Today we’re excited to launch a new set of interviews under the theme of ecotourism and sustainable travel, a topic that is steadily growing in importance with travellers around the globe each day. For our first chat in the series, we sit down with Bret Love, one half (along with his partner, Mary Gabbett) of Green Global Travel to hear about the issues involved and what we, as world travelers, can do to be more responsible.
1. Hey Bret! For those that don’t know about you, could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and your experience travelling the world?
Sure! I’m a veteran freelance writer/photographer who, in 2010, became the co-founder (with my partner, Mary Gabbett) and Editor In Chief of Green Global Travel, a web-based magazine devoted to ecotourism, nature/wildlife conservation and sustainable living. As for my experience traveling the world, it all started when I was 11 and went on a 3-week tour of Italy with the Atlanta Boy Choir, which culminated in me singing for Pope John Paul II in the Vatican 5 days after my 12th birthday. When I became a writer, I started out in music and had a monthly world music column. That’s definitely where my fascination with foreign cultures started.
2. What is about ecotourism/responsibly-minded travel that appeals to you?
Quite a few things. First off, I love nature and wildlife. Secondly, I love finding exciting adventures off-the-beaten-path, whether it be safaris in Africa or swimming through cenotes in the Riviera Maya or snorkeling with sharks and sea lions in the Galapagos Islands. Lastly, I think it’s the right thing to do, for ourselves and for the planet. Humanity has mucked things up in so many ways since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and ecotourism helps to preserve the few pristine places our planet has left. Honestly, I can’t imagine traveling any other way.
3. As travellers what are some basic steps we can follow to travel more responsibly and help preserve the world for future generations?
Save water by taking shorter showers, hanging towels up rather than having them washed each day, and NEVER use the hotel laundry. Turn off all lights and A/C when you leave your room, and leave the Do Not Disturb sign up to keep them from cleaning it every day. Buy directly from local artists to ensure your money supports the local economy, and never buy anything made from endangered species, unsustainable hardwoods or ancient artifacts. Most importantly, be a traveler, not a tourist: Step outside your comfort zone, embrace indigenous cultures, get to know the locals, and honor their traditions even if they differ from your own.
4. What difficulties does an eco-tourist face? What are the main things that obstruct the growth of this sector of the travel industry?
I’d say the biggest threats are progress, consumerism, globalization and the developing world’s fascination with Western culture. It’s becoming harder to find authentic travel experiences that aren’t commodified and sanitized for your protection (or profit), and modern-day colonial imperialism ensures that ancient ways are dying off about as frequently as endangered species… Ecotourism is all about preserving natural spaces and cultural traditions.
5. What are some great eco-tourism projects that you have had first hand experience of?
We were really impressed by the Galapagos Islands, which we explored in-depth last year. Ecuador has really led the way in terms of setting the standard by which other ecotourism and environmental conservation ventures are measured, and the remarkable thing is that they’ve been doing it since the 1950s. Did you know, for instance, that you couldn’t move to the Galapagos Islands if you wanted to? They’re so hands-on in protecting the species there, and limiting the number of tourists and the ways tourists can impact the islands, that the wildlife has absolutely no fear of humans. It’s arguably among the most remarkable places a nature/wildlife lover could ever go.
6. What regions of the world are most advanced in eco-tourism, which areas have a long way to go? How can they improve?
So far we’ve been most impressed by Latin America and the Caribbean. In EthicalTraveler.org‘s 2012 list of the world’s most ethical travel destinations, six of the Top 10 (Argentina, Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Uruguay) were from this region. Add in places like the Galapagos Islands, the Peruvian Amazon and the north coast of the Dominican Republic, and you have some of our favorite destinations in the world. As for areas that have a long way to go, Africa and Asia are both facing huge challenges, particularly in terms of sustainable development and making sure ecotourism initiatives benefit local communities. Ecotourism is all about valuing long-term benefits over short-term profits, but it’s hard to preach that philosophy to people in impoverished nations who are struggling to survive.
7. How does your writing voice and article choice on GGT facilitate the promotion of eco-tourism and conservation? What is your mission?
Our tagline is “Saving the world, one story at a time,” and our mission is encouraging people to travel and live more responsibly and sustainably. By focusing on our travels to ecotourism destinations and our experiences with wildlife conservation and indigenous cultures, we encourage people to explore these things in their own travels, helping ecotourism initiatives become more financially sustainable in the process. While that all sounds very serious, the truth is that our adventures are a helluva lot of fun! We hope that our stories, photos and videos will convey that sense of fun and show people that ANYONE can enjoy a life of ecotourism adventure.
8. How varied is the eco-tourism industry? What types of projects are there out there for all demographics?
It’s incredibly varied, from cheap backpacking treks on up to eco-luxury options like our forthcoming trip to Churchill, Manitoba, where we’ll be hanging with polar bears in an “Arctic Tundra Lodge.” I mean, camping is ecotourism as long as you haul out all your trash and don’t destroy native flora and fauna. From voluntourism and WWOOFing to upscale tour operators like Natural Habitat Adventures and International Expeditions, there are ecotourism options for people of every age, budget and fitness level.
9. What kind of response have you had to your promotion of eco-tourism and conservation values? Are readers/other travellers generally receptive?
It’s interesting, because ecotourism is still a developing travel niche, but it is rapidly growing. Most people we meet generally respond well to it, but I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what ecotourism looks like. You don’t have to be a tree-hugging hippie to be eco-friendly; you just have to make smart, considered choices. With things like LEED and Green Globe Certification and organizations like the UN’s Global Sustainable Tourism Council becoming more widely-known, I think “green travel” will grow exponentially over the next five years.
10. Finally, if a reader takes only one thing away from this interview and your words, what do you hope that might be?
That ecotourism is fun, easy and accessible, and it’s also a fountain of youth. When I was a kid, I loved Indiana Jones movies, and now I feel like I’m living my own Indy adventure (without all the Nazis). Exploring Mayan ruins in Coba, Mexico; watching a 1000-pound loggerhead turtle lay eggs in Dominica; finding 2000-year-old archaeological relics in Panama; jumping off 30-foot waterfalls in the Dominican Republic… these are memories I’ll treasure for the rest of my life, and I believe they keep me MUCH younger than my 43 years. Life is short, and I highly encourage people to get out there and live it to the fullest.
To read more about Bret and Mary and to find out more about ecotourism and sustainable travel make sure you click over to their fantastic online magazine Green Global Travel. You can also connect with them on Twitter.
If you have a blog you would like to talk about, contact us.