Going Beyond Green – The Importance of Travel in Conserving Our Environment

By Kelley Louise

Clear water transforms into a light-brown, muddy shade as Juan Cubillo sifts through the dirt below the surface, and the travelers in our group watch on – not quite knowing how the process will pan out. But as Juan shakes and sifts with quiet determination and efficiency, suddenly we see what he saw long before us: pieces of gold glimmering in the light.

Juan is a gold miner in Costa Rica, and he’s spent the last 40 years mining for gold in the Osa Peninsula – a region that holds 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. Mining gold is how he’s always supported his family.

But gold mining done at too quickly of a pace can be detrimental to the environment, since the process erodes the land surrounding the streams. And as Juan explains the traditions behind his craft to us, he also explains the value of tourism. The extra income from the community-based travel experience allows him to support his family without relying entirely on gold mining. By exploring the rainforest with Juan and learning more about his local culture and traditions, our group of tourists is playing an important role in conserving the environment.

Juan’s story is a valuable lesson for the tourism industry – travelers can play a vital part in protecting our world, and travel/conservation hybrid efforts can be as simple as booking a culturally immersive experience.

More than 5,000 miles around the world from Juan is the Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge in Agadir, Morocco, a charming and Instagram-worthy hotel. Guests can enjoy a traditional Berber meal while overlooking the surrounding hills on the restaurant's terrace or take a dip in the saltwater swimming pool to relax during their stay.

And while travelers enjoy an incredible experience, behind the scenes, the Atlas Kasbah team manages their hotel with a thoughtful approach to ecotourism and conservation. At the space, 80% of the electricity comes from renewable sources, leftover vegetables are used as animal feed, intelligent irrigation practices are implemented in the garden to save water, and more.

On a 200-hectare private reserve within a natural reserve in Peru is Refugios Amazonas Ecolodge. The ecolodge is the first carbon neutral lodge in the reserve, and their approach is based off of a valuable combination of reducing their carbon footprint wherever possible, and then offsetting the remainder. The space is also made up of locally-sourced materials, and the restaurant features items sourced from local farms.

In Mexico, the postcard-perfect Playa Viva functions on a regenerative model, and focuses on a holistic approach to protecting their surrounding ecosystem as well as social impact. Their approach is integrated into the smallest details – even the soap, which is nourishing and regenerative for your skin, is made locally from reused waste. And long-term sustainability of the surrounding area is taken into account as well, as shown through examples such as La Tortuga Viva, the ecolodge’s turtle sanctuary that protects local species against poaching and commercial exploitation.

By making a conscious decision in booking at locations such as Atlas Kasbah, Refugios Amazonas Ecolodge, and Playa Viva, travelers are playing an important role in preserving our natural resources. Perhaps most exciting is the fact that each of these accommodations offer travelers incredible travel experiences that simultaneously protect our world.

In Thailand, travelers can snorkel in crystal-clear waters, sleep in a jungle treehouse or floating bungalow, or learn to cook Thai food from a local. Andaman Discoveries is a locally-owned tourism project that originally launched as a tsunami relief organization and transitioned into a social enterprise. The team donates 50% of their profit to the North Andaman Network Foundation (NAN Foundation), which was established to serve communities in the area by empowering them through conservation and development projects.

And in nearby Bali, Five Pillar Foundation helps to share hidden gems with travelers – from local secrets on how to hike to hidden waterfalls, find secluded beaches and more. Through sustainable tourism, the organization helps travelers to connect with nature in a way that combats overtourism and offers what is – put simply – a better experience for both traveler and destination.

Andaman Discoveries and Five Pillar Foundation show us that ecotourism doesn’t have to be about simply opting for a stay in an ecolodge – it can be integrated into all types of travel experiences.

Andaman Discoveries and Five Pillar Foundation show us that ecotourism doesn’t have to be about simply opting for a stay in an ecolodge – it can be integrated into all types of travel experiences.

In a world where the United States is the only country that is not a part of the Paris Climate Accord and there’s a collection of trash in the ocean that covers more than twice the space of Texas, it can be daunting to imagine how we can protect our earth’s precious resources and beautiful landscapes.

By participating in opportunities that are not only incredible experiences, travelers have the power to change our world for the better.

Juan’s story – and those throughout this article – offer a glimpse of hope. Travel can play a vital role in conserving fragile environments. And regardless of your political views, I think we can all agree that we wouldn’t miss the opportunity to go on a good vacation.

Kelley Louise

She's the Marketing Maven at Lokal and a travel entrepreneur passionate about storytelling and social good - you can find more from Kelley over at The Culture Collective and Impact Travel Alliance where she's working to transform the travel industry.