Sustainable travel trends are on the up. Travelling and discovering new landscapes and cultures is something that we, the lucky minority on this earth, cannot imagine our life without. Flying to our destination is already an unsustainable act. We already begin our trip with a negative impact on the environment. So what can we do to try and swing the balance back?
Insider Guide to Sustainable Travel Choices
1. Be Better Informed..
ECO, ORGANIC and SUSTAINABLE are buzz words which are (unfortunately) often times abused by companies. This is because of the growing demand to “do the right thing”.
Prime example: Our director Carmen recently had a casual meeting with a friend. He explained that he had just returned from Africa, where he had been shooting elephants. Observing the colour drain from Carmen’s face and quickly wanting to ease the expression of pure shock he went on to explain himself. “No, no, it was to help the conservation. Only the males are shot, otherwise there is an imbalance in the population and they can destroy the plantations.”
Seriously? it seemed to us to be completely barbaric that anyone would pay 10 or 20 thousand euros for this. We ask “Are you so concerned about helping with the environment that you will pay this money to shoot an elephant? Did it occur to you that the conservation ‘story’ is something that the hunting company sold to you?” Did the story sold to this person destroy the last vestige of remorse, as he pulled the trigger on the gun he paid good money to handle?
As unbelievable as it may seem, this story is 100% true. While we are still reeling from the shock, it’s a reality day on day, year on year. Ok so this is an extreme example, but how many companies use the ‘eco’ buzz words just because it sells. What happened to really meaning it when you use these words. Having a solar panel on your accommodation doesn´t make you an eco warrior, not if you don´t follow it up with something a bit more meaningful.
The only way to know what it is that you are really buying when you invest in the term ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’ is to do your research and pay attention. Ask questions. Your common sense will tell you what, or who is doing the right thing once you scratch beneath the surface.
2. Not All Local Produce Is Good Produce
Again we’re using just one example among many. We support a local organic sweet potato farming business in the desert of Soo. They cultivate exquisite produce, highly valued by all Canary Islands. Their traditional style of dryland manual farming, is beneficial for the insects and birds. Not to mention the fields look like works of art.
We are working on projects to help these farmers with getting more benefits to help them. They have a very difficult time. The dryland farming however sustainable produces lower yield than other farming methods which coexists in the desert. Fields irrigated by grey water contain not only fecal matter but also household chemicals in addition to remnants of salt and heavy metals. Don´t forget that all water in Lanzarote comes from the ocean and passes an incomplete desalination process.
Ironically its a fact that many of the “efficient” farmers don´t eat their own produce. Either they have a little organic field for their personal use or they buy their food from the organic farmers. The catch is that if in the store you see sweet potatoes from Lanzarote, you assume that they are good. Not always the case.
Furthermore, what happens when an organic farmer leaves his plantation abandoned? The flora and fauna of the desert take it back and happily feed on it. It later becomes a sterile land.
So, you as a tourist can help. Tourists are actually the majority population passing through Lanzarote. You can make a difference. Your voice counts. Of course it is impossible for most people to buy everything organic (financially and timewise) but there is a chance to help. At least ask. If people keep asking for organic, more and more farmers will be motivated to take that path. You will contribute to protect the compassionate and beautiful farming, the environment and all living beings within it. Not forgetting your own health benefits.
3. Time To Explore And Conquer
Why choose to book a responsible tour with a company like ours? We have taken the time to choose our routes carefully, not just because we want to be safe and of course legal too but because we can see the effects of irresponsibly trekking across land. We urge those of you who like the open outdoors but wish to stay completely independent, to stay on the paths! If you don´t know whether you are allowed to set foot on a piece of terrain, ask authorities (National Park Visitors Centre, Tourism Information office, the City council)
As our Earth is dealing with ever growing overpopulation, our little island has the same problem. Last year we welcomed 7.3 million tourists who came through the airport doors. Imagine if everyone wants to discover and explore the unspoilt land. What about the nature?
Example time! In Lanzarote, we now have five breeding pairs of egyptian vulture. We once had four, but in recent years we’ve gained a new pair in a protected area close to the Cactus Garden. The authorities closed access to all professional nature companies between March & June. We all respect this action, however, the breeding last year was unsuccessful due to continuous disturbances by people who arrived on their own.
We’re pretty sure that the people who entered the area had no bad intentions. To go there in the first place you have to be a nature lover. If they saw the Vultures or Falcons circling above their heads they probably wanted to take pictures and enjoy the communion with nature. But what is really happening? The birds do not circle around people´s head for fun. We want to see them but they don´t want to see us. They are simply defending their nest.
The birds sit on their eggs not only to protect them from the cold but also from the sun. Long sun exposure can literally cook the eggs, but there will be some people who will have great pictures of vultures from last year. What is more important? We urge Lanzarote holidaymakers to approach the nature with care, respect and stay informed. Leave minimal impact.
We don´t even talk about aggressive and very harmful so called “fun” tours like quads bikes, buggies. So called adventure jeep safaris and speedboats. Nature cannot be a part of our adrenalin, or love of daring selfies. At least not without paying a price later down the line. Nature has so much to teach us, but in many places there is little or no chance for us to learn the lesson. The delicate connections have already been altered or destroyed by ignorance, greed, indifference and selfishness.
4. Don´t Be Afraid To Create An Experience…
We can all agree that the ecological disaster we are careering towards (at high speed) is largely due to the greed of big corporations, corrupt governments and public demand for better lifestyle. Consumer ignorance is one way to put it. Small companies cannot compete with huge concerns in price.
Clever marketing can make it seem like the right choice is to buy cheap. Well known products which we trust are easy and accessible. Somewhere though, someone is paying the price.
In the long run, it will be all of us paying the price.. The very same people who went the easy and comfortable way. Mostly our children and grand children actually. They will be the ones who will pay the ultimate price. We all know these things. This final section is all about one simple thing. Do not be afraid to look for the authentic experience.
How better to end our discussion on sustainable travel, than with (drum roll) another example! The last one, we promise 😉
“I’m always interested in brainstorming ideas and listening to other people’s experiences. At the end of last year, I had a very pleasant reunion in London with some small business owners with different types of sustainable tour companies. Each company is specialised in their own unique brand of tour from all over Europe. One of the conversations caught my attention.
There is a big internet platform which in the past, has worked just by sharing customer references rating places and experiences. Can you guess who they are? This is all great, because we the consumer can get a really good completely unbiased feedback on the places we want to visit. This was true, until few years ago, then they created a tour operator site to bolt onto their review website. They contacted all of the top rating businesses and offered to resell their products for a 25% commission. I was surprised to learn that some of the smaller companies, in particular those who cannot afford to pay such a commission and still remain competitive – had seen a sudden drop in their ranking! Only after not agreeing to pay a commission rate though.
The lesson here is: Don´t always go for the obvious choices. Something that seems the best, may not be the best at all. Anybody can agree to pay for their ranking. Have you ever started researching a subject on the Internet, suddenly within hours you start getting offers in your newsfeeds to consume on that subject? This is called an electronic fingerprint I believe, and this is how the big players make it easy for us to consume what they want us to consume. They mainly choose to push the items which will make a small amount of people richer, faster.
By opting for the easy and the obvious the consumer only feeds the system, thus skipping the small and unique companies built from passion, with an ethical way of running their businesses rather than motives ruled by greed. The obvious choice seems familiar and therefore safe, but eventually it starts becoming beige and with no colour or flavour. It’s diversity that makes travelling so wonderful. Meeting different people, gaining access to different points of view, the independent way.
We work with a trekking group who have a slogan which is so funny and so true: “The experience doesn´t always have to be pleasant as long as it is memorable”. Discovering, learning, living.
Please, do your homework when travelling and don´t go for the easy option or even the most obvious. Find the rebel in you and don´t make it so easy for the greedy few. Finally, when you find it, share it. Support your fellow small business owners and be transparent in everything you do. Here are some links to amazing “small companies” I’ve encountered by doing my own homework. All of these are worth checking out if you’re in their area:
Almaty, Kazachstan: http://www.walkingalmaty.com/
Last but not least: Lanzarote: www.eco-insider.com of course!