Colleagues and Connections
Ron Mader is the host of the Planeta.com website, a wonderful source of information on nature-based tourism, with special emphasis on the Americas. Check out his online Resource Guide to "Exploring Ecotourism in the Americas" www.planeta.com and the special feature on the International Year of Ecotourism www.planeta.com/ecotravel/tour/year.html to participate in special events.
In any business sector, there are good business operators and there are poor ones. Poor ones can improve, and even good ones can go down hill. So what should a traveler do when selecting a tour operator? Ask enough questions to gain an understanding of their philosophy, and then check out a few references.
Two companies in which I have a great deal of confidence are Journeys International and Wildland Adventures. I have no financial interest in either company, but their owners were personal friends first, and I watched them grow their companies into award-winning successes.
Journeys International Incorporated is one of the originators and leaders in environmentally and culturally responsible tourism. You can e-mail them for more information at [email protected]. Journeys was one of the first responsible tour operators to create a not-for-profit, the "Earth Preservation Fund, to support resource conservation in the countries visited.
Wildland Adventures offers outstanding trips with careful attention to the environmental and cultural impacts. You can e-mail them for more information at [email protected].
How can we move travelers around, and yet keep the environmental impacts to a minimum? Even the most obvious answers have their drawbacks. One might like to think that walking is benign, but a quick look at well-used hiking trails in popular areas will reveal how much physical damage a foot can do. The type of shoe and the choice of where it is placed will also affect the level of impact. A rule of thumb is to wear shoes that are softer than the surfaces you are walking on. If you encounter a softer surface, avoid it. Mosses, lichens, many coral surfaces, stream banks, and soft soils should be given a wide berth.
What about other modes of transportation? Canoes, kayaks, and sailing vessels seem inherently able to offer low-impact transportation. Animal power is another option. Horses and mules used for riding or as pack animals usually have iron shoes on their feet. These cut into trail surfaces, wearing away even hard rock. Llamas have pads on their feet that are less damaging to trails.
Many of the fascinating places in remote corners of the planet require travel to get to them. And increasing numbers of visitors are traveling greater distances to see these interesting corners. Air travel is the mode of choice and unfortunately airplanes are one of the major contributors to the gases causing climate change. For the entire cycle of tourism to become more sustainable, we need to find ways to reduce the travel that uses fossil fuels.
(Your suggestions for links to transportation sites are very welcome.)
Lodges and Facilities
Nestled in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia, USA, Thorn Run Inn Bed and Breakfast is a business dedicated to operating in an environmentally friendly way.
Bristol Group for Tourism Research is part of the University of the West of England, in the United Kingdom. (www.tourism-research.org)
BEST Business Enterprises for Sustainable Travel is an initiative of The Conference Board in association with the World Travel & Tourism Council. (www.sustainabletravel.org)
International Ecotourism Society (IES) is a non-profit association of members drawn from all aspects of the nature-based travel spectrum: operators, travelers, conservationists, researchers, travel agents, students, and others. (www.ecotourism.org)
Conservation International has a program dedicated to developing the ecotourism potential of parks and protected areas. CI also organizes special tours. (www.conservation.org)
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) promotes the conservation of biodiversity in the USA and internationally. (www.nature.org)
World Wildlife Fund - US (WWF-US) promotes ecotourism and organizes special trips to visit outstanding sites. (www.wwfus.org)
UNEP - World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) is the data-gathering engine for global biodiversity assessments and national park surveys. The site has loads of information on many of the outstanding natural wonders of the world. (www.unep-wcmc.org)
World Conservation Union (IUCN) brings together governments and civil society with scientists to track the status of biodiversity, sustainable development, and the future of many of the sites and countries nature-related travelers hope to visit. (www.iucn.org)
Sustainable Development for West Virginia is a regional association of businesses dedicated to advancing a sustainable future for the state of West Virginia in the eastern part of the United States. (www.sustainabledevelopmentforwv.com>