Traveling is no longer just a pastime, it’s a way of life. More than three-quarters of all domestic travel is done for leisure, and over two billion trips are taken by Americans each year. However, today’s travelers are more likely to be scrolling through a smart phone than an Atlas, and you can bet they’re keenly aware of the environmental impact of their vacations. Green travel is becoming mainstream.
The Well-Connected Traveler
More than half of all trip accommodations and activities are now booked online. Not only do people look to the internet to plan their trips, they’re using it to experience trips, too. With roaming fees a thing of the past and free Wi-fi practically standard-issue, travelers are now as well-connected on holiday as they are at home. Studies show travelers use their mobile devices while traveling to research activities, check up on transportation logistics, and to keep in touch with loved ones back home.
In fact, we now may use technology designed not only to plan our trips, but to curate them. “Yeti” works a lot like a dating site, allowing users to swipe yes or no to trip photos they find interesting, helping the app learn what to best recommend to the users. And apps like “Adventure Link” actually help travelers connect, sharing adventure tour recommendations and logistics with each other that actually enhance the experiences themselves. And at least one luxury travel agency is using Virtual Reality to help travelers decide on a destination.
But can staying connected actually improve a trip? It seems so! Mobile apps like Google’s “Field Tripper,” “Pocket Guide,” and “Detour” actually use your phone’s GPS location to act as mobile tour guides while you’re on vacation. At Ted Turner Expeditions, it’s not uncommon to see excited guests uploading photos from the day’s professionally-guided photography hike directly to their social media accounts. Images of adventurous travelers digging up dinosaur bones or taking in scenic Western vistas regularly pop up on social media via Ted Turner’s resorts, too. Indeed, even America’s National Parks are catering to tech-savvy travelers, rolling out Wi-Fi at all of its parks visitor’s centers within the next few years.
Tourism With Minimal Impact
The line between “travel” and “ecotourism” is getting blurrier with time; however, access to these trips seems to create somewhat of a roadblock for travelers. Nearly one-third of domestic travelers say they’re willing to pay a premium for sustainability while on vacation, but only 8% think these options are easy to find. International destinations like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat are facing severe degradation from overuse and poor eco-planning, leaving plenty of bucket-list travelers conflicted about where traveling does more good than harm. For many, domestic ecotourism (“responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people”) is the perfect solution.
Green travel destinations like Ladder Ranch in New Mexico and St. Phillips Island in South Carolina make a point to both preserve and promote the natural flora and fauna in the area. Spotting native species like bison, elk, and javelina is what make a stay on Ladder Ranch so special, and allows visitors to truly feel connected to nature. Guests on St. Phillips can enjoy activities like cast-net fishing and hiking from the comfort of a totally self-sufficient and undeveloped island, complete with its own water and solar supply. Increasingly, travelers are looking to minimize their impact while still finding ways to experience something new and totally immersive.
Apps, of course, are the latest frontier in green travel. “GreenAdvisor” can help overland travelers figure out how to get from A to B without burning too many fossil fuels, and the “Locavore” app can even help identify exceedingly fresh food and markets nearby. And for the truly devoted eco-traveler, portable wind turbines and alarm clocks that run on water are must-haves for future trips.
The savvy traveler of today understands the inherent benefits of domestic travel and demands an authentic experience. They desire options – the ability to check their email if they need to, or to forget their phones in a peaceful, holistic setting. With half of the world’s population now living in fully urban areas, people longing for a greener, cleaner experience isn’t really surprising…the way today’s leading tourism providers are rising to meet the challenge is.