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Posted on: Wednesday, 27 November 2013

How eco friendly is your tour operator, really?

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Is your eco friendly tour operator really environmentally friendly? And how do you recognise one?

So many organisers of tours and trips these days attach the prefix ‘eco’ to their offering. How far reaching this ‘umbrella’ claim is depends on a number of issues. But when is it just a wishful title, and when is it credible?


Swim with Penguins at Boulders Beach


The good news: it isn’t difficult to assess yourself

The bad news: you cannot assume that the term ‘eco’ means the company is accredited (in South Africa there is no formal eco accreditation in the travel sector, other than Fair Trade). There are also no universal guidelines to eco friendly credentials, so you do need to do a bit of research

Here’s what to look out for when assessing eco credentials:


If they’re eco friendly, the company will have taken some steps to reduce their CO2 emissions. They will probably have a written statement about how they do this on their website. Do they use less carbon intensive transport, alternative fuels or offset their impact on the environment by planting trees or donating energy efficient lightbulbs to local hotels? Do they have energy efficient initiatives in place, do they use local suppliers for food and accommodation?


Mkuze, Elephant Coast



Some travel companies go the extra mile, and let you know exactly what they do to make sure they protect the environment. They do things like only hiking designated paths, disposing of all litter, getting things like water and cooking oils from an eco friendly source. They partner with conservation NGOs, and use small scale service providers like family-owned, small and local companies. They use solar power, or offgrid electricity if they can, make meals from locally sourced ingredients, take measures to protect the sensitive ecosystems in which they travel, or support local artisans. The nitty gritty differentiates green wash from valid eco friendly policies.


Do they employ locals? Are they sourcing food and accommodation from local community initiatives? If they are a sustainable company then their attitude towards the region in which they tour will be a conscientious one. In South Africa this might translate into choosing accommodation that is Fair Trade, run by a local community, or offgrid, and getting involved in a local community project, or donating to conservation.


Read reviews about the company you are considering. Do an internet search for other people’s feedback. There are so many travel forums filled with travellers’ feedback, it shouldn’t be difficult to find. But don’t form an opinion based on one comment only. You will need more than a couple to find a common thread.


If preserving the environment is a priority for the company you are considering they will be committed to preserving the culture in which they operate. They will take steps to protect important cultural sites and local traditions, provide information on local customs, and encourage meaningful interaction with local communities. They will also state their commitment to preserving the immediate environment by recycling, reducing paper waste, saving water, and using alternative forms of electricity. And they will donate a portion of their net profit to local charity or wildlife projects.


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Addo Elephant National Park


Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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