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Sustainable Tourism and Ecotourism Grow as Certification Standards Emerge, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Ecotourism and “ecospas” are all the rage, particularly among affluent travelers seeking a soothing retreat and a respite from the daily grind back home.  Ecotourism, as a philosophy used by a hotel in design, construction and operation, generally has goals that include:  conservation of electricity, water and other natural resources; sensitivity to the surrounding natural environment, ecosystem, wildlife (and sometimes native peoples); use of organic ingredients in the hotel kitchen (which may include items from a hotel’s own organic garden); and a peaceful, soothing environment throughout the hotel property (which may include such elements as extensive landscaping with native plants, running water, Zen-like gardens and areas that encourage contemplation, meditation and relaxation).  
“Sustainable tourism” is another phrase used to describe this sector.  It might be tempting to use the word “minimalist” to label some eco-properties, but the fact is that they tend to include high levels of luxurious coddling (e.g., thick towels in marble-lined bathrooms) to help justify high room rates and menu prices.  Ecospas are standard features in ecofriendly hotels.
Hotels involved in ecotourism are becoming touchy about the standards that should be met in order to be considered ecofriendly.  Accordingly, organizations have sprung up to certify ecofriendly properties.  For example, there is Costa Rica’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism.  Green Globe ( is a program established in 1994 by the World Travel & Tourism Council.  Australia has the Earthcheck program ( developed by the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Center.  The Blue Flag campaign ( is a Danish organization that names ecofriendly beaches and marinas in dozens of countries.  Typically, these organizations charge fees to the hotels involved, and may require periodic on-site audits of the properties.
Another travel option gaining popularity is adventure travel that affords customers everything from rock climbing to distance cycling to white water rafting to black diamond slope skiing.  Alaskan travelers on Un-Cruise Adventures’ small ships are offered gentle to hard core adventure options such as whale watching or glacier hiking.  Passengers regularly see brown bear, porpoises, bald eagles and humpback whales, but can also book spa appointments and enjoy gourmet meals and wines.  A new type of travel offering is “social impact travel,” which include activities such as planting trees in rainforests, teaching English in schools or building water filtration systems in destinations such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

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