Green Travel

Green Travel

Trends in Ecotourism

by Katrina Shum 
The International Ecotourism Society

Ecotourism is travel with ethics. It has, in essence, three core tenants: 1) protect and enhance the natural environment, 2) respect local cultures and provide tangible benefits to host communities, and 3) be educational and enjoyable for the traveler. LOHAS and ecotourism are part of the same growing consumer movement focused on sustainable living, social justice, and personal development.

Ecotourism emerged from the environmental movement of the late 1970s. By the early 1990s, it was the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry, expanding globally between 20% and 34% per year. In 2004, ecotourism and nature tourism were growing three times faster than the global tourism industry as a whole (UNWTO). In 2002, LOHAS found that ecotourism was a $77 billion market in the U.S alone.

According to Travel Weekly, sustainable tourism could grow to 25% of the world’s travel market by 2012, taking the value of the sector to approximately $473 billion a year. The following are current trends in the dynamic field of ecotourism:

Travelers Philanthropy

There is a growing source of international development aid, spearheaded by ecotourism companies, to support community projects in host destinations. Increasingly, conscientious companies and travelers are providing “time, talent, and treasure” to further the well being of host communities. Travelers’ Philanthropy projects are helping to empower local communities by providing social services, jobs, skills, ownership, education, and environmental stewardship.

Case-in-point: After a trek in Nepal, Dr. Antonia Neubauer, founder of Myths and Mountains, a Nevada-based travel company, asked her Sherpa guide what he would do for his village. “Build a library,” he responded. That library project has since evolved into READ (Read Education and Development), which is today a network of 40 community-owned and operated libraries across Nepal.  Myths and Mountains donates $50 from every traveler to support READ. For about $46,000, READ builds a library; stocks it with 3,000-5,000 books; trains locals; and funds sustainable community projects. The program won the 2006 Access to Learning Award from the Gates Foundation. 


Closely linked to Travelers Philanthropy is the movement for “Voluntourism,” active, hands-on, volunteer vacations that address global issues of environmental degradation and poverty alleviation, while fostering understanding between visitors and host communities. Its origins trace back to the days of healers, explorers, and sailors who traveled while offering services to those in need. With growing awareness of global citizenship and social responsibility, it is no surprise that “voluntourism” is booming. According to Peter Yesawich, CEO of America's leading hospitality marketing agency, 6% of all U.S. active travelers took a volunteer vacation last year.

: Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) is a not-for-profit organization that uses volunteer visitors to protects tropical marine environments. CCC’s Fiji Reef Conservation project is just one example of a two week trip that trains volunteers to collect scientific information, which is then used to provide recommendations for the sustainable management and conservation of coral reefs and tropical forests.

Carbon Offsets for Travel:

There are increasing concerns about global warming and the effects of carbon dioxide produced from flights, road trips, and other fossil-fuel based recreation. Air transportation alone is believed to produce between 4%-10% of greenhouse gases worldwide. A range of businesses are taking responsibility for reducing their “carbon footprint” by decreasing emissions and donating to tree planting, forest protection, and solar, wind and other renewable energy projects.

Cases in point:

-          Carbon Offset Companies:  Dozens of companies help travelers calculate the greenhouse gas emissions caused by their travel and then “offset” the impact. Vermont-based company, NativeEnergy, collects “carbon offset” donations to invest in Native American-owned farm projects such as wind turbines, solar arrays, and a manure digester project that powers a 160 kW generator to displace fossil fuel and methane emissions.


-          Travel Websites: Expedia and Travelocity have developed programs for travelers to buy carbon offsets when purchasing tickets online. Expedia has partnered with TerraPass to offer “Carbon Balanced Flyer” luggage tags. For about $5.99, travelers can offset approximately 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide.


-          Airlines: NatureAir, based in Costa Rica, is the first airline to pledge to offset all its fights. The airline launched a program to financially support sustainable reforestation in Costa Rica, through a system outlined in the Kyoto Protocol, and is conducting research into alternative energy sources such as ethanol and pig waste.


-          Ski Resorts: With snow melting two to three weeks sooner than it used to in the 1950s, it is no surprise that 46 U.S. resorts are investing in renewable energy sources. Nineteen are offsetting 100% of their energy use through wind-power credits. Leading the industry is Aspen Skiing Company, with a purchase of 21,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of renewable energy credits, the largest purchase in U.S. ski history, Aspen will keep nearly 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.


Green Architecture:

Organic gardens, native landscaping, solar and wind power, waste water composting, rain water harvesting, gray water irrigation, and recycled building material are a few of the signs of the burgeoning field of ‘green’ architecture linked to tourism.  Small ecolodge owners and luxury chains are beginning to recognize the ecological and often economic benefits of green architecture. 

: Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has a global reputation for environmental stewardship through its Green Partnership Guide, a 17-step process to sustainable best practices in the lodging industry. Each property has developed initiatives that support the corporate commitment to reduce the ecological footprints of its properties. For example, by simply changing 40 watt incandescent to 9 watt compact florescent bulbs, Fairmont San Francisco reduced 351,942 kilowatt-hours with an annual cost savings of $41,564.



Many family-owned farms are tapping into travelers’ interest in rural heritage and lifestyle.  Through agroecotourism, farmers generate additional income by hosting visitors, educating the public, and promoting farm products. In Vermont alone, income from farm based tourism activities generated $19.5 million in 2002, representing approximately four percent of the total gross farm income.

Case-in-point: Shelburne Farms is a 1, 400-acre working farm, National Historic Landmark and a nonprofit environmental education center that hosts some 66,000 visitors per year.  Originally built in 1886 as a private country estate of William Webb, his descendants have turned the estate into model of agroecotourism. According to Director Alec Webb, Shelburne Farms is an educational center that uses a sustainably managed landscape as a classroom to foster an appreciation for the natural world and demonstrate stewardship in sustainable forestry, dairy-making, and cheese-making. Shelburne Farms received the 2006 National Conservation Achievement Award from The National Wildlife Federation for its environmental stewardship.

These are just a few trends that highlight ecotourism principles of environmental and social stewardship. To further promote responsible travel, The International Ecotourism Society is hosting a Global Ecotourism Conference in Oslo, Norway from May 14-16, 2007 and a North American Ecotourism Conference in Madison, Wisconsin from September 26-28, 2007.  

The International Ecotourism Society

Global Ecotourism Conference

North American Ecotourism

Travelers' Philanthropy

READ Global

Coral Cay Corporation

Green Architecture:
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Shelburne Farms