The Green Globetrotter: An Example of Moving Ecotourism Into the Mainstream

The Green Globetrotter: An Example of Moving Ecotourism Into the Mainstream

The Green Globetrotter

By Kendall Gayle

 

My first introduction to ecotourism was in college. Uninterested in the typical, party-all-week-long idea of Spring Break, I participated in a program called Alternative Spring Break and spent two weeks in Mexico volunteering on various community projects, staying and dining in a locally owned hotel, and exploring a small town culture very different from my own. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and 'going local' became my new mantra when traveling.

 

A few years later, I ended up back in Mexico as a volunteer on a marine conservation project. It was here that I began to officially learn about the field of ecotourism and study some of the ways it is implemented in both small communities and on a global scale.

 

When I returned home from that project, I was eager to share what I had learned with friends and family. Most had never heard or knew very little of ecotourism and responded with enthusiasm. But, there was something missing from these conversations. Despite everyone's excitement for me and my experience, only a handful of people questioned how they could translate these new principles to their own travels. Awareness, I realized, was not necessarily enough to make a change in action.

 

In Mexico, we had garnered support for our marine conservation project from the locals by showing them how they would benefit from the work we were doing. So, in order to impel those on the other side of tourism to travel sustainably, I reasoned, I must make this type of travel relevant to their own lives. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

 

To begin with, there is ecotourism's image problem. Among the hundreds of people I've spoken to who are not involved in the industry, ecotourism is for tree huggers – and not in the positive sense of that term. It requires one to give up certain luxuries and amenities (including showers) while traveling; it takes more time and research to organize; and, it is less fun. At the same time, ecotourism is often regarded as a complex and seemingly weighty issue that can never compete with today’s short-attention spans and penchant for comedic cat videos over "real" content.

 

Yet, there is a small sliver of light starting to shine on issues of sustainability. Consciousness of the connection between the environment, communities, and the choices we make is growing. The phrase "how to be green" is being searched over 30 million times a month on Google. Reportedly, 66% of U.S. travelers believe that their decisions can make a difference on the environment; although, only 8% say it is easy to find green travel options. If there is any time for ecotourism to go mainstream, that time is now.

 

So, how do we capitalize on the public’s penchant for going green and communicate the principles of ecotourism in a way that makes sense to them? By being willing to step outside of our comfort zone and into theirs. Without compromising the integrity of the industry, we need to spread the message of ecotourism using language that is understandable, packaging that is desirable, and media that is appealing and easily accessible. We have to understand what the mainstream is looking for and show them that we already have it. While this may mean more work on our part, the end result is a win-win.

 

My recent project, The Green Globetrotter, is in search of that win-win. Using online video as its media, this project will take viewers to eco-friendly hotels, restaurants, operators, and destinations around the world, offering sustainable travel tips along the way and dispelling the myth that ecotourism requires inhospitable compromise. Although The Green Globetrotter is still in its fundraising stages (find out more here), its goal is to turn sustainable travel and ecotourism from a little regarded option into the only option.

 

In an ideal world, all individuals would seek out sustainable travel activities just like I did on that first trip to Mexico. In the real world, that simply doesn't happen. Nevertheless, if we are willing to think outside the box and present the message of ecotourism in a way that will appeal to the mainstream, we may just find ourselves one step closer to seeing that ideal world in action.

 

 

Kendall Gayle

Kendall Gayle is an avid traveler with a background in corporate responsibility. While working as a volunteer on the coast of Mexico, she realized that the principles she’d advocated in business needed to be applied to travel. So, The Green Globetrotter was born with the mission of enabling all people to travel green and to have fun while they do it.

 

 

 

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