As late as 1986, coal miners in the UK still carried canaries to detect carbon monoxide fumes in the mines.
If the canary died, trouble was afoot. These days, the World Wildlife Federation publishes a “species directory” – a list of endangered, vulnerable, and threatened animals and I find it ironic that the list has not been expanded to include humans. Perhaps it would be wrong to list humans under both threatened species and causation because no doubt there is a self-destructive gene somewhere in the human DNA spiral, and it seems to be expressing itself with increasing regularity.
So what has this to do with the travel industry?
The long-term health of our industry depends on what amounts in many cases to self-regulation. Tour operators and cruise lines operate without a great deal of oversight, even in the face of legal regulation and social pressure. Too often, a bit of excess oil is intentionally dumped overboard in our oceans or fragile environmental systems face the consequences of increasing numbers of affluent tourists. Climate change now hangs heavy over many destinations as ocean levels rise and glaciers melt. The ivory trade threatens the very existence of the planet’s largest mammals as thousands of elephants and rhinos are slaughtered for trinkets and pseudo medicines. There are still porters in Peru and Tanzania who continue to work under inhumane conditions. Men from the United States travel to Thailand, Guatemala, and central Europe for encounters with underage victims of the sex trade.
As a travel professional, you can ensure your clients are informed of these problems, are aware of the issues involved, the countermeasures, and the travel industry’s responsibility for negating each.
In many cases, the real cost of the environmental impact is “off-balance-sheet” – absorbed by the environment rather than by the traveler. The cumulative effects often show in places where we least want to observe the impact of humanity. But it is not only the environment per se that bears the brunt of tourism’s numbers. Trafficking in human slavery, the exploitation of animals, and of cheap labor are all intersected at some point by our profession.
These are not esoteric causes, but problems at the heart of some of the planet’s most correctable pathologies. Some of the key points worth noting:
- While consumers believe travel service suppliers should be good stewards of their environment, over half (54%) also believe that individuals themselves have the greatest responsibility for preserving and protecting the environment.
- Six out of ten (58%) travelers say they believe that environmental programs by travel service suppliers could have a positive effect on the environment.
- The majority (51%) of consumers will continue to patronize “green” travel service suppliers regardless of an economic downturn. In fact, nearly half (48%) of travelers say that continuing to support environmentally-responsible travel service suppliers is a necessity, even in an economic downturn.
- Less than one-third (29%) say it is easy to find out about environmental policies and initiatives of travel service suppliers
These key findings hold the promise of gradual evolution to a more sustainable travel industry. Travel professionals can be an important catalyst in the transformation of our industry from a 19th-century model to a 21st-century ideal. If fewer than one-third of travelers find it easy to obtain information on sustainable travel, there is a role for the socially conscious travel consultant to play.
Many might argue travel is itself a part of the problem. The footprint of tourism is heavy and deep and our impact on some very fragile environments is significant. Yet, it is balanced by the opportunity for millions of people to acquaint themselves with new cultures, new ways of thinking, an expanded vision of being a world citizen. We can only hope. We can certainly do our part in playing a positive role to offset the negative influences of travel and tourism.
Many tour operators have been taking very direct actions toward sustainable travel for years. Companies like Intrepid and G Adventures have blazed a trail for us, but there is so much more to be done.
Collectively, our profession touches millions of people each year. Pick a good cause. Educate yourself. Pass along just a small bit of information to your clients each and every time you engage in a travel planning effort. Help to make us all better world citizens. Make sustainable travel an issue. Because it is. The evidence indicates your clients want this type of information. Who better to provide it than a travel professional?
We will not always get second chances. Somewhere, a canary just lost its wings.
Intrepid Travel, the B Corp certified tour operator that has been a leader in decarbonizing the tourism industry, has put together a list of some of the company’s most low-impact trips ahead of Earth Day for travelers interested in a climate-conscious adventure.
While all of Intrepid’s 1,000+ tours around the world are fully carbon offset and the company itself has been carbon neutral since 2010, the past few years have seen an increased focus by its product development team to create trips that lower its carbon footprint even further, with a focus on removing internal flights, increasing its use of low-carbon accommodations and adding more human-powered adventures.
“Intrepid recognizes that travel has an environmental impact,” says Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel’s Managing Director for North America. “We are committed to ongoing improvement of our environmental performance in our operations and across our value chain to minimize our impact on the environment. Intrepid has developed more than 40 new low carbon trips, with a focus on activities including walking, trekking and cycling. Lowering the carbon output from our trips is also supported by the development of our new domestic range. In addition, flights have been removed from five top-selling products in Borneo, Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam and Egypt.”
Here are 5 of its top picks for a low impact holiday:
- Vietnam Family Holiday – 13 days, from $1,400 USD per person
Trading planes for trains, taxis for cyclos
This 13-day tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh shows how travelling with a low footprint can help create a big impact. From navigating cities on a cyclo, a novel three-wheeled zero-emission wonder, to a family dinner at KOTO, a not-for-profit restaurant connecting at-risk youth with careers in hospitality, this trip is a perfect example of travelling with people and the planet in mind.
Climate-conscious tip from this trip: Beyond local, low-impact transportation and a focus on community operated restaurants, in 2022 we’ve replaced a flight from Hanoi to Hoi An with an overnight train. Rail travel is not only better for the planet but it often enhances the experience for travelers, seeing more of the countryside and smaller towns that you’d otherwise miss.
- Trek the Larapinta Trail – 5 days, from $1,264 USD per person
Off-grid is even better than offsetting
Going off-grid is one of the surest ways to minimize your environmental impact. On Intrepid’s Larapinta Trail adventure, travelers will tackle the rugged landscape of one of Australia’s greatest multi-day walks, where days are spent hiking and swimming in the wild and nights are spent camping in the wilderness in traditional swags under the star-filled desert skies.
Climate-conscious tip from this trip: While a digital-detox can help provide a much-needed mental recharge, it is also the most environmentally friendly way to travel. A 100% human powered adventure like this effectively means eliminating your footprint.
- Egypt Experience – 12 days, from $2,244 USD per person
Non-essential flights can essentially be the same as driving
This cultural expedition is filled with small examples of how travelers can make a big impact. From trains and boats to dinners with a Nubian family, you’ll quickly learn why locally minded travel is better for the planet.
Climate-conscious tip from this trip: In 2022, the flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel was removed in favor of driving. Between airport check-ins and wait times, it was calculated that door-to-door there was essentially no time saved from flying and lots of emissions to be saved by driving. Be sure you are looking at total travel time vs. flight time for the truest picture on how much “time” and “energy” a flight will take – the answer may surprise you.
- Premium Peru – 9 days, from $2,397 USD per person
Community-owned > foreign-owned
On Day 2 of Intrepid’s Premium Peru trip, travelers will visit Posada Amazonas, nestled on the side of the Tambopata River in the Peruvian Amazon. This lodge is community-owned by the Ese Eja Indigenous people and will host travelers for 2 nights. As traditional stewards of the land, the lodge was built using local materials and designed to work in concert with nature.
Climate-conscious tip from this trip: Community-owned lodges and hotels are collectively owned and developed to benefit multiple families and residents of a community. These types of properties are found all over the world and almost guarantee 100% of your tourism dollars genuinely support the community you visit. When looking for a unique stay, try booking a proper community-based hotel stay.
- Walking in Grand Canyon National Park – 5 days, from $1,845 USD per person
Undertourism that over delivers
Travelers will capture the magic of the USA’s famed Grand Canyon on a guided 5-day walking adventure, starting with a hike along the popular South Rim, soaking in spectacular views of the Canyon and Colorado River, before continuing to the lesser-visited and awe-inspiring North Rim that sees just 10% of the visitors of its southern counterpart. Local guides will show off hidden trails, secret look out points and unusual wildlife each day, before spending the evenings in a scenic campsite beneath a sky full of stars.
Climate-conscious tip from this trip: The road less travelled is often a much more sustainable and responsible one. By seeking under-touristed trails and lookouts, you are reducing the strain on the built environment and helping ensure other places and people benefit from tourism. Always seek out alternative views, perspectives and paths that will provide the same effect with a reduced impact.
ABOUT INTREPID TRAVEL
Intrepid Travel is a world leader in sustainable experience-rich travel that has been taking travelers to discover the world’s most amazing places for more than 30 years. The company’s mission is to create positive change through the joy of travel. The company offers more than 1,150 trips on every continent and every is designed to truly experience local culture. With its own network of destination management companies in 23 countries, Intrepid has unique local expertise and perspectives. Globally renowned as a leader in responsible travel, in 2018 the carbon-neutral business became the world’s largest travel company to be certified B-Corp. Intrepid Travel is the only global tour operator with verified science-based carbon reduction targets and its not-for-profit, The Intrepid Foundation, has raised more than $11 million for more than 130 charities around the world. For further information download the company’s 2021 Integrated Annual Report and follow on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.
At the heart of the notion of sustainable travel is the idea that the finite resources of our planet demand a discipline of travelers, one that seeks to preserve and even enhance the natural and cultural environments we encounter as we travel. People who discuss sustainability often do so by speaking to “the three pillars of sustainability” which are social sustainability, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability. There are countless articles on the Three Pillars and understanding how the three are related and dependent on each other is an important intellectual exercise I want to recommend to you. Read the rest of this entry »