Every year I visit the World Travel Market in London which brings together 50,000 buyers and sellers from every sector in the global travel industry. From a NoCrowds perspective, this business-to-business travel extravaganza typically provides a useful opportunity to see where mass tourism is headed and how not to go there.
This year, there was a very encouraging emphasis placed on the whole concept of “responsible tourism” which aims to minimise the negative economic, environmental and social impacts of travel. But I was interested in the overlap between people who are interested in this trend and the old NoCrowds values of being fed up with mass tourism and travellers looking for more fulfilment and enrichment from their travels.
I was particularly interested in stress testing the usual “blah blah” about protecting environments, respecting local cultures and benefiting local communities, to see if, and how, these ideas were being delivered in the products and services of the travel industry. And I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, there were quite a number of companies at WTM who are practicing what they preach and adding real value for travellers. There are also more and more sources of good information to help all of us make better travel choices and therefore have better experiences. Here is a list of some of the organisations I saw at WTM who seem to be actively making a difference in an interesting way.
An Innovative Tour Operator
Intrepid Travel – an Australia-based small group adventure tour operator established in 1989 and winner of this year’s Best Responsible Travel Company. My sense is that if you want to travel with a group, this outfit does a good job in insuring that you get off the beaten track and have authentic experiences with like minded individuals. You can also take comfort from the fact that this company works hard to benefit local communities.
A Responsible On-line Tour Agent
http://www.responsibletravel.com/ – an online travel agent established in 2001 claiming to have pre-screened over 270 businesses for their “responsibility” credentials. There is a wealth of useful information on their website and they seem to be leading or involved with most of the initiatives that are working to push the industry to clean up its act.
Responsible Ski Resorts
Ski Club of Great Britain’s Respect the Mountain Campaign – The Ski Club of Great Britain takes a serious look at the whole issue of safe guarding the alpine environment and the long-term future of skiing. Included on their site is environmental information on all the major resorts. In a related note, Whistler Blackcomb Mountain Resorts in British Columbia, Canada, won this year’s Responsible Tourism award for Best Mountain Environment, Jackson Hole was nominated for its ISO 14001 accreditation and Aspen in Colorado won the award for Best Destination based on the town’s many green “firsts” which is hard to imagine with all the private jets and mega-chalets, but the award was sponsored by Lonely Planet and they should know.
Environmentally Friendly Train Travel
The Man in Seat 61 – Another winner at the Responsible Tourism Awards, this really engaging site provides everything you need to know to take a train to almost anywhere in the world, and if you think switching to trains won’t make much of a contribution to improving the environment, consider this; one round trip plane journey from London to Barcelona emits 277 kg/Co2 per passenger versus 44 kg/Co2 per passenger by train. Source: the Observer).
Ol Malo, Kenya – Based in Samburuland, this lodge and charitable trust offer authentic experiences to travellers while helping to reduce poverty in the local Samburu community. Much grander and more expensive, although also commendable for its work on conservation of endangered species, is the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in South Africa.
Adventures with a Conscience and a Purpose – Both Biosphere Expeditions and Blue Ventures offer hands-on volunteer conservations expeditions that are highly commended.