News & Events
Ethical holidays have really taken off.
Jessica Gearhart talks to the key players
to find out how travellers can tread lightly.
Just a few years ago, finding the best deal and most convenient dates were the prime considerations when planning a holiday. Thanks to some passionate individuals, however, more people are looking hard at the ethical impact of their trip. Whether ensuring local people benefit from the tourist trade or helping keep the environment clean and green, these innovators have big dreams for the future of travel.
Jeff Morgan, executive director of the Global Heritage Fund (globalheritagefund.org),
where he oversees the conservation of some of the world’s most endangered heritage sites
‘The biggest concerns for the major tourism sites are destruction from neglect, unplanned development and mass tourism. To offset the boom in travel, we need to slow down the development of heritage sites and protect them before they are destroyed. Tourism can be environmentally low-impact. It’s unplanned mass tourism that gets tricky.
‘Although it sounds obvious, it’s important not to trample heritage sites. Be conscientious when you’re visiting them, and do the same with local cultures: tread lightly.
‘The My Son Sanctuary, a beautiful and historically significant complex of religious monuments in Vietnam, is an example of where mass tourism, if planned, can be done well. It’s a wonderful place where the growth of tourism has enabled the government, along with Global Heritage Fund, to restore and stabilise the site. There’s a new visitor centre, tourist routes and buffer zones. These zones ensure that there is no modern encroachment into the site and provide a great mechanism for checking development.
‘Providing financial support to conservation groups can help ensure the future of important monuments like these. If you’re keen to get involved in a more hands-on way, consider going on an archaeological working holiday. Or check out Earthwatch (earthwatch.org), which runs volunteer expeditions to promote sustainable conservation.
‘At Global Heritage Fund, we’re working on a range of projects, including Ani in Turkey, where we’re trying to save one of the most important sites in central Asia, and Ping Yao, one of two ancient walled cities in China. It currently receives around a million visitors a year, but despite ticket revenue, it still severely lacks funding for the upkeep of its temples and ancient city.’
Justin Francis, co-founded responsibletravel.com, with support from the late Dame Anita Roddick
‘At the launch of responsibletravel.com, I said I hoped that one day “responsible” would be to “travel” what “organic” is to “food”. My wish was that everyone would choose to travel in an ethical, responsible way – something that is better for us as individuals, better for the planet and better for local people.
‘Responsibletravel.com is a directory of holidays, tour operators and hoteliers who really care about the environment and the indigenous people. When we launched in 2001, we had just 20 hand-picked holidays from four operators. Back then, no one had even heard of the term “responsible travel”. People thought we were mad to use it as our company name. ‘The tourism industry has come a long way in the past seven years. Now people realise that travelling responsibly is actually more enjoyable. The goal is to ensure your activities on holiday will help conserve, not damage, local environments, people and heritage.
‘The best advice is to take trips that are “local” to their very core. This could mean visiting a community tourism project in Ethiopia or discovering English heritage and architecture in a Sussex village. Wherever you are, try to use locally owned restaurants and accommodation, and hire native guides to give you a unique perspective on their people, environment and culture. It’s experiences like these that make a holiday memorable.
‘My real hope is that we will see a genuine revolution in travel, just as we have in food, and that we can make a huge industry – one that employs one in ten people – greener and more ethical. If we can do this, we can secure and sustain some of the most beautiful places on the planet, transform the lives of the people who live there and enrich the experiences of the travellers who visit.’
Tricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern (tourismconcern.org.uk)
‘For nearly 20 years, Tourism Concern has been arguing that tourism needs to benefit local people as much as it does the travellers. We need to minimise the negative impacts we can have as tourists while maximising the positive. That sounds simple, but simple is good. It just means remembering the rights and interests of the indigenous population we encounter while travelling, and being aware of the ways ethical tourism practices can enhance our own experiences.
‘With ethical tourism, the economic value is spread fairly to the local people, their environment is respected and nurtured, and their cultures are valued rather than exploited.
‘The good news is that many tour operators are now working to make the situation fairer for all involved by providing responsible holidays. Part of travelling ethically means that there should be an enjoyable social exchange between the visited and the visitor. Most holidaymakers really value these encounters. If you are invited into someone’s home or have a good conversation with a local, it can make a holiday come to life.
‘Even if you are staying at an all-inclusive hotel or resort where there might be little chance for interaction, you can still look out for the local people who are creating their own opportunities – perhaps as guides or running shops or market stalls – to directly welcome visitors into their communities. In the end, we all stand to gain.’
The Ethical Travel Guide by Polly Pattullo, with Orely Minelli for Tourism Concern (£12.99, Earthscan)
Sofia de Meyer, creator of Whitepod (whitepod.com), an award-winning eco-resort in the Alps
‘We all need to change our travelling habits to reduce, wherever possible, our environmental impact. Being green should not be on one’s To Do list. It needs to be part of our daily lives. We should all be aiming to protect the very product – untouched nature – we appreciate in each destination.
‘When I set up Whitepod, my inspiration came from the natural surroundings of the Swiss Alps. Originally, I wanted to create a winter activity centre offering greener alternatives to skiing, such as snowshoeing. But as I started work on this idea, it became clear that if I wanted people to truly understand the importance of nature, then our guests would need to fall asleep and wake up in the natural environment, hence the Whitepod camp, with its igloo-style pods, was born.
‘I go mountaineering quite a bit, but at least once a year, I travel further afield, always going to a different destination so I can discover new places.I always try to book these bigger trips through responsible tourism operators who address environmental issues.
‘At Whitepod, we use local guides for the outdoor activities, and there are plenty of diversions to keep guests busy. You can have a traditional dinner at an Alpine cabin or wander through the vineyards of Cully, which was recently classified as a site of importance by Unesco.
‘Wherever you go, try to do what the locals do and take the time to experience the place. Limit the waste you generate and avoid buying products that might have a negative impact. By doing so, you’ll give back and get more than you realise.’
Mark Ellingham, founding editor of the Rough Guides (roughguides.co.uk) series, and now editor of Green Profile, a list of ethical books by Profile Books (profilebooks.co.uk)
‘It seems bizarre, but back in the early 1980s when we started publishing Rough Guides, no travel guides would think of recommending a movida club in Madrid, or somewhere to see a band in Nairobi, or even how to get tickets to watch AC Milan or Barcelona play football. Travel guides seemed to exist in a kind of parallel tourist universe, and the Rough Guides really helped introduce people to different cultures.
‘My advice for travelling ethically is similar in ethos. As well as leaving as small a footprint as possible, try to contribute to the local community.
‘Go slowly and make friends wherever you are. Small changes can make a real difference. Walk or cycle, or stay in one place and interact with people. Make sure your holiday money goes into the local economy. The things we scarcely even think about, like leaving money for the cleaners in your hotel room, can make a huge difference for that person. Don’t haggle over prices if the amount isn’t significant to you.
‘Travelling can help preserve native wildlife, environments and the locals’ way of life. When it’s done well, it can even help improve these aspects. This past year, I was in South Africa to visit a remarkable Aids project, Keiskamma Trust (keiskamma.org), which a friend of mine helped establish. It has had fantastic success in reaching out to a rural community and getting them on antiretroviral medication.
‘I’ve also recently been involved in a scheme in Zambia to get solar cookers operating in villages within one of the national parks. I’m hoping to visit later this year to see how the project is coming along and to do some wildlife walks.
‘I don’t feel guilty about travelling overseas, but I am conscious of the environmental effects. With regards to emissions, I believe in multiple offsetting. Carbon offsetting schemes are good for focusing your mind on your personal impact. And I’ve recently sponsored 50 acres of Amazon rainforest through Cool Earth (coolearth.org), a charity set up by Frank Field MP and Johan Eliasch. This is especially pertinent because 20 per cent of carbon emissions are from the destruction of the rainforests.
‘My son Miles is now 12 years old, and I try to pass on to him the ethos of responsible travel. This summer we are going back to one of our favourite small hotels, the Druidstone on the Pembrokeshire coast. It now has one guest cottage that is entirely wind- and solar-powered.’
Fixing Climate by Robert Kunzig and Wallace S Broecker (£10.99,Green Profile) is out now.