How to Travel More Sustainably – The New York Times

Don’t skimp on doing your own research, and be aware that ‘green’ certificates aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be.
Credit…Gabriel Alcala
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So you’re vaccinated and eager to — finally — plan a real summer vacation after a rough year, but you don’t want to add to the problems you might have read about: overcrowding, climate change, unfair working conditions in the tourism industry. What’s a thoughtful traveler to do?
For those who want to travel responsibly, it comes down to this: You, the traveler, have to do your homework.
Looking for a hotel or tour operator that has earned a sustainability label might seem like a good place to start, but the reality isn’t so simple. There are around 180 certification labels floating around in the tourism industry, each purporting to certify the green credentials of a hotel, restaurant, tour operator or even a destination. And while some of those labels are well enforced, others might better be described as greenwashing — when a company portrays itself as an environmental steward, but its actions don’t match the hype.
“The range is enormous — from rigorous, impartial and excellent to, frankly, poor,” said Randy Durband, the chief executive of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, a nonprofit organization that establishes and manages global standards for sustainable travel. “We strongly believe in the value of third-party certification, when it’s done right,” Mr. Durband added. “But the way the word ‘certification’ is used in tourism is out of control.”
Still, while the labels might be all over the map, many businesses are waking up to the importance of improving their environmental and social performance, said Andrea Nicholas, the chief executive of Green Tourism, an Edinburgh-based certification body with more than 2,500 members. The pandemic has brought the concept of sustainable tourism forward by five to 10 years, she said. Before, she added, many businesses saw sustainability as an “add-on.”
“What we’re seeing now, from the interest we’re getting, is that it’s a must-have,” she said.
There are some promising signs that consumers, too, are waking up to the consequences of their vacations. More than two-thirds of respondents to a recent seven-country global survey for American Express Travel said that they “are trying to be more aware of sustainability-friendly travel brands to support.” Another poll, this one for the digital travel company, found that 69 percent of the more than 20,000 respondents “expect the travel industry to offer more sustainable travel options.”
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