Wednesday,  November 30, 2022  4:58 am

Earth Day: 3 tips to better embrace sustainable travel


Earth Day: 3 tips to better embrace sustainable travel
Christine Hogg

Christine Hogg is the Associate Digital Editor at PAX Global Media. Prior to joining PAX, she obtained her Honours BA in Journalism from the University of Toronto. Upon graduating, she went on to write for several travel publications while travelling the world. Her longest trip was a three-week stint in Europe, and the shortest was a 16-hour adventure in Iceland. Get in touch: christine@paxglobalmedia.com.

A new survey shows that now more than ever, Canadian travellers want to do some good while exploring the world.

The new data from Booking.com shows that almost half (48 per cent) of Canadian travellers believe that sustainable travel choices need to be made now, in order to protect the planet and preserve those destinations for future travellers and locals alike. 

Despite everyday habits at home, most travellers say that it's easy to let your guard down and accept the invitation to be pampered. 

Most people don't normally use a new towel every single day for a shower, or leave the lights on when heading out for the night, or shower three times a day for that matter.

When not properly managed, tourism-related activities contribute to climate change. The amounts of water used by showering, excessive laundry and pools in major hotel chains, for example, can severely impact a nation’s dependence on its own natural resources. 

Almost half (49 per cent) of Canadian travellers acknowledge that they find it harder to make sustainable choices while on vacation than in everyday life. More than one third (36 per cent) of Canadian travellers admit their vacation is a special time during which they do not want to think about sustainability.

In honour of Earth Day, here are three easy suggestions travel agents can offer their clients who wish to travel more sustainably, regardless of their overall vacation budget.

1) Avoid single-use plastics

Last year, countless hotels, resorts, tour operators, airlines, and cruise partners took a stand against single-use plastics, including straws.

Hard Rock, Unico 20º87º, Melia, RIU, Sandals, Royalton, Bahia Principe, Iberostar, and Marriott are just some of the major hotel brands that are encouraging guests to skip the straw, and no longer offer them with their favourite beverage. 

As part of Iberostar's Wave of Change program, no single-use plastics, including plastic water bottles are used in any of the brand's 110 hotels. If your guests are looking to go on an all-inclusive vacation, but they don't want to contribute to a plastic planet, encourage them to consider resorts who have banned single-use plastics, including straws, cups, and personal hygiene products like single-use shampoos and lotions.

Belle Mont Farm, in St. Kitts and Nevis, is an example of a luxury hotel that's been plastic-free for several years. Shampoo and conditioner are stored in ceramic jars and soaps do not come wrapped in plastic. Water is stocked in glass bottles that can be easily refilled.

The blue ceramic jars seen on the counter of the outdoor bathroom here at Belle Mont Farm, contain standard bathroom amenities like soap and shampoo for guests. By opting for ceramics, single-use plastics are eliminated.

Before the majority of hotels discontinued single-use plastics, all-inclusive resorts were notorious to contributing to waste.

On average, especially in a hot Caribbean country, visitors can use anywhere from eight to 15 small plastic cups in a day on unlimited beverages. Factor in how many guests the average resort sees in a year and the severity of the problem is much clearer.

As well as using recyclable glass bottles for drinking water, Belle Mont Farm takes it one step further and incorporates paper as a protective cover, as opposed to plastic wrap, which is still the case at many hotels around the world.

Recently, The Travel Corporation announced a single-use plastic bottle ban on all Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold, Costsaver, Brendan Vacations, Contiki, AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys coaches, which is effective as of the start of the 2019 operating season. These brands are joining sister companies Uniworld, Red Carnation Hotels and U River Cruises, which have previously removed plastic water bottles from their operations.

In fact, many cruise companies have also said no to single-use plastics, which means your guests who want to take a cruise have more sustainable options than ever before. G Adventures, for example, has banned all plastic on its yachts to the Galapagos, while back in July 2018, Hurtigruten banned plastics for its 125th birthday. MSC Cruises also recently launched a Plastic Reduction Program, and actively encourages guests to choose eco-friendly options while providing alternative solutions like biodegradable straws so no onboard experience is diminished.

Plastic straws aside, Trafalgar is also removing single-use plastic (SUP) water bottles from its coaches in 2019 as part of its continued commitment to being SUP-free on their trips by 2022.

If your guests are going somewhere that still hands out plastic cups, one easy suggestion to make to them is to tell them to pack their own reusable cup—not only will they be promoting a more sustainable lifestyle, but they can fit a lot more cocktails in there, too—they'll thank you for the tip!

2) Choose eco-friendly accommodations

According to the data by Booking.com, almost three quarters (70 per cent) of Canadian travellers intend to stay at least once in an eco-friendly accommodation when looking at the year ahead. 

When it comes to recognizing a sustainable place to stay, 82 per cent of Canadian travellers say that they are not aware of the existence of eco-labels for vacation accommodations. 

Additionally, 66 per cent of Canadian travellers say they would be more likely to book an accommodation knowing it was eco-friendly, whether they were looking for a sustainable stay or not.

Air Transat has had a sustainability policy in place since 2006.

"In 2016, Transat shifted into high gear and earned Travelife Partner status, a first step toward certification for all of its tour operator and travel agency operations," said Marie-Annick Lalande, public relations and marketing advisor, Air Transat. "In 2018, Transat became the first major international tour operator to be Travelife Certified for all its activities, so sustainability is very important to us. It is a very major factor in everything that we do. Travellers and our travel agent partners can get all the details about our actions regarding sustainability on this website here."

Agents who are looking for sustainable hotels for their clients have the option with Air Transat. All hotels that have a certification recognized by the GSTC (Global Sustainable Tourism Council) are identified by a blue leaf just below the hotel description.

According to Lalande, if agents type the word “eco” in the search engine, the words “Eco-responsible hotels” will then appear, and once the requested dates are entered, the results will display available eco-friendly hotels.

Sunwing Vacations' Memories, Royalton and CHIC resorts are proud members of Green Globe, a leader in sustainable tourism where environmentally-friendly practices are in place, like a wide range of conservation programs including comprehensive recycling programs, the elimination of plastic straws and plastic water bottles.

WestJet has also said that it is considering adding something to identify sustainability in hotels in the near future.

Air Canada Vacations does not yet have an identifying eco-label on its hotels, however Air Canada has promised to replace plastic stir sticks on board its flights with wooden sticks by summer 2019.

High ceilings, like the ones found in the rooms at Belle Mont Farm, allow for better airflow, meaning guests won't have to turn on the air conditioning as often.

The latest findings from Booking.com also state that 44 per cent of Canadians say they can't afford sustainable options.

According to Pegi Amarteifio, vice president of public relations for Small Luxury Hotels & Resorts, which has 500 sustainable, luxury boutique properties in its portfolio, there's a misconception that you can't have luxury and sustainability under one roof. 

"There's quite a lot of value for your money in choosing a smaller boutique property," Amarteifo said. "The luxury mindset has changed massively, there was a time when it was very much to do with materialism and being ostentatious, and it's really now shifted to an experience-based mindset."

However, given the rise of experiential travel, one way to significantly cut back on your carbon footprint while also have fun is to consider alternative accommodations like homestays, eco-friendly lodges, glamping, smaller boutique properties, and shared accommodations.

By incorporating sustainable building methods, like floor-to-ceiling doors that can be thrown open to let in the fresh air, at Belle Mont Farm, guests can keep cool without relying on air conditioning, and let some light in without using any electricity.

In September 2018, G Adventures introduced 'The Ripple Score' an evaluation score for its trips which indicates what percentage of a tour’s local expenditure remains in the local economy.

The average Ripple Score across its 640 scored trips is 93, meaning that 93 per cent of the money spent in-destination across these tours is spent with locally-owned businesses, benefitting local people.

Intrepid Travel is another tour operator known for offering tours that include a local stay. When everybody is under one roof, things many travellers don't consider, like electricity, air conditioning, and major food waste are reduced. 

If money is a factor for your guests, incorporating a local stay can actually be a win-win for everybody.

"We use locally-owned hotels that focus on eco-friendly practices wherever possible, and also incorporate homestays into many of our itineraries," said Darshika Jones, director of North America for Intrepid Travel. "By supporting boutique, locally-owned accommodations and having our travelers participate in homestays, we can ensure that tourist dollars are being funnelled directly into the community, supporting the local economy."

The data from Booking.com's sustainability report shows that 68 per cent of Canadians have said they'd like the money they spend on travel to go back into the local community.

Likewise, almost three quarters (72 per cent) of Canadian travellers are seeking authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture, while over two in five (42 per cent) request that travel companies offer tips on how to be more sustainable while traveling and 50 per cent of respondents say that if there was an option to offset their carbon footprint on their vacation accommodation, they would do it.

By offering your clients accommodations that incorporate a local stay or a shared accommodation, not only will they get an immersive look at the destination, but they'll feel good knowing that they've helped out.

3) Eat what's in front of you

Food is a huge part of travel. Have you actually experienced a destination if you haven't tasted its food?

Dependence on imported "comfort foods" from home can actually hurt local economies. Why? Because that food has to come from somewhere, and quite often that means long transport times, which contributes to more CO2 emissions, and more strain on natural resources.

Encourage your guests to choose resorts or hotels that have a commitment in place to focusing on local gastronomy. Sometimes, resorts can't import everything that travellers rely on at home. 

Fresh ingredients make for tasty main courses, like these ingredients grown on the property at Unico 20º87º.

Many hotels and resorts are proud to promote their local gastronomy, including Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, which actively supports locals by incorporating sustainable fishing practices— if you can't find a specific seafood on the menu, it's because it wasn't locally-sourced, says Oscar Gonzalez, marketing manager of Iberostar Hotels & Resorts.

Most recently, Iberostar partnered with Cuban company Logística Hotelera del Caribe S.A. (LHC) in order to sustainably revamp menus in its Cuban resorts. 

“In the past, travellers sometimes suffered from a lack of stocks, or fresh materials,” Gonzalez explained, “but with these new logistics platforms, we’re able to cover the gap, and we can offer the same standards in all Iberostar Caribbean destinations.”

Over at Unico 20º87º in Riviera Maya, Mexico, fresh, regional ingredients like cilantro, tomatoes, and chili peppers are grown in greenhouses right on the property, and incorporated into the menus at all four restaurants.

Try to eat local meals as much as you can while on vacation. Not only do they taste great, but they significantly cut back on your carbon footprint abroad.

Hotels with cooking classes included in your guests stay are another great way to get them thinking more sustainably, while also learning more about the destination.

Many tour operators also offer exceptional food tours that can be a stand-alone trip, or an add-on experience.

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