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Article by David Leck | 10th September 2018

Ecotourism doesn't have to be expensive

Travel and tourism is worth a staggering US$7 trillion to the global economy and accounts for almost nine per cent of the world’s employment – that’s around 265 million jobs dependent on us hitting the beach, enjoying a safari, taking that city break, or whatever else it is that inspires us to head off.

While the consumer may have become more environmentally aware and modern aircraft more fuel-efficient, our annual holidays can come at a cost to the natural world and the communities we visit.

It is, however, possible to minimise the negative impact of travel, as Justin Francis, Founder and CEO of Responsible Travel – which pulls together trips from a range of more than 9,000 offered by tour operators specialising in 190 countries – explains: “We started in 2001 by featuring just two tour operators and since then have helped more than 100,000 people find their ideal holiday.

“The past 14 years have shown us companies that treat local people and places well are given access to experiences and insights others aren’t. The result is more authentic travel with real local benefits.”

There was a time when the whole notion of environmentally-responsible travel was linked to a hefty price tag but that’s no longer the case says Bob Carter, Director of Nature Travels, a company that specialises in ecotourism experiences in Sweden and Norway.

“We’ve always been keen to show ecotourism doesn’t have to mean ‘expensive’ and feel strongly responsible travel should be within the reach of everyone. An experience such as dog sledding will always be a premium level activity but, at the other end of the scale, a self-guided canoeing or kayaking holiday can be extremely affordable.”

The whole ecotourism ideal can be something of a minefield and, one suspects, there will be companies whose commitment extends little beyond a box-ticking exercise.

“There’s been a lot of discussion regarding phrases such as ‘ecotourism’, ‘green tourism’ and ‘sustainable travel’ and whether these terms are used appropriately,” adds Bob Carter.

“We believe this issue is by no means clear cut, but we start from the assumption people will invariably have to travel for their holidays. From there we do our very best to ensure what happens next, from the modes of transport used to the management of activities, creates the minimum environmental and cultural disruption.”

Although any sort of travel will be likely to have some form of environmental impact, there is a remarkably wide range of trips designed to help minimise the affect our wanderlust has on the natural world.

Safari, sand and spice

This 11-day Africa safari and beach combo from the experts at Tribes packs it all in without blowing the budget. It includes time spent in the wonderful Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania before chilling out on Zanzibar. Not only does this include a train journey to reduce your carbon footprint but the lodge used for the safari is both extremely eco-friendly and actively supports local communities. The owners of both the safari lodge and Zanzibari hotel are strongly connected with wildlife conservation so this trip scores highly on a number of levels when it comes to responsible travel.

• Visit www.tribes.co.uk, call 01473 890499. Cost: from £1,895.

Dog sledding and Northern Lights

This five-day trip centres on western Lapland in the north of Sweden and the Vindelfjällen Nature Reserve – a starkly beautiful landscape of mountain plains and ancient forest. The region is little visited but offers a spectacular environment for exploring by dog sledding. From the kennels, you will head out into the wilderness for some unforgettable days in charge of your own team of Alaskan Huskies.

Accommodation is in simple cabins and the trip is suitable for those aged 15 and over who have a general level of good fitness. The best time to catch the Northern Lights is usually around early April.

• Visit www.naturetravels.co.uk, call 01929 503080. Cost: from £827.

Japan on a shoestring

Japan has always had something of a reputation for being expensive but it’s possible to experience the Land of the Rising Sun without breaking the bank.

An eight-day journey from Responsible Travel features the uber-modern city of Tokyo, travel by the world-famous bullet train to Kyoto (the imperial capital with its Golden Temple, bamboo groves, Mount Fushimi and geisha scuttling between tea houses), and the Hakone National Park.

All journeys on this trip are made on public transport, Japanese hotels have high standards of environmental awareness and, as part of your documents, Responsible Travel supply tips for “going green” while in the country.

• Visit www.responsibletravel.com, call 01273 823700. Cost: from £700.

Cambodia by bike

Grasshopper Adventures offers more than 70 handcrafted premium bicycle and photography tours throughout Asia. Its 14-day Karma Cambodia covers much of this fascinating land from the vibrant capital Phnom Penh to the magnificent temples of Angkor and the beachside resort of Sihanoukville to mountain ranges, national parks and towns where a French colonial era charm is still much in evidence.

Environmentally-friendly two-wheeled transport is obviously the key component of the tour but, in addition, the hotel in Siem Reap supports the local community, local guides are used throughout – and the support vehicle runs on biodiesel made from recycled cooking oil. The tour uses a mix of four and five star or best available properties.

• Visit www.grasshopperadventures.com, call 020 8123 8144. Cost: US$3,600.

Northern Brazil

A new 14-day trip from Intrepid Travel makes use of hiking and bus transport to uncover the highlights of northern Brazil. It starts in Rio de Janiero and then heads to Salvador to soak in Afro-Brazilian culture in the museums and art galleries.

From there, it heads east to go hiking through the Chapada Diamantina National Park before heading to Fortaleza, known for its stunning coastline and party atmosphere. The trip finishes by jumping on a bus to chill out on the towering sand dunes of Jericoacoara.

• Visit www.intrepidtravel.com, call 0808 274 5111. Cost: from £1,825.

Scotland by rail

A combination of its leisurely pace, an increased awareness of our natural environment and – let’s be honest – the stresses that can be modern day air travel, has seen a huge increase in the allure of rail journeys.

Grappling with Scottish timetables and ferry charts is not for the faint-hearted so Responsible Travel has created a journey for those who want to experience the country’s stunning natural beauty but do it independently.

The eight-day journey takes in the West Highland Line, the Isle of Skye, Inverness and Perthshire before finishing in Edinburgh.

• Visit www.responsibletravel.com, call 01273 823700. Cost: from £1,000.

All prices are based on two people travelling and exclude flights.

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