Green Tourism - Options for an Environmentally Friendly Holiday
Here are some ideas and things to consider if you're planning an environmentally-friendly holiday.
What is ecotourism and is it always green?
Ecotourism is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as - "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people". However, the word ecotourism is now often used to promote any trips to areas of natural beauty and wilderness, which may be less eco-friendly than they first appear.
Large numbers of visitors inevitably start to have an impact on the fragile ecosystems they have come to see. There are also stories of local people being evicted from their land to make way for the development of 'ecotourism'. On the other hand, many people in far-flung locations rely heavily on tourism for their income.
Ideally, you would stay somewhere which makes minimal impact on the environment, eat local food and use local services. However, there is no international standard for ecotourism, so it is left to the consumer to thoroughly research the actual greenness of a holiday. Look for places which limit visitor numbers, use local guides, and provide genuinely low-impact accommodation.
Of course, while travelling to remote locations supports local economies and may promote awareness of the natural environment, is it really environmentally friendly if you need to fly there? The online forum GreenTraveller (http://www.greentraveller.co.uk) could help you with such eco-dilemmas, posing questions such as 'Is it OK to travel to Antarctica?' and 'Is it OK to ski?'.
Staying close to home - the greenest travel of all
If you want to limit the amount of flying you do each year, the simplest way is to holiday in the UK.
In the UK you can also find eco-friendly places to stay, although at the moment you may have to look quite hard for them. Again there is no standard accreditation system. The largest rating scheme is the Green Tourism Business Scheme which awards properties Gold, Silver or Bronze awards based on their environmental impact. The scheme was started by Visit Scotland so many of the rated properties are in Scotland.
Other resources include two useful guidebooks listing businesses genuinely trying to be eco-friendly, from installing solar-heated swimming pools to using reclaimed furniture. 'Green Places to Stay' (http://www.sawdays.co.uk/titles/eco) features properties worldwide and 'Ecoescape' (http://www.ecoescape.org) is a guide to green tourism in the UK.
Many tourist boards award 'Sustainable Tourism Awards', and these can be a useful starting point, but with no common standards you may prefer to do some extra research on the green credentials of a potential holiday destination yourself.
You can now even take the kids to an environmentally friendly theme park. 'Bewilderwood' opened in May 2007 on the Norfolk Broads.
Green travel - train not plane
If you have ruled out flying, you don't need to stay in the UK. If you don't mind reaching your destination at a slightly slower pace than usual, train travel to Europe (sometimes combined with a ferry trip) is a popular option. Try 'The Man in Seat Sixty-One' (http://www.seat61.com) to find out how to travel from London to anywhere in Europe.
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