bird graphic greenwashing

By Daniela Frendo, Epicure & Culture Contributor 

Green travel is no longer a niche.

As tourism remains one of the fastest-growing industries worldwide, the demand for sustainable and alternative travel experiences has been gathering steam.

Travelers are increasingly looking at offbeat destinations and making responsible holiday choices when possible.

Brand new eco-hotels are cropping up in every corner of the world, while wildlife tour companies operating in the responsible travel market are facing fierce competition.

The options are endless, so much so that many travelers are no longer comparing prices. Instead, they’re asking one vital question:

What makes a tour truly eco-friendly?

As the green travel market is rapidly becoming inundated with misleading advertising and false environmental claims, here’s what you need to know when booking an eco-tour for your next trip.

responsible tourism checklist

What Is Greenwashing?

In recent years, more travel companies have adopted green marketing strategies in an effort to enhance their brand image and attract new customers.

As a result, it has become difficult to tell the difference between companies that are genuinely dedicated to protecting the environment and those that are using their green campaigns to garner more profits.

According to the Greenwashing Index, a website that flags misleading ads and green claims by corporations, a company can be accused of greenwashing when it “spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.”

Photo courtesy of Justin Lynch via Unsplash.

In the travel industry, greenwashing also refers to tour operators which make eco-trips seem more sustainable and ethical than they actually are.

In some cases, tour companies mislead tourists into thinking that by participating in a particular activity they are giving back to the local community or environment.

For example, tour operators promoting eco-friendly wildlife experiences may actually be offering activities such as walking with lions, petting cubs in captivity or swimming with dolphins, where tourists are led to believe that their visit contributes to wild animal conservation in the area.

For the record, they’re not.

Here's what you need to #know about #responsible and #green #travel. Click To Tweet
Photo courtesy of Sven Schlager via Unsplash.

How to Identify Greenwashed Tours

Eco-tourism has become a bit of a buzzword in the travel industry. The International Eco-Tourism Society describes eco-tourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”

The term is also related to responsible tourism, sustainable tourism and ethical tourism; phrases that are nowadays overused — and misused — in the tourism industry.

Navigating unfounded green messages can be challenging.

It’s easy enough for tour operators to claim an eco-friendly approach to tourism, but can they prove it?

The trick is to search beyond the jargon and ask for more information on the company’s sustainability efforts and achievements.

For example:

  • What percentage of annual profit is invested in environmental conservation?
  • How has the company helped protect native wildlife and flora in recent years?
  • Is there a limited number of tourists per tour to minimize environmental impact in the region?
  • Do the tours have a Leave No Trace policy?

Likewise, if a tour operator promotes a commitment to empowering the local community, it’s always a good idea to ask a few questions about the company’s economic and socio-cultural benefits for locals.

  • Do they employ local people and buy locally-sourced products?  
  • Do their tours generate enough income to help make a difference in the local community?
  • Is the company involved in any community-based initiatives/projects?

Although companies offering eco-tours are assessed and certified by independent organizations, it’s still worth doing your own research to see how your visit (and money) would be contributing to the well-being of local communities and supporting conservation efforts in the area.

Photo courtesy of Aimee Vogelsang via Unsplash.

Choosing Ethical Wildlife Attractions

As a general rule, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) advises tourists to steer clear of attractions that involve direct contact with animals.

Elephant rides, tiger sanctuaries, whale watching and dolphin swims are some of the most popular animal attractions around the world — and also the most controversial.

Although whale-watching trips might appear harmless, recent studies suggest that the boat trips can actually put the mammals’ lives at risk.

Besides potentially causing whale deaths from collisions, boat tours can also disturb the whales’ feeding sources or distress the mammals.

An eco-friendly alternative is land-based whale watching.

responsible tourism checklist

Choosing ethical animal sanctuaries requires some research.

Whether you’re looking for elephant attractions, tiger reserves or bear sanctuaries, always choose organizations that have rescued the animals from captivity.

In most cases, animals that were born and raised in captivity would not survive if they had to be released back into the wild; however, they should still be kept in their natural habitat and have plenty of space to roam freely.

Be wary of attractions that offer close encounters with predators, particularly when visiting tiger sanctuaries in Asia. If dangerous animals are abnormally friendly around humans, then something’s definitely not right.

Here's how to make #ethical #travel choices when booking #wildlife #tours. Click To Tweet
Photo Courtesy of Vincent van Zalinge via Unsplash.

Online Resources To Help You Book The Right Eco-Tour

Some countries and states have their own certification programs for local eco tour operators. Check that the tour company holds a legitimate, third-party certification label which is recognized by The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).

The Rainforest Alliance, a leading certification NGO, has compiled a list of hotels and tour operators in Latin America and the Caribbean that comply with the strict sustainability standards set by the organization.

You can also select tour operators and organizations that are members of The International Ecotourism Society.

What advice would you give for avoiding greenwashed claims and making ethical travel choices? 

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Daniela Frendo

Daniela Frendo is a travel writer and photographer from Malta. No matter how often she travels, she keeps breaking out in cold sweats at boarding gates. She is terrified of flying, but willing to try out stomach-churning delicacies wherever she goes. Her trips aren’t complete without doing a bit of trekking, experiencing local culture and getting a souvenir t-shirt.She has a degree in Communications and divides her time between teaching English and writing for different publications, including her own travel blog

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  1. Such an interesting article about green washing in travel sector, thanks. You are right, more and more green wash happens in tourism sector as travelers are getting more aware. Will be sharing your article with my tribe.

  2. I’m constantly trying to research animal attractions and avoid ones that are unethical. This was an enlightening read.

  3. I came across this post after researching this topic. There are so many negatives consequences of greenwashing in tourism. Some people I have talked to do not believe in independent labels or certificates, because they are afraid of false claims. And these shady companies are taking money from the ones actually doing good work.

    What I like to do is to do my research before, and then ask around then I’m already at the destination – it all looks much nicer on paper, and the locals know more.

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