Ecotourism

Ecotourism: Photo of tourists looking at and talking about two giant tortoises.

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By VICTOR BLOCK

(50PLUS WIRE) As Daniel and Martha Everett and their two children enjoyed a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, their focus was on entertainment and excitement rather than the environment.

When Barbara and Andy Allen checked into a Boston hotel, they wanted to fit as many sites as possible into their two-day visit. They gave little thought to how their stay might impact the ecosystem.

These folks unknowingly combined a bit of R&R with efforts to help preserve and protect Earth’s environment. Little did they know the entertainment venues, lodgings, tour companies and others have been taking steps, large and small, to lessen any negative impact of human activity on Mother Nature.

Some efforts, like replacing high-energy light bulbs and heavy-flow shower heads, are well known. Others are more imaginative and can be even more impactful.

The Walt Disney Company’s commitment to environmental stewardship goes back to its founding almost a century ago. Current activities range from the mundane, like eliminating single-use plastic and using non-potable water, to running excursion trains and river boats on fuel made from recycled cooking oil, and installing a solar facility intended to power two theme parks in Orlando. Also, people who are interested may go there to study hydroponic farming techniques.

Hotels play a leading environmental role, and the Saunders Hotel Group in Boston has long been at the forefront of that effort. It has implemented more than 115 measures to reduce the environmental footprint and raise awareness among staff, guests and local communities. One imaginative project is tending beehives on the roof of its Lenox Hotel and serving the honey to guests.

Saunders’s latest project is constructing the 5-star Raffles Hotel & Resorts, the first of that renowned company’s properties in the United States. It will be a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold building and will further demonstrate why the Saunders Hotel Group has won a Presidential Gold Medal and other honors for its programs.

Smaller places providing accommodations also have boarded the environmental bandwagon. Efforts at the 33-guest room Boulder Hot Springs Inn, Spa and Retreat in Montana reflect its goal of “living with the planet instead of destroying it or using it up.”

In addition to common conservation projects, their efforts include remodeling the heating system, to take advantage of local geothermal water and researching options for using that water to generate electricity.

The Inn is also restoring the adjacent natural wetlands, which had been previously drained to provide pasture. This has resulted in return of moose, antelope, deer and other wildlife to what had once been a protected sanctuary.

Although the Walt Disney Company has been an environmental pioneer, it’s not the only entertainment business that has a green thumb. Destiny USA is a mega-mall near Syracuse, New York, which, in addition to offering places to shop and dine, has a variety of entertainment options. The 26 million annual visitors produce a torrent of trash and other waste with which the center deals responsibly enough to make it the largest commercial building in the world to have won LEED Gold certification.

Efforts there got underway during construction, using over 90 percent of materials recovered from landfills and making some flooring of rapidly renewing crushed cork and walnut shells. A solar-reflective “cool roof” conserves energy, and rainwater harvesting saves four million gallons of water annually.

Speaking of water, cruise ships have instituted a variety of measures to lessen their environmental impact. New passenger vessels employ state-of-the-art waste management systems that shred trash, compact glass and metal, and incinerate paper and plastic.

One leader in this area is UnCruise Adventures, whose ships travel to the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Hawaii and Central America. As a member of the Passenger Vessel Association’s Green WATERS Program, the company adheres to its “leave no trace” motto on all voyages. They strive to reduce fuel consumption, conserve energy and drinking water, and decrease the use of harmful chemicals.

Land-based outfits observe many of the same self-imposed rules. Overseas Adventure Travel, part of the Grand Circle Corporation family of companies, connects customers with the people and cultures of destinations it visits around the world. It seeks to instill knowledge of and respect for local communities and supports a variety of enterprise, philanthropy and entrepreneurship projects.

OAT stresses sustainable transport to natural areas like the Galápagos Islands and the Serengeti region of Africa, with emphasis on environmental conservation and improving the well-being of the local people. The company supports water and sanitation projects in the communities it visits, has helped to fund construction of a women’s center in Morocco, and assists co-ops, orphanages and other facilities around the world.

The TravelStride.com website is a source of information about group tours and other trips, and a search for “ecotourism” turns up a welcome choice of alternatives.

For example, Global Basecamps takes participants to Costa Rica, which has been called the birthplace of environmental travel. From bird watching to seeing tiny turtles hatch and race toward the water to experiencing the magnificent Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, nine people on each tour get a greater appreciation of the world and added impetus to protect it.

Whatever it’s called—ecotourism, environmental travel, responsible travel, sustainable tourism—the trend is here to stay. No doubt, you’ll find places to visit and ways to get there that will meet your traveling preferences. ISI


Victor Block has been a travel journalist for over 40 years, has traveled to nearly 80 nations, and written for major newspapers, travel websites, and guidebooks. His stories have won a number of awards, and he continues to love to explore new destinations and cultures and share his experiences with others.

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