Some countries are better than others in providing responsible, sustainable tourism that benefits local communities as well as travellers. Others may promote their holiday packages as eco-friendly and sustainable, but at second glance reveal themselves to be nothing of the sort.
So what should travellers look out for before talking to experts such as Safari-Consultants about arranging a trip of a life-time? And remember, a modern-day safari doesn’t necessarily a trek to see the Big Five in Africa.
1. Costa Rica
One country that seems to have got it (mostly) right is Costa Rica, where nearly all hotels, lodges and resorts are being built with responsibly sourced materials by local craftsmen.
Locals find work in these resorts in many different ways and are paid a decent wage in addition to ongoing training. Resorts and eco-lodges offer safaris into Costa Rica’s stunning national parks, as well as trips to co-operatively run coffee plantations and cheese-dairies. The resorts and eco-lodges also provide agricultural communities with an income by sourcing all their food and some of the drink from locals, including coffee and cheese.
The Borinquen Mountain Resort & Spa for example offers luxury accommodation in the remote mountainous terrain of Guanacaste in the North Pacific region of Costa Rica. The resort, like many others in Costa Rica, makes excellent use of what’s already there as a sustainable tourist attraction, such as providing guests with onsite volcanic mud baths, thermal spring water pools and nature walks, off-road excursions in specially designed vehicles and canopy zip lining in the Rinco de la Vieja Volcano mountain range.
Many small eco-lodges offer educational programs that are open to locals and tourists alike, teaching in a fun and informative way about the flora and fauna, traditions and customs of their region, thus benefiting everyone.
It is easy to check with the country’s tourism board, which accommodation provider offers responsible safaris, because the tourism board rewards certificates.
Thailand welcomes more than 15 million visitors every year. After decades of destructive mass tourism, Thailand has finally adopted a far more stringent approach to sustainable and responsible tourism to avoid further damage to the environment and local communities.
On the Island of Koh Phra Thong for example, the resorts have adopted a very different approach to that taken by other islands. Here the Golden Buddha Beach Resort is just one of many luxury accommodation providers where the lodges were created using hardwood grown at local plantations. Houses were built by local Thai craftsmen to building height restrictions and strict limits as to the ratio of how much construction covers a plot. This protects not just flora and fauna, but also local drinking water levels.
Some 90% of staff are locals and they get paid a decent wage including holiday pay, still unusual in the country. There is no hot water because it’s not needed and no air-conditioning; the resort has no swimming pool, since there’s a bay with warm water temperatures right on the doorstep. Resort waste is recycled and taken to the mainland to be responsibly dealt with.
Divers check regularly on the health of coral reefs, such as at the Naucrates Conservation Biology project for instance, one of many projects volunteers can get involved with. From sea turtle protection to mangrove rehabilitation, there’s something for everybody. The volunteers from overseas support the local Baan Lions villagers via home stay arrangements.
At the Blue Guru Conservation and Diving project, visitors can enjoy rainforest trekking trips, mangrove boat trips and village tours that use local guides, all paid to educate eco-tourists about the local cultures and environments. Transport and accommodation is also provided by local people, giving them an income. The dive centre was constructed by locals using natural materials sourced locally. The centre has no electricity and a strict policy of minimizing water consumption through the use of dunk tanks where divers clean their kits.
After many years of civil war and political unrest the country is trying hard to open up once more to tourism, but doing it in a responsible and sustainable way this time round.
As the neighbouring countries try to help by “restocking” Uganda’s depleted national parks with native animals, numerous conservation projects and eco-lodges offer safaris again. Not so long ago, The Independent newspaper listed ten of these projects, which included wildlife trips and gorilla-spotting safaris in the Bwindi Forest of Uganda.
The 9-day trip is run in conjunction with Uganda Wildlife Authority, taking visitors deep into Bwindi National Park. Only four people at a time are permitted to come face-to-face with the 11-member strong gorilla family. Numerous experts from world-renowned organisations like Gorilla Doctors for example offer educational background on the subject of primates along the way.