organizations making a difference.
Wilson offsets her carbon emissions by bringing a refillable water bottle whenever possible and avoiding the use of plastic bottles for toiletries. Refillable glass bottles and bar soaps are easy alternatives. They’re small actions that add up, she notes. She also suggests self-education about sustainable options within travel.
“Every time you spend money or share to social media, you’re voting for what you want. If sustainability and an eco-friendly resort matters to you, ‘vote’ by staying there,” she says. “The more the travel industry sees the money shift to brands that are eco-conscious, the more of a shift we will see in that direction.”
Qatar Airways now flies out of SEA Airport. Wherever you choose to fly, our onboard experience maintains the highest standards of hospitality and hygiene while ensuring your safety and comfort.