11 experiences around the world that will transform tourists into responsible travellers, in celebration of Earth Day, 22 April 2021
Take action in Namibia, the Appalachian Trail USA, Colombia, Vienna, Rwanda, Ontario, Northern Italy, Puerto Rico, Isle of Wight, Mauritius and Arizona
As the UK emerges out of lockdown, the thought of a holiday is no longer a distant pipedream for many and consumers are eager to know how they can travel smarter and greener than ever before.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has now called for a “responsible recovery of the tourism sector” in order to “balance the needs of people, the planet and prosperity.” The notion of travelling responsibly stretches across a broad spectrum, from a traveller reducing their carbon footprint; to taking part in a destination’s conservation initiatives; or staying at an eco-resort; to building relationships with the locals and learning about the community and its culture. There has never been a more important time for travellers, tour operators and destinations alike, to proactively work together and show that travel really is a force for good.
To celebrate Earth Day 2021, below are 11 experiences from across the world, enabling travellers to explore the very best of a destination whilst creating positive change for the environments and local communities. From conquering and conserving the Appalachian Trail in the U.S., which stretches all the way from Maine to Georgia, to caring for Colombia’s incredible coral reefs – travellers will be spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding how they are going to make their next holiday a more responsible and impactful one.
Follow in the footsteps of rhinos with an anti-poaching team in Namibia
When it comes to Africa’s conservation, Namibia leads the way as it was the first country in the continent to incorporate conservation into its constitution and today, over 43% of the country’s surface area is under conservation management. With the largest quotient in the world of free-roaming animals including the rare black rhino, lion and zebra, Namibia offers travellers endless opportunities to participate in wildlife conservation initiatives first-hand. Those looking to immerse in the exhilarating realm of anti-poaching methods and challenges can prove themselves fearless during the 14-day “Rhino Rangers” programme located in the 7,600-hectare Zannier Reserve. Specifically tailored to emphasise the necessity of protecting threatened wildlife, Rhino Rangers invites those brave enough to join the anti-poaching unit on their patrols, master firearm skills, learn about navigation and tracking techniques and to discover the science of poaching itself. After getting to grips with the challenges of living and surviving in the bush during the day, Rhino Rangers can rest under Namibia’s star-studded skies surrounded by the sounds of nocturnal animal activity.
Conquer and conserve the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, from Maine to Georgia USA
The Appalachian Trail is the world’s longest hiking-only footpath, which roughly stretches across an impressive 3,500 kilometres and 14 states including Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia and more. Not only are travellers able to embrace the great outdoors by hiking across a world-class trail boasting jaw-dropping scenery, there are also a range of conservancy initiatives that travellers can take part in, allowing them to give back to the environments they explore. Volunteers have the choice to take part in a selection of different projects hosted by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) team: from joining resource forums; or signing up to a bespoke five-day course focused on the Leave No Trace initiative; to booking a slot on one of the ATC’s regular climate change events which are held in some of the trail’s most scenic spots. Additionally, an experience along the Appalachian Trail has been heralded as life changing by many. On GoUSA TV’s series, Trails & Trailblazers, Jennifer Pharr Davis shares how the trail was a significant experience for her, enabling her to overcome issues relating to confidence, due to building relationships with both nature and other individuals she met along the way. For travellers who are passionate about protecting the great outdoors and yearning to roam free, then setting foot on the Appalachian Trail is a must.
Care for coral reefs in Colombia
Incredible coral reefs can be found in Colombia’s warm Caribbean and Pacific waters, but without protection, these natural ecosystems face disruption and damage. In partnership with diving companies, coral reef research organisation Corales de Paz offers diving experiences with purpose: divers not only observe incredible reefs but work to monitor and re-weave corals, as well as collect plastics from the ocean bed. During a field programme, visitors can spend four or five days taking part in meaningful dive projects that monitor, survey and analyse the health of precious coral reefs to provide crucial insights into the protection of Colombia’s marine life. Reef repair sessions teach divers innovative coral gardening methods, in which corals are generated in nurseries and transplanted into reefs to repair damaged areas. Visitors become ‘coral reef citizen scientists’, meaning they are qualified to monitor and restore Colombia’s coral reefs and record their findings in national and international databases. Under the leadership of experienced coral reef scientists, divers can explore areas such as Providencia where Colombia’s healthiest coral reef, which is the second largest in the Caribbean, can be found. Divers continue to keep an eye out for the sharks and turtles who inhabit the area – a signifier of a healthy and prosperous reef.
Indulge in art and eco-innovation in Vienna
Vienna is often regarded as the cultural hub of Europe, rich in history, music, art, culture and cuisine, but it is also one of the greenest cities in the world, housing a global hub for sustainability and innovation. It’s only fitting therefore that the Vienna Biennale for Change returns this summer with sustainability at its core, under the motto ‘Planet Love: Climate Care in the Digital Age’. Taking place from 28 May – 3 October 2021, the Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 will see a number of highly-esteemed Viennese museums and galleries joining forces to shine a light on climate change and environmental protection, inspiring thoughts on how we can form a more sustainable relationship with the planet. Visionary projects by artists, designers and architects will be showcased, with aims to spark imaginations, promote the vision of sustainable societies and economies, as well as offer innovative solutions for radical change. The Vienna Biennale was established with the recognition that Vienna is a modern centre for positive change and revolutionary ideas, so in the post-pandemic era, the city is more forward-thinking than ever before.
Join a carefully curated ecotourism project in Rwanda
Rwanda’s Gishwati-Makura protected reserve spans across 8,400 acres with lush mist-covered forests, primates, waterfalls and native Umushwati trees. However, Gishwati-Makura wasn’t always so abundant: in the early 2000s, 98% of the woodland was diminished due to increased human settlement. The local community, with the help of the Forest of Hope Association, undertook a major restoration effort to bring the area back to health and rewild the forest. Today, eastern chimpanzees, golden monkeys and side-striped jackals roam freely throughout the vegetation, amongst dozens of varieties of bats, frogs and birds. Carefully curated ecotourism projects such as guided nature hikes, chimp and monkey tracking, bird watching and visits to the waterfalls have helped to fund conservation, whilst providing income and enrichment for the surrounding communities. Gishwati-Makura is living proof of the impact that communities can have when they pull together, put the planet first and work to restore landscapes.
Discover majestic wolves at the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve in Ontario
Deep in the Canadian forest, a three-hour drive from Toronto, visitors can discover the plight of grey wolves at the privately-owned 100,000 acre sustainable Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve. As an apex predator, wolves serve to keep the ecosystem in balance, but over the years hunting and environmental impacts on their habitat have threatened this majestic animal. The decline of wolf populations triggered the creation of the Wolf Centre at Haliburton, which aims to revive wolf pack numbers whilst educating locals and tourists alike about the importance of wolves within Ontario’s ecology and to shift perceptions. A resident wolf pack has lived in a seven acre enclosure within Haliburton Forest since 1993 and visitors may view the wolves from the Wolf Centre through one-way glass. The centre also contains exhibits which tell the story of wolves and separates fact from fiction. Visitors have the chance to hear a wolf pack howl on guided walks during the summer months.
Restore alpine forestry in Trentino, Northern Italy
The mountainous forests of Trentino, northern Italy, are a crucial part of the Dolomites landscape and an enormous part of local heritage. During a night of extremely bad weather in 2018, around four million cubic metres of trees were damaged or destroyed, proving devastating for mountain wildlife. The Trentino Tree Agreement was formed to enable the public to play an active role in restoring forests: each donation works to plant and protect at least one sacred tree in Trentino’s mountain valleys, a strategy which has already helped to rejuvenate the region’s woodlands. Forests are essential for life in Trentino: woodlands absorb carbon dioxide, increase biodiversity, counteract soil erosion and provide shade and shelter for wildlife. Trentino also follows the golden rule of planting more trees than are used, so whilst hundreds of the region’s mountain huts are made from local pine, the utmost care is taken to ensure that woodlands are sustainably managed and maintained.
Protect sea turtle habitats in Puerto Rico
Sandy beaches sit seamlessly alongside vibrant cities in Puerto Rico and the island’s coastal capital San Juan is the perfect example. However, ensuring that there is a healthy balance between the city’s innovative developments and essential natural conservation is crucial and something non for profit community organisation, CRES, is undertaking. Committed to restoring and conserving the city’s delicate ecosystems, CRES works to improve the wellbeing of San Juan’s Santurce area, which is home to endangered sea turtles. By reforesting the neighbourhood and providing better habitats for rare species such as the leatherback turtle to live, visit or nest on the beach, CRES looks to protect them from the impacts of nearby city life. A one-day workshop with CRES allows visitors to help with reforestation efforts, as well as educating them on how best to treat Puerto Rico’s city-side beaches.
Hop on board England’s first hybrid energy ferry with Wightlink, Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight and its surrounding waters are one of just six UK destinations recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the Isle of Wight has consistently been praised for having such a strong tradition of environmental action. To support this tradition, Wightlink, the leading eco-friendly ferry service connecting the Island to the mainland, has invested £30 million in England’s first hybrid energy ferry; Victoria of Wight, which combines battery power with a conventional engine to use 17% less fuel than the next largest ship on the route. Additionally, Wightlink’s ambitious Green Agenda works to increase recycling, replace plastic cutlery and cups with sustainable alternatives, reduce food miles by buying from Island suppliers, clean water surrounding ports and monitor marine life as well as providing electric vehicle charging points at ports. Wightlink puts eco-initiatives at the heart of its operations, ensuring that the abundant island and its waters are protected and preserved at all costs.
Discover how plastic waste is being combatted on the island of Mauritius
The beautifully tranquil waters and oceans surrounding Mauritius make the island a paradise for tourists, but plastic waste is one of the biggest threats to natural ecosystems. To combat this, Precious Plastic Mauritius is a non-profit organisation that aims to create a recycling economy. After collecting plastic waste from beaches and mangroves, Precious Plastic Mauritius melts it down to create useful products like sports equipment, phone cases and chairs that are sold. The project employs locals in South-East Mauritius who have been affected by the pandemic and the Wakashio Oil Spill, providing vital income to the communities around Mauritius’ Blue Bay. Since plastic is versatile, easy to shape and quick drying, Precious Plastic Mauritius can easily create new, creative products that actually monetise waste, whilst protecting the ocean and supporting locals all at once.
Leave no trace in Arizona
Arizona’s six diverse biomes range from desert to forest and from balmy to snowy, all in as little as 150 miles. To protect the state’s spectacular landscapes, the Arizona Office of Tourism has partnered with Leave No Trace to encourage sustainable, respectful tourism. Following seven key principles, Arizona encourages visitors to leave areas just as they found them, with respect for wildlife, marked trails, and natural sites prioritised. An entire pillar of Arizona’s sustainable tourism strategy is dedicated to fire safety, since the natural lands are particularly vulnerable to wildfires. Visitors must closely follow safety regulations, stick to designated campfire areas and heed area restrictions, where parks are closed in order to protect the trees. With its abundance of natural beauty, visitor education and guidance is crucial for Arizona’s preservation.