Written by: Anneleen Debruyckere, Herost Global Youth Ambassador
Have you ever stayed or considered staying in an ecolodge? If you are willing to travel (more) responsibly, an ecolodge is definitely the right place to stay, provided it is actually an ecolodge. Let us suggest why you should choose to stay in an ecolodge and how to make sure it is really eco-friendly.
It is often said that the best way to discover the world and learn about other cultures is to travel. Ironically, tourism activities are very often threatening the cultural and natural resources on which they depend. It may not be our intention, but our current way of globe-trotting can generate extremely negative impacts. But traveling does not have to imply damaging the planet and its people. Indeed, we can choose to travel in an eco-friendly way, which is often referred to as ‘ecotourism’. One way to participate in ecotourism is by carefully deciding where to stay. In this article, we will tell you what an ecolodge is and why we recommend this accommodation for your next holiday. But be careful, all that glitters is not gold, and all that is called an ecolodge is not eco-friendly.
The problem with today’s conventional tourism
After the Second World War, the newly-founded United Nations wrote down 30 articles that are considered “basic human rights and fundamental freedoms” in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 13 states the following: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” In other words, every human has the right to travel. But against what cost? And at the expense of whom? With improved and more affordable transportation means, traveling quickly became available to the masses, not just to the rich, hence a rapid expansion of tourism around the world.
Not even half a century later it became clear that our way of traveling cannot carry on like this. In 2019, 1.4 billion international arrivals have been recorded, with growing concerns over the growing phenomenon of overtourism. We usually think about climate change when it comes to the negative impacts of tourism, but there are many other negative effects caused by mass traveling. There are many impacts, good or bad, that the tourist does not directly see. In reality, we rarely dwell on the fact that our presence may have negative effects on the destination. Some examples of these invisible burdens are the disappearance of native cultures, extinction of plant and animal species, depletion of local resources, destruction of nature in order to build new touristic infrastructures … All this also entails an increasingly hostile stand of locals towards visitors. The destination might find its quality of life diminishing because of the capitalist extractive tourism industry. Moreover, local communities hardly get their legitimate share of the tourism revenues. Tourism used to be a connection between hosts and guests, but it has become fully commercial and exploitative. Authenticity ends were capitalism begins.
The ideology behind tourism should be rethought. In response to conventional ‘tourist-centered’ tourism, ecotourism took form. Instead of focusing on getting maximum profits, the main priority here is the local community, culture and environment.
To know more about overtourism, read the article Seoul Spearheads Global Efforts to Promote Fair and Sustainable Urban Tourism
Ecolodge as a desirable tourism accommodation
Ecolodges, or eco-lodges, have been developed as an alternative eco-friendly accommodation. The word ‘ecolodge’ was invented in the late 1990s and refers to a holiday accommodation following the ecotourism philosophy. It can be distinguished from other lodging types by its fair distribution of profits, conservation of local culture and environment, and education of both guests and employees in ecological practices and the local culture.
According to the official definition (Wood, 2002), an ecolodge meets the following criteria:
- It conserves the surrounding environment, both natural and cultural
- It has minimal impact on the natural surroundings during construction
- It fits into its specific physical and cultural contexts through careful attention to form, landscaping and color, as well as the use of localized architecture
- It uses alternative, sustainable means of water acquisition and reduces water consumption
- It provides careful handling and disposal of solid waste and sewage
- It meets its energy needs through passive design and combines these with their modern counterparts for greater sustainability
- It endeavors to work together with the local community
- It offers interpretative programs to educative both its employees and tourists about the surrounding natural and cultural environments.
- It contributes to sustainable local development through research programs.
While common interest for sustainable tourism has increased, and particularly over the last decade, some travelers might fear that practicing ecotourism will give them less of a ‘holiday feeling’. On the contrary, ecotourism experiences are uniquely entertaining and life-changing. In fact, ecolodges provide an educational and participatory experience, which is unique and therefore a holiday you will never forget. It is not a matter of downsizing, rather a matter of experiencing tourism within sustainable limits and without harming the destination and its inhabitants.
Be part of the fight against greenwashing!
Because of the increasing awareness surrounding responsible tourism, many hotels, destinations and organizations use this to their advantage to lure the growing market of conscious travelers. They might proclaim themselves to operate in an eco-friendly way and even call themselves ecolodges, while in reality they make minimal efforts to be sustainable and use the name to attract more guests. This phenomenon is called ‘greenwashing’.
The portmanteau word “greenwashing”, a combination of “green” and “whitewashing” was coined by New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt in a 1986 essay about the hotel industry’s linen and towel reuse programs, “save the environment”. It is used to describe a form of marketing technique deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization’s products, aims and policies are eco-friendly.
As an ecotourist, you should be aware of this! Companies picking up the language of sustainability are not necessarily eco-friendly businesses. Whereas there are hundreds of tourism labels and certificates in the world, very few of them are truly reliable. Many unofficial eco-certification schemes have been created, but often membership requirements are very low and barely verified. A hotel using organic soap could have an ‘eco-friendly accommodation’-sign plastered on their front door while in reality, they are not even close to checking all the boxes to be an ecolodge.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) was created to bring a solution to this confusing and misleading situation, through managing global criteria and standards for sustainable travel and tourism, and providing international accreditation for sustainable tourism certification bodies. Check GSTC website to know more about accredited certification bodies and systems.
It may be rooted in our culture to do whatever we want and go wherever we want to go. Freedom is so important to us that we fail to acknowledge what it costs to others. Sometimes without knowing it, our privileged position harms nature, the environment, other cultures and minorities who are less fortunate than we are. For this reason, checking the legitimacy behind catchphrases should definitely be part of any research when planning an eco-friendly holiday. It might take a little more effort, but it is absolutely imperative if you really want to make a change!
First you can start and learn more about ho tourism activities can be related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.Then you can try and see if your tourism accommodation, activities and other experiences threatens any of these goals. Additionally, several organizations, initiatives and solutions such as Herost provide listings of true ecolodges and eco-friendly experiences offering you the opportunity to enjoy your travel while supporting destinations and local economies.
Sharing is caring
Important to remember is that by practicing ecotourism, you are definitely not giving up beautiful destinations, a relaxing trip, an adventurous journey or whatever you seek on your holiday. On the contrary, by putting in the extra work this holiday will be extra memorable.
Ecotourism is teaching us that we can live with less, and that does not mean we will lose comfort, value or quality. On the contrary, ecotourism brings value and meaning. There is more than enough for everyone on this planet but our resources are not equally divided. Traveling as an ecotourist is acknowledging this and from our privileged position help work towards a more equal world.
Herost is an online platform and network dedicated to the promotion of sustainable, community-driven tourism experiences. It was developed as a sustainable travel guide, directory and toolkit by Millennium Destinations, an impact enterprise offering consulting services and innovative solutions to small tourism businesses and organizations for their development, management and marketing.
Herost, which means “Hosts are Heroes” is a travel guide, directory and providing assistance and guidance to responsible travel operators so that they increase their exposure and attractiveness and get connected with travelers who care about their impacts. Our members commit to a Charter featuring engagements aligned with the GSTC criteria.
Read more about Herost here.
Whether you are a responsible host or traveler, join Herost as a member!
Klein, A. (2020, October 8). How Ecolodges Work. HowStuffWorks.
Logan, G. (2019, February 5). Ecolodges: How Do You Know if You’re Staying in One? Verdemode.
Mary, B. A. (2019, July 17). What is an Eco Lodge? The Top 20 Eco Resorts & Eco Hotels in the World. Green Global Travel. https://greenglobaltravel.com/eco-lodges-eco-resorts-eco-hotels/
Singh V (2015) Eco-Tourism as a Sustainable Alternative to Conventional Tourism. J Tourism Hospit 4: 168. doi:10.4172/21670269.1000168
Van Houten, A. (2020, February 20). Is Your “Eco-Lodge” Really Eco-Friendly? Outside Online.