As I read through the extensive messaging from the travel press at this time of year, one thing stands out in my mind: that responsible travel, ecotourism, and agritourism are increasing in popularity every day. There is a convergence of ecotravel and luxe in places which were once solely back-packers’ havens. Years ago, who would have expected a luxury eco-inn in Newfoundland? But that is precisely what the Fogo Island Inn, designed by Ilse Crawford, has accomplished with flair with its artistic collaborations and a pervading sense of natural drama. Other good examples are the Pikaia Lodge, which is located on a large tortoise reserve in the Galapagos Islands, and Bale Mountain lodge in Central Ethiopia, which has an in-house naturalist to help guests understand the five distinct habitats which make up the park, home to rare animals like the black-maned lions.
On other fronts, established ecotourism pioneers like Inkaterra are reaching out to new endangered sites such as Cabo Blanco, a fishing village in Northern Peru, where they have opened a new hotel and are helping to revive the area’s marine life by working with the locals on sustainable fishing practices. Meanwhile, rising culinary superstar, Alex Atala, author of D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients, has shined a spotlight on sustainable farming efforts among the Amazonian peoples and helped launch the ATÁ Institute to further work with Amerindian leaders to protect the land and heritage of their people.
On the subject of farm-to-table and agritourism, I am excited about innovative sites like Eatwith (eatwith.com), which are enabling home cooks to invite out-of-towners into their private dining rooms. A couple of others are Feastly (USA) (eatfeastly.com), Traveling Spoon (Asia) (travelingspoon.com), and Bookalokal (International) (bookalokal.com). I feel this concept adds a new dimension to eating local; not only are guests partaking in a locally grown, locally prepared meal, but also within a local context beside residents. Other distinctive developments in the food realm include the Barlow in Sebastopol in California’s wine country. The Barlow, a former apple processing plant, is now a collection of local food producers, wine-makers, and artisans, the aggregate of which equals a unique learning experience.
On the viticulture front, the area of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy, Salamanca, Spain, and the Central Coast wineries of California with a special nod to Tolosa Vineyards have done a great deal to institute sustainable viticulture practices. Also, I am loving the delicious red blend from Pasa Robles’ Paperboy Wines. Their motto “eat, drink, and recycle” is apt as their green bottle separates a liner from its recycled paper container for easy and complete recycling. Alongside the wine production of California’s Central Coast, the experiential has flourished: yurts at Tree Bones Resort in Southern Big Sur, delicious dry-cured Baker’s Bacon “bacon the way it’s supposed to be”, and the rapidly emerging wine trail in the Santa Lucia Highlands. All form a tremendous eco-destination package, the jewel of which is the Monterey May Aquarium which is doing ground-breaking work in marine ecosystem preservation. In world-famed Napa and Sonoma, the Boisset family is tapping their vast European experience to introduce advanced biodynamic practices and an entire hands-on biodynamic learning experience at Raymond Vineyards in Napa.
The scope of conscientious travel has expanded and matured. Ethical Traveler’s 2013 list of the world’s best ethical destinations includes Latvia, Mauritius, Palau and Uruguay on the list for the second year running along with Costa Rica, a perennial winner. I am excited to note that amongst new additions are Samoa, Cape Verde, and Ghana, proving that there is a whole planet full of destinations which have awakened to mindful, sustainable travel.
Correlating with the continued growth and focus on tourism are developments in transportation infrastructures which pave the way, literally, for the trend to persist. An expanded international airport in Livingstone, Zambia, has great potential for boosting tourism in the surrounding area which includes the Victoria Falls. Wonderful news for nearby ecolodges like Tongabezi Lodge, located just upstream of the Falls.
I am predicting that all these innovators will soon become not only trend setters, but also thought leaders within the environmental travel community. As was clearly shown at the Tenth World Wilderness Congress and the 2012 World Conservation Congress which were attended by thousands of experts from the scientific, government, and NGO communities as well as environmentalists and travelers: virtually the whole planet has finally awakened to the fact that human presence is having an unprecedented negative impact on our home world. Tourism is one of the few areas that shine an independent and personal spotlight on these changes for the record-breaking number of people who traveled internationally in 2013.