Like all new ventures, you’re bound to learn something along the way. These are the most interesting things I learned as I created EcoTripMatch.com:
You’ve heard of the term ‘green-washing’? It means using terms like ‘green’, ‘eco’, ‘eco-friendly’ , or ‘environmentally-responsible’ to persuade customers that a business is good for the environment when it’s not. Misrepresenting something is obviously not good. But, pan outward and take a look at the broader picture. Beneath that somewhat sinister use of the terms, is good news. Have you stopped to consider the idea that those terms used to conjure up images of people who choose to live without creature comforts and with lifestyles that are anti-economic growth? When did labeling something ‘green’ or ‘eco’ become good marketing strategy!? Those terms are actually cool enough now to be used to PROMOTE something. This is progress people! (But, now it would be nice to go beyond greenwashing and encourage those businesses to really be more eco-friendly).
Don’t hold it against the ecolodges that are really, really trying to implement new eco-friendly projects but are blocked by circumstances. Picture this, you are a small ecolodge in the countryside of Mauritius and as much as you want to add new energy-saving systems to the other eco-friendly measures you already have, the government is slow to give you the permits to get it done…like years too slow. Should that ecolodge be held to exactly the same standards as one elsewhere? And similarly, should you insist on solar panels in a rainforest? Probably not. In my book, the effort should be supported because the effort, and the sincerity behind it, can still help conservation, which is one of the points of ecotourism. Now, dumping trash in the ravine next to the property, that’s not eco-friendly in anyone’s book.
The small guys need notice. Some of the best conversations I had during this process were between myself and the ecolodges that were isolated and trying to figure out how to get more visitors. They are often swimming against the tide in a number of ways…a population that doesn’t ‘get’ ecotourism, poor infrastructure, being overshadowed by the big guys. These small operations have been the most willing to engage with me, wanting to know what other ecolodges around the world are doing, wanting to know how to get the word out, wanting so badly to protect their beautiful corners of the earth that it has literally brought tears to my eyes and propelled me to do what I can to help. So, getting the word out about these spectacular places that don’t have big marketing budgets (or no marketing budgets) is a no brainer.
This new venture can also help ecolodges and eco-tour companies in peril. Sometimes nature does’t cooperate! As I contacted places around the world, real life stepped in a few times. Like the ecolodge in Africa that had to close for an indeterminate period of time because the bridge to the lodge washed out. And then….the earthquake in Nepal! I had already established a conversation with the friendly owner of ACE the Himalayas before the earthquake, then I breathlessly hoped to hear from him again after the earthquake. It also occurred to me that a tour company that already takes travelers on eco-tours would be ideal for arranging the logistics for volunteers to come help. Bingo. When I heard back, that’s exactly what he decided to do! It had always been part of my vision to connect all parts of the ecotourism community, but now I have the mechanism to get the word out. (Here you go: http://www.acethehimalaya.com/voluntourism/voluntourism-trips/nepal-rebuild-volunteer-program.html)
People were giving up! When I described this website idea to people, some of them told me stories about searching for ecolodges, getting overwhelmed, and giving up! Yikes. I even had an ecolodge owner tell me that she always had enough bookings, but she had spent hours online the night before looking for an eco-friendly vacation and was no closer to finding what she wanted. So, I hope EcoTripMatch will start helping right away and as it grows, it will make a bigger and bigger dent in the obstacles that keep ecotourism from reaching its full potential. So lets go!!!
Terry Lawson Dunn