Last updated: August 2009
If you want a guilt-free trip this summer then go on a travel diet says Simon Birch
Are you going anywhere nice for your holidays this summer? Over the next few months millions of us across the country will be packing our bags to get well away from it all for a couple of weeks.
This need to escape from the humdrum of the everyday is what’s helped to make travel and tourism the world’s biggest industry which is now responsible for one in every 12 jobs around the globe.
One of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism trade is the growth of the ‘eco-holiday’. The idea is that by making a few minor changes to your hotel such as using recycled loo-roll, or to your resort by adding a wildlife tour to your itinerary, you can become the embodiment of sustainable tourism – and mark – up your tariff accordingly.
Needless to say that the likes of eco-hotels, eco-lodges and eco-tipis are mostly nothing more than good old-fashioned greenwash. Can somebody please tell the Ethical Sceptic just what makes staying in a yurt in the Lake District for over £80 a night more ‘eco’ than a night in a locally-run B&B using Lakeland produce which will cost you half the price?
With a new guidebook to ‘green travel’ and ‘eco-holidays’ published now virtually every week, few address the basic question of just how much travel we’re all doing in the first place.
“Travel is just like any other finite consumer resource that we use on a daily basis such as energy and water,” says transport boffin and Green Party councillor for Lancaster John Whitelegg. “We need to think responsibly about the amount of travelling we do and the bottom line is that we need to be consuming far less distance because of the growing impact that travel has on climate change.”
Whitelegg also believes that it isn’t just food that should be bought locally and that we should think about holidaying locally too. “The UK tourism authorities need to sell the UK more,” believes Whitelegg. “The opportunities for doing great things here in the UK are enormous.”
Of course this doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to holiday on these shores for the rest of your life. “If you’re wanting to go to Paris then that’s OK so long as you take the train,” says Friends Of the Earth transport campaigner David Powell.
However, both Powell and Whitelegg concede that we’re simply not going to get everybody on the train whilst it remains so ridiculously more expensive than flying. “The cost of motor transport and flying needs to be increased to properly reflect the true cost of the environmental damage that they inflict on the rest of society,” says Whitelegg.
And what about further afield - how are we ever going to get people to cut back on flying to the other side of the world, especially as most people now see flying as their basic human right?
“Foreign travel and holidays are a luxury, not a right,” states Jason Torrance, head of campaigns at the sustainable transport charity Sustrans. “We live on a planet with finite resources and the UK’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases comes from aviation – so we need to be flying less.”
“We’re not however envisaging a world where there are no foreign holidays,” says Torrance, qualifying himself by adding that, “these holidays though must be ethical.”
This last point is reassuring to Tricia Barnett, the Director of Tourism Concern, who argues that a no-fly message is an unhelpful position to take. “Many people in developing countries are directly dependent upon tourism and we know that many would go hungry if people didn’t fly to countries such as Kenya and Cambodia.”
“Whilst we need to work on options for countries to become less reliant on tourism, deciding not to visit a developing country because of the impact that the airline will have on climate change is not a solution.”
The good news is that Tourism Concern has just published the latest edition of its Ethical Travel Guide which acts as shop-front for locally-run responsible holidays and accommodation and is one of the few travel guides that’s worth the (recycled) paper it’s printed on.
If you’re thinking of going on a safari in Kenya or trek in Nepal you’ll score maximum ethical points by booking directly with one of the many small companies listed in the guide rather than with the bigger UK-based travel companies – you’ll also find that it’s way cheaper too. “When you book directly with travel companies in the developing world much more money will stay locally,” says Barnett, “there’s no question about it.”
The Ethical Travel Guide 2nd edition by Tourism Concern is available at £14.99 from:
Tel: (020) 7841 1930
First published in Ethical Consumer 119, July/August 2009