What do you want from your holiday? To relax, have fun, see something new? Maybe even see something amazing, like Everest, or glamorous like Santorini, or pristine and remote like the Great Barrier Reef. Nowadays, when we are so much more aware of global warming, the damaging impact of tourism cannot be ignored. Every time we travel there is a cost to the environment, and the travel industry is aware of that, up to a point. Eco tourism has been growing for the last ten years.
The trouble is we are not sure what eco-tourism means. Putting out a notice about re-using towels to save water, or having water saving shower-heads doesn’t really cut in any more. Travel is a $1.7 trillion industry, one in every 11 people on this planet work in the industry. Imagine how much fuel we need to move people around the globe, how much food is consumed, water and power usage. That is before we look at what all those footfalls do to the places they visit, places that were once fairly remote. We are in real danger of trashing the very places we want to visit. From the foothills of Everest to the Barrier Reef, a huge amount of damage has happened through tourism.
At the Tourism for Tomorrow awards a few years ago one of the finalists, Kerala State in Southern India had to be withdrawn despite its excellent programs of conservation and community involvement. It was reported that water usage was more than the community could bear and that wastage was polluting local waterways. Other excellent eco tourism offers have suffered equally from success. There is no certification to assure concerned travellers that a destination or accommodation is genuinely eco friendly on the local environment.
The key matters are always water usage, waste management and power. Check if your eco tourism provider really does take the environment seriously. Photo voltaic cells are normal these days and should be automatically part of any hotel power system.
At The Good Life, on Syros Island in Greece an industry standard eco tourism offering has recently been set up to initiate children into vegetable growing and their parents into wine making and olive oil production. But the key element is that although (at first stage completion) over 30 people can be accommodated, the farm is able to function off-the-grid, energy and water neutral. If the term eco-tourism is to mean anything, it must move towards having no impact at all on the environment, other than to nurture and stay in balance with the nature. And at the same time, tourists should still enjoy the magic of travel.
By Elspeth Geronimos