The travel business is, quite rightly, becoming more and more eco-friendly with hotels, resorts and even airlines around the world jumping on the green initiatives bandwagon.
However, as green as we may all claim to be, factors like location and facilities are currently more important to UK travellers when booking a family holiday than finding a holiday that is eco-friendly. The self-catering specialists Tots to Travel recently surveyed parents on how environmentally friendly they felt their family holiday needed to be, and while 60 per cent said they would prefer to find something eco-friendly, 33.5 per cent said it’s not something they even consider when planning a holiday. Only 5.6 per cent said they actively seek out ‘green’ holidays, and less than one per cent actually book carbon-neutral holidays.
However, it is surprisingly easy to make a few small changes to the choices you make so your footprint – and your conscience – is considerably lighter. For example, being a more responsible traveller doesn’t mean not flying at all – but it may mean flying less, something that also makes economic sense nowadays with those ever-increasing fuel supplements.
Train travel isn’t cheap either, but it’s greener than flying and can actually be a lot of fun with children. Now that Eurostar departs from St Pancras, the improved connections to Europe present a real alternative to flying if your destination is anywhere in France, Belgium, or even as far south as Italy.
But whether it’s by train, plane or automobile, you can check out the eco-credentials of each method
of transportation for your journey, or even opt for a fully eco-friendly tour, at www.responsibletravel.co.uk. Founded in 2001 by former Body Shop employee Justin Francis, and partly funded by the late Dame Anita Roddick, this online travel agency is today one of the most successful and fastest-growing independent travel agencies in the UK. While it doesn’t package its own holidays, Responsible Travel does sell other company’s holidays, allowing you to compare different products and learn how each holiday could make a difference.
Over 120 countries are featured, with accommodation ranging from luxury hotels to rainforest lodges.
However, you can also create your own package deal close to home: why not load bikes onto the car, nip across the Channel and try a short-haul holiday to somewhere like Brittany? It has superb beaches, rocky coves for shrimping expeditions, organic markets and fish supplied by local fishermen, which also puts money back into the local economy. Brittany Travel has almost 200 villas and cottages to choose from, most of them are on the
coast, and French-owned, so usually in the best locations.
Even closer to home, there is a range of eco-friendly accommodation, from tipis to tree houses. Explore the beautiful Irish landscape from the Ard Nahoo Health farm, a luxury eco-retreat in the unspoilt beauty of the North Leitrim Glens, part of Ireland’s Greenbox – the country’s first integrated sustainable and eco-tourism destination, which includes the counties of Leitrim and Fermanagh as well as parts of neighbouring Donegal, Sligo, Cavan and Monaghan.
In Wales, try Bluestone, a new, luxury, environmentally aware resort in the heart of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The resort boasts 355 beautifully designed lodges, cottages and studios and everything from kayaking and cliff-jumping to gourmet dining and relaxing spa treatments.
Children are also inspired by natural surroundings, so some time spent at Trelowarren, a historic 1,000-acre estate on Cornwall’s breathtaking Lizard peninsula, is time spent well. Here, even the beautiful buildings have been ‘recycled’: two 18th-century cottages stand within a fort dating back to the Iron Age, while a Georgian barn has been converted into four unique self-catering houses. The site features an 18th-century orchard, a tennis court and swimming pool, along with the New Yard Restaurant. Surrounded by woodland a mile from any road, the ultimate goal is for Trelowarren to become 31-house eco-community that’s carbon-neutral and supplies its own food and fuel.
Natural Retreats is an amazing new collection of luxury holiday accommodation retreats that have been founded on sustainable principles, within, or close to, all 14 of the UK’s National Parks. The first is located in the Yorkshire Dales, and the water supply here comes directly from the natural spring water source on the site itself. Rooftop gardens replace the green environs that were dug up for the building of the accommodation itself, and activities at the retreats are all linked to local companies, ensuring that everything – from bike hire to food supplies – is a local product or service.
For something completely different, The Hytte (pronounced hut) offers high-quality self-catering accommodation for eight guests. The Norwegian-inspired timber hytte (mountain lodge) has a grass roof, sauna and hot-tub spa, and is situated on the edge of the Northumberland National Park, near Hadrian’s Wall, country estates, heritage coastline and the ancient market town of Hexham.
Heading further north, stay at the Raasay Schoolhouse in Scotland, where electricity is provided by a hydro turbine powered from the nearby stream, and drinking water is from a private spring. Situated on a beautiful island between the Isle of Skye and Scotland’s northwest coast, this former schoolhouse is exceptionally idyllic.
Overseas, it’s often the unexpected destinations that are the greenest – and the most reasonably priced. The spectacular AquaCity Resort in the pretty Slovakian town of Poprad, tucked away in the High Tatras mountains in the northeast of the country, has won multiple awards for its environmental policies. Its innovative vision is such that even the Queen has deemed it worthy of a visit later this year. Millions have been invested in AquaCity, which has tapped the natural hot springs under Poprad, developing new technology to power the entire complex and, ultimately, the town as well. Absolutely everything has been thought of. For example, the many swimming pools are lined with stainless steel rather than the conventional (but less heat efficient) ceramic tiles. Together with the fact that the resort uses a sophisticated UV filtration system, this means your children are bathing in water with about one-tenth of the chlorine you’d find elsewhere.
The resort is like one huge water park, with everything from an Olympic-sized indoor pool to hot and cold outdoor pools, water slides, a huge water play area and a wonderful spa with herbal and floral saunas, huge hot tubs, aromatic steam rooms and an ice cave. Nearby, there are train and bike rides into the mountains, an exciting summer toboggan run, forest walks and medieval villages to explore.
Further afield, long-haul holidays may involve a guilt-inducing flight, but many airlines and tour operators now offer CO2 offsetting schemes where the consumer pays an ‘offset’ for the emissions their trip creates, with the money directed into global projects that help tackle climate change.
The Florida Keys has also recently introduced the awarding of Green Lodging Certificates to eco-conscious accommodation in the area. There are loads of eco-aware activities, too: swim with dolphins at one of the many research facilities in the Keys, or view them in the wild, accompanied by an expert naturalist; visit the Wild Bird Center on Tavernier; see the endangered Key deer in their refuge; explore Key West by bike; take a kayak adventure through the Lower Keys with a nature guide; or tour the Turtle Hospital in Marathon – something children adore.
In South America, Abercrombie & Kent offer a fantastic educational break at the Praia do Forte Eco Resort in Brazil’s Bahia. As well as a children’s club, the hotel offers lots of activities that focus on protecting the environment. Escorted by a marine biologist, children can observe sea turtles at various stages of their developmen, and there are environmental talks that give tips on recycling. Children can make Indian necklaces and toys using scrap material and recycled paper, and also walk discovery trails in the Sapiranga Natural Reserve, where they can cool off in the waters of the Pojuca River, kayak through mangroves or attend an evening of storytelling with Brazilian myths and legends.
Another thing to look for when booking travel is tour operators who support the Fairtrade movement. One of its strongest advocates is Tribes, which specialises in small group travel and offers several family tours worldwide. The company uses ethical supply chains, ensuring it pays local producers fairly and works closely with the surrounding communities. Indigenous guides are used wherever possible and tour groups are kept to less than 12 people to minimise the impact on the local community and environment.
African travel specialist Bushbaby Travel donates five percent of its profits to charities in South Africa – such as Nazareth House for HIV-infected children, and The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund – and provides details about these projects. All of the Bushbaby Travel programmes are tailor-made for families with young children.
However, it’s also what goes on behind the scenes that makes a destination truly green. At the Tongsai Bay, Koh Samui, Thailand, a Green Project Unit works to maintain strict green practices within the resort, including recycling, waste management, energy and water conservation, educational projects and nature protection. One of the most popular schemes is the Animal & Nature Protection Group, established to monitor animals and birds making their homes within the resort’s grounds. The resort also works with schools and the local community on a variety of beach clean-up, reforestation and education schemes in an effort to preserve the natural environment for future generations.
However, being a green traveller is not just about recycling, it’s also about supporting projects that invest in social responsibility.
Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa in northern Thailand is deeply involved in elephant conservation, supporting a camp that is home to 16 adult and 13 baby elephants and their mahouts (keepers) who were themselves all rescued from a life on the streets. The elephant population is diminishing rapidly in Thailand, and projects like Anantara’s Elephant Camp are vital to the success of national conservation efforts. Guests at the resort can even learn to ‘drive’ an elephant on a three-day mahout training course. As well as learning the mahout commands and some log-rolling skills, they can even learn to take their mount bathing and partake in mahout camp life.
Travel Indochina offers small group journeys and special departures for families to Anantara which allow for closer contact and more genuine experiences with local people and their environments – a far cry from when you opt to travel as part of a big group. Travel Indochina’s customers benefit from opportunities for cultural exchange, with options such as homestays and eco-lodge experiences, enabling social interaction with people from a variety of backgrounds. The company employs local staff, wherever possible, and supports a small number of carefully screened organisations, ranging from The Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Cambodia to the Big Brother Mouse organisation in Laos, which works to increase literacy among young people in Lao.
One country that is a shining example of conservation and carefully managed tourism is Costa Rica. Imaginative Traveller offers a fabulous family trip to explore white beaches, abundant bird life, active volcanoes and magical cloud forests. They work closely with a network of local ground operators to ensure that they are pumping money back into the local communities they visit, and all accommodation is in local lodges and hotels or in tented accommodation.
Meanwhile, Bridge & Wickers is offering a carbon-neutral holiday in New Zealand. Five luxury tree houses at Hapuku Lodge have been designed to complement the environment. They sit 30 feet above ground in the canopy of a native Manuka grove, with spectacular views of Kaikoura’s dramatic mountains and the Pacific coastline. Their exterior is clad in native woods and copper shingles and the large windows bring the tree canopy right into the bedroom. All the furniture has been designed and crafted by local wood workers. The accommodation is surrounded by an expansive deer farm and 1,000-tree olive grove. The Eco Package includes a Maori Tour, with an exclusive tree-planting ceremony, a Kaikoura night-sky tour, seal watching by kayak and, most importantly, Hapuku Lodge will plant enough native trees to offset the CO2 produced by your trip.
Opened in 2000, Cousine Island in the Seychelles is also committed to conservation. The island has been transformed into a private nature reserve and is a nesting haven for sea turtles and birds thanks to a systematic rehabilitation programme involving the planting of native trees and plants and re-establishing colonies of the Seychelles’ endemic birds. Today, Cousine prides itself on being one of the only islands in the Seychelles’ archipelago free of non-indigenous mammals. This year, it’s had 253 hawksbill turtle beachings with 97 resulting in nests. To date, 3,603 hatchlings have been released into the sea.
This is a real back-to-nature holiday, albeit a luxurious one, in a beautiful private villa that’s best-suited to families who are happy to potter around on exquisite beaches with little else to do.
And surely all of this is what an eco-friendly holiday should be about: being at one with nature in a beautiful, awe-inspiring environment; where you learn about the beauty of the world around you and the animals and plants that live in it; and where your eco-conscience is eased so that you are without a care in the world.