Top 10...environmentally friendly travel companies

| 3rd June 2011
Eschewing mass tourism for small groups, conservation and community involvement, Valentina Jovanovski has the lowdown on the green travel companies making a positive difference

Next week marks the first ever Green Tourism Week; an initiative launched by the Green Tourism Business Scheme last October. But Green Tourism Week isn’t alone in its drive to promote a greener way to travel. Nominations are currently being gathered for the Responsible Tourism Awards, which will be presented on 9th November - World Responsible Tourism Day. Even the UN’s World Environment Day (5th June) is getting in on the act, with a host of initiatives aimed at boosting environmentally conscious travel scheduled in.

It’s not all awards and world days though. Ethical travel company, Gap Year for Grown Ups, estimates that more than 100,000 of us choose trips that involve volunteering or conservation each year. While it doesn’t compare to the numbers heading off on package trips to Magaluf and Faliraki, it’s a positive start. So what does eco-tourism really mean? The International Eco-tourism Society defines eco-tourism as being ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.’ Although it sounds straightforward, some less scrupulous companies call their activities eco-tourism when in reality, all they offer is a carbon offsetting scheme - even though this has become standard practice for many travel companies. If that’s left you unsure of where to look: read on for the 10 responsible travel companies that are putting Thomas Cook and co to shame.

Responsible Travel
Why we love it:
Created in 2001, Responsible Travel requires companies offering holidays via its site to meet strict environmental, social and economic criteria. Once they’ve been screened by Responsible Travel, these companies, ranging from tour operators to hotels, can promote their services on the website. The real benefit for green travellers is that Responsible Travel does the legwork for you, which means there won’t be any last minute worries. All offers featured on the site have to meet sustainability requirements, summaries of which are published close by. Packages vary and include adventure holidays, luxury trips and volunteer travel.
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Natural Discovery
Why we love it:
An easy way to sort out your staycation, Natural Discovery offers tourists eco friendly accommodation across England, Wales and Scotland. Options include large hotels and small bed and breakfasts such as the Coach House; a cottage with its own rainwater harvesting system and a beautiful private garden in East Sussex. If you book your accommodation with Natural Discovery, the company will offset your travel using a variety of methods, including donating energy efficient lightbulbs to its hoteliers and working with the EcoSchools Initiative. You can also book a Discovery Break, which includes information on local history, culture and cuisine along with a stay in an eco-friendly accommodation. All accommodation, suppliers, and service providers are signed up to the company’s environmental policy, which can be checked on their website.
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Good Travel Company
Why we love it: Whether you’re after a beach holiday, a safari or a party, the Good Travel Company has an eco-friendly trip for you. Connections are made by train whenever possible, and the company also offers longer journeys by rail, including trips across Russia, Mongolia and China. All hotels, packages and tours recieve an environmental audit before being added to the site, with energy use, recycling policies and use of local labour and products all taken into account. A sustainability scorecard, displaying the trip’s environmental footprint, community connection and architectural conservation score, is displayed for each destination.
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National Geographic Expeditions
Why we love it: Creating eco-expeditions for the adventurous, National Geographic Expeditions has high-end eco tours to destinations on all seven continents with all proceeds directed to National Geographic research programmes. Travellers are encouraged to support local communities and are taken by tour operators to schools and workshops where local artisans sell their goods. National Geographic also tries to support sustainability initiatives in the fragile environments where many of its excursions are located. A typical example is a trip to the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans; the habitat of the endangered mountain gorilla. The lodge is owned by a Rwandan community trust and profits are used to finance local socioeconomic and conservation initiatives.
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Small World Journeys
Why we love it: Small World Journeys offers travel packages to some of Australian’s most pristinely perfect destinations in groups of no more than 10. The intimate size of the group ensures a unique experience and also limits the environmental impact. The company takes measures to reduce its own ecological footprint by offsetting the emissions from its office activities and travel, planting one tree in the Australian rainforest for every person who participates in the tours and donating two per cent of net profits to conservation organisations. Adventure seekers will love the package to Cairns, which includes white-water rafting, a guided rainforest walk and diving in the Great Barrier Reef.
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Baobab Travel
Why we love it: Baobab focuses on African destinations, including Kenya, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa. The frequently remote locations are home to sensitive ecosystems and unique, indigenous cultures, which is why Baobab has a responsible travel policy in place to safeguard the communities it works with. Baobab avoids mass tourism and only offers accommodation that makes use of local produce and suppliers. In South Africa, for example, it uses businesses that are certified by the Fair Trade Tourism accreditation programme. The company is also involved in a project at Dalukhanyo Pre-School in South Africa where it’s trying to secure funding for basic supplies and infrastructure improvements.
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Pure Mountains
Why we love it: One for fans of all things pedal-powered and Spanish, Pure Mountains offers cycling enthusiasts the chance to mountain bike through one of Spain’s most beautiful regions and stay in its own farmhouse situated in the Sierra Nevada Natural Park in the Alpujarra region of Andalucía. The owners of the company live in the solar-powered farmhouse and meals for guests are made using locally sourced ingredients. Kitchen waste is composted and all unnecessary packaging or disposable products, such paper napkins and plates, are avoided where possible. Mountain biking holidays are run all year round, but if you want to get the most out of your cycling holiday, go in July or August to take advantage of the long summer days and warm nights.
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Steppes Discovery
Why we love it: Steppes was one of the first eco-tourism companies to launch and offers wildlife and conservation holidays that also help to protect wilderness areas, having raised in excess of £750,000 over the last 14 years for conservation charities. Where possible, smaller, family-owned and run partner companies are used to ensure economic benefits stay within the local community, whether in Europe, South America or Africa. You can even plan your holiday according to which type of wildlife you’d like to encounter. Try Botswana, India or Zambia for rhinos or if grizzly bears are more your thing, check out British Columbia, Canada.
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Nature Travels
Why we love it: Specialists in outdoor adventure travel to Sweden, Nature Travels offers summer packages that include canoeing, timber rafting, horse riding and kayaking, plus winter packages that include cross-country skiing and dog sledding. The company donates two per cent of its profits to conservation efforts in Sweden and includes a donation of £4.15 per person to Climate Care in the price of every package to offset the impact of travel. Nature Travels only uses local, small-scale service providers for its operations in Sweden, all of which meet strict sustainability criteria.
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Adventure Company
Why we love it: Another adventure travel specialist, the Adventure Company performs an environmental audit of all its trips, ensuring trekking guides are followed, litter is disposed of properly and water sources and cooking fuels are eco friendly. The company also offsets the emissions from its employees’ work-related travel and energy use in its offices. In accordance with the International Porter Protection Group and Tourism Concern, Adventure Company has a porter protection policy for countries where porters support its treks. The company partners with local charities and organisations, donating £14,000 to community groups in one year and linking schools in the UK with schools in its destinations through a pen pal scheme.
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Discovery Initiatives
Why we love it: Discovery Initiatives’ tours certainly aren’t your average wildlife-watching trip, conducted, as they are, in the company of research scientists. Discovery’s ethos is all about combining education and conservation with a holiday, providing a totally unique experience in the process. A typical example is the ‘Rainforest Study Tour’ to Sabah in Borneo, which allows you access to the rarely seen inhabitants of the tree canopy. Discovery has partnerships with conservation NGOs in all of its locations, including the Galapagos Conservation Trust, The Orangutan Foundation and the Eden Project, all of whom benefit financially from Discovery’s tours.
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