As travellers are increasingly exposed to information on the state of the environment; the benefits of wildlife conservation not only to the planet, but to future generations; and giving back to local communities through on-site volunteering and other aid; the purpose in travel is changing, and travellers are opting for packages that are either fully orientated around eco-awareness, or have elements of environmental awareness included.

Is eco-travel really significant?

“At the end of the day it is the only way to do travel in the long term. As a DMC selling the destination, it is in our best interest and our responsibility to continually drive sustainability and protect our environment and heritage, so that travellers can enjoy them for years to come,” says Esther Ruempol, Market Manager for Benelux at Tourvest DMC.

Tracy Bamber, Wilderness Safaris Chief Sales Officer, says the majority of the operator’s guests are already repeat guests, who have been exposed to Wilderness Safaris’ model of eco-tourism. “This forms a large percentage of our guests but there is still potential for it grow more,” she says.

Including eco-travel elements in packages

The impact of packaging tours around eco-friendly accommodation or activities is becoming evident, “because in addition to making a positive difference to the conservation of these areas, it differentiates the offering in a way that not only offers life-changing journeys, but ones that educate and inspire people to make a positive change in their own lives too,” says Bamber.

This is echoed by Karien le Grand, Product Development Manager at Tourvest Destination Management, who adds that including responsible travel elements or eco-products should not be limited to only accommodate eco-travellers – it should be included in most, if not all, packages.

Victoria Short, Marketing Manager of Springbok Atlas, adds: “A good eco-travel package incorporates authentic experiences using establishments with little carbon footprint, and recycling of waste and water. Supporting sustainable initiatives and community projects that will improve the lives of local people and protect their cultures.”

A good eco-travel package should include a range of experiences that encompass space, discovery, genuine personal engagement, and ultimately, purpose, says Bamber. It should include products and experiences with the minimum impact on the environment, adds le Grand, which support wildlife conservation and real experiences that benefit the local community respectfully.

As an example, Ruempol shares one of Tourvest DMC’s offerings: “We would like our guests to experience and learn about nature and culture while leaving the smallest possible footprint. Tourvest DMC offers a three-day Safari & City tour, starting and ending in Johannesburg, which is Fair Trade-certified. Guests can enjoy ‘Big 5’ game viewing activities and indulge in a gourmet feast, connect with the locals in Soweto whilst on a bicycle adventure, and experience Fair Trade Tourism at its best.”

Short offers the following advice for tourism product/service suppliers to effectively communicate their eco-offerings to agents: “Be determined and committed to making an effort to researching and understanding every single component of the guests’ journey. Personal involvement and a real commitment to living and selling eco-friendly is a great way for agents to ensure that what they are selling will meet travellers’ expectations.”