By Amy Lenard
Ecotourism grows alongside an appreciation for the environment. In a time when people conscientiously recycle their trash, replace lightbulbs with more efficient ones and excited await a new era of alternative fuel vehicles, it’s no surprise that they are turning to responsible vacation travel.
Ecotourism is one of the fasts-growing segments in the travel industry. In fact, the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) estimates that upwards of 2.4 million U.S. Travelers will take an eco-trip this year. And what is ecotourism? Think of it as a travel experience that benefits the environment, boosts the economy or well being of the host-community, and provides the traveler with an educational and enjoyable trip.
While many eco-friendly destinations are found outside the United States – in places like Costa Rica, Thailand, and South Africa – there are a number of tour operators and resorts offering an authentic experience with nature in this country.
“Ecotourism experiences are attracting more people than ever because travelers tent to feel a personal connection during their trip and continue to seek out those types of experiences again and again,” says Ayako Ezaki, director of communication for TIES.
We’ve highlighted a few of these environmentally friendly destinations just waiting to be discovered.
After working for years as a guide on kayak excursions and small ships for tour operators along the Alaskan landscape, Todd Smith decided he wanted to bring the true eco trip to the mainstream.
So five years ago, he started his own business, AdventureSmith Explorations, to give the average traveler an opportunity for a wilderness experience they wouldn’t otherwise have.
“We really offer an alternative to traditional Alaska travel, by using small ships so you can get closer to Alaska’s nature and wildlife,” Smith says. “With 12-100 passengers on board we can get much, much closer to share and can easily stop to view the wilderness aspects that draw people to Alaska in the first place.”
While larger cruise ships may need up to two miles to slow down at the first sight of a humpback whale or grizzly bear, impromptu stops are regular occurrence for AdventureSmith travelers. Guests may also get off the boat and explore on foot with a guide, or discover the sights away from the main vessel with the aid of a kayak or Zodiac inflatable boat.
AdventureSmith Explorations has received numerous awards and acclaim form the likes of well-respected travel magazines and ecological groups. It also supports climate-friendly projects around the world.
Smith says he calculates the cruise-related greenhouse gas emissions given off during a trip, and then determines an appropriate donation to a group called Sustainable Travel International which funds projects such as methane collection and electricity generation in South Africa and weatherizing low-income housing in the U.S. He also says his company uses efficient propulsion systems and generator vessels to minimize impact on the environment.
Yet Smith says that such concern doesn’t translate to compromise for comport. His cruise ships are “like floating hotels,” serving hot meals, providing warm beds and other conveniences.
Plus, guests can take advantage of onboard naturalist programs, including discussions and slide shows on topics specific to their trip – whether glaciers, whales, Alaskan history or geology. Naturalists are on hand during the entire trip, leading hikes, pointing out the sights and providing an educational perspective.
AdventureSmith’s Alaskan packages range from Glacier Bay National Park and Alaska’s Southeast panhandle to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the North Slope. On-trip activities include hiking, kayaking, whitewater rafting and small ship exploration into hidden coves, trails and remote wilderness.
On average, there is a guide for every 11 guests, Smith says, so the Alaskan adventure is provided in an intimate setting for maximum exposure to the pristine backdrop.
AdventureSmith offers ecotours vacations in several other locations worldwide, including Antarctica, Japan, New Zealand and Peru.
For more information, visit www.AdventureSmithExplorations.com of call 1-800-728-2875.