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Posted by on in Family Eco Travel

Canada is a large country with ample wilderness to explore, ancient forests to survey, mammals to discover, and native peoples artifacts to appreciate. The country offers many opportunities both for self-discovery as well as quality family time.

Probably best known for the rolling hills featured in the film The Sound of Music, Austria is a country with an immense geographic diversity of mountains, forests, and lakes that account for a wide variety of flora and fauna. Most of what constitutes ecotourism in Austria includes nature-based hiking or mountaineering at one of its national parks or nature reserves and staying at an eco-labeled hotel or agritourism site. The country is safe to travel, clean and offers many activities for all age groups.

As one of the 10 most visited countries in the world, Mexico is the personification of sun, sand, surf and cultural heritage. Given its importance of tourism to the economy, Mexico instituted, in 2006, a regulation that has "certified (more than 30) ecotourism businesses and provided small, rural tourism business owners with training, technical assistance, and marketing support".

Distinctive New Zealand is resplendent with nature, adventure, flora, fauna, and naturalist guides committed to conservation.  And, as the last major landmass on earth to be settled – humans arrived 1000 years ago in comparison to Australia, which was settled 60,000 years ago – New Zealand is also a constant study in evolution.

Italy's eco-label for sustainable tourism emphasizes the protection of nature, culture and heritage as well as the improvement of the environment. Since 1997, the Legambiente Turismo eco-label has been awarded to 426 accommodations including agritourism sites, restaurants, boat operators, beaches, natural parks, and tourist attractions that have raised awareness about running sustainable tourism operations as well as reducing the environmental impacts of tourism.

Alaska has the highest mountain (Mt. McKinley), the longest coastline, eight national parks, ten national preserves, four national monuments, sixteen national wildlife refuges, twenty-six national wild and scenic rivers, and two national forests. Nearly 16% of the state is designated as wilderness, compared to only 2.5% in the contiguous United States. And, although a bit cooler, it is an eco destination for all seasons as Alaska offers a special connection to nature, native culture and wildlife.

With over 900 million people traveling annually, tourism is the world's largest service sector industry and ecotourism is its fastest growing sector. In order to protect the surroundings upon which it depends, Greenloons, a family-focused eco travel website, has teamed up with the Rainforest Alliance to work towards improving environmental and social standards, as well as protecting wildlife habitats and workers alike.

Sweden has long exemplified family, sustainability, rugged terrain, and hospitable tourism. Nature´s Best is the first national quality label for nature tours in Europe. In 2002 and coinciding with the United Nation's declaration as the International Year of Ecotourism, Sweden launched the Nature's Best quality eco-label so that customers would know about the best offerings for Swedish ecotourism.

Home to more than 25,000 plant species, 1500 bird species including the Andean condor and blue-footed booby, 1000 species of fish and 300 mammal species, Ecuador offers an educational conservation lesson at every turn. With beautiful scenery at its 20 national parks and activities such as trekking, whitewater rafting, thermal hot baths, volcanic lagoons, and small boat cruising through the Galapagos Islands, remarkable Ecuador's geographical diversity is a dream destination for nature lovers.

Although the least densely populated country in Europe, Iceland is fast becoming a popular family ecotour destination. Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and about the size of Kentucky, the “land of fire and ice” is a country with a rich geological landscape of volcanoes, mountains and hot springs. Iceland is safe to travel, clean and offers many enriching activities for all age groups.

With tourism a very important part of the economy, the United Kingdom has worked diligently for decades to make sustainability and green tourism a mainstream concept – and it is working! According to Green Business UK Ltd.,"demand has grown for simple labels that allow consumers to make purchasing decisions based on environmental and ethical grounds as consumers become increasingly aware of sustainability issues.”

Although a small country, Belize is host to more than 87 distinct types of ecosystems, which make ecotourism and agriculture the lifeblood of its economy. Slightly larger than Massachusetts, Belize is located in Central America at the southeastern tip of Mexico and east of Guatemala. The parliamentary democracy, which is part of the British Commonwealth, is well known for its Mayan temples, tropical rainforests and boasts the world’s second longest barrier reef.

Captivating Botswana has largely abandoned mass tourism in recent years in favor of low volume, high quality safari travel into the Okavango Delta and surrounding Kalahari Desert. Roughly the size of Texas, this progressive democratic republic has a stable economy, which also has taken steps to protect 40% of its land for wildlife, thereby creating one the highest game concentrations in southern Africa.

In line with its deep traditions of environmental consciousness and sustainability, Norway has many environmental and quality labels for the travel and tourism industry including Green Key for lodging and restaurants, the Blue Flag for beaches, and the Nordic Swan for consumer products. I still remember seeing in the outskirts of Oslo beautiful green turf roofs on relatively new homes that helped to maintain interior temperature during all seasons. With all that, only in January 2008 did Norway formalize ecotourism with its own ecotourism certification standard.

Fresh off the heels of Machu Picchu winning the 2010 World Travel Awards as the best ecotourism destination in South America, Peru is ready to showcase to the world its many cultural traditions, festivals, and natural landscapes. The Amazon River's origins are in Peru and its rainforests are home to some of the diverse habitats on Earth and presents a wonderful option as an ecotourism destination for families.

According to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), 83% of developing countries rely on ecotourism as a major export while others, such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nepal, Kenya, Madagascar and Antarctica, also rely on ecotourism as the major contributory factor in their gross domestic product and employment level calculations.

Costa Rica is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama and is often called “the Switzerland of Central America” due to its politically stable democracy, technological advancements, high literacy rate, high standard of living and medical facilities, and no standing army. About the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, ecotourism is the lifeblood of this relatively rural country with its vast areas of protected lands.

The country comprises only .01% of the earth’s landmass, yet is home to 5% of the planet’s biodiversity. With more than 10,000 identified plant species, 880 bird species, 9,000 butterfly and moth species, and 500 mammal species including capuchin monkeys, poison dart frogs, and sea turtles, there's much flora and fauna to observe.

Ecotourism is full of what educators call teachable moments or, more definitively, unplanned opportunities to explain a concept that has unintentionally captured a child’s interest. Whether it is touring the rainforests of the Amazon, observing blue footed boobies throughout the Galapagos Islands, or understanding the water issues that surround the Okavango Delta in Botswana, ecotourism is a vacation experience that provides boundless opportunities to teach younger generations about the fragility of ecosystems and the significance of heritage.

The Ecotourism Certification Standards series continues with the Ecotourism Kenya Eco-Rating certification. Kenya boasts seven diverse habitats within its borders; they range from open savannah to sandy beaches, deep forests to snow-capped mountains, wild deserts to coral reefs and river deltas. Besides elephants, rhinos, buffalo, lions, and leopards, several endangered species can be found in Kenya including the Grevy zebra, black rhino, African hunting dog, sable, and Hirola antelope. Not surprisingly, Kenya has a long tradition of hosting safari travelers and relying on tourism receipts for much of its gross national product.

Alaska is the personification of travel adventure, community support, and respect for environment and cultural heritage. Two years ago, in response to consumer confusion about the term green travel, the Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association (AWRTA) created the voluntary certification program for tourism businesses that operate in Alaska and meet standards of economic, social and environmental sustainability”.

Situated due north of South Africa, Botswana has differentiated itself as an ecotourism destination since 2002, when it first developed the Biokavango Project, which was a national ecotourism strategy aimed at conserving the Okavango wetland system. The Project, which is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Government of Botswana, has been implemented by the Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre (HOORC) and culminated in the introduction of an Ecotourism Certification System in 2008. The Ecotourism Certification System is based on such standards as the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and Green Key.

For decades, the concept of sustainable tourism was an intriguing and profitable one that, without defined criteria, resulted in the utilization of greenwashing practices by various travel industry suppliers. In order to build consumer confidence and promote industry efficiencies, the Rainforest Alliance in partnership with 27 other organizations including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) developed a set of 37 voluntary principles that have come to be known as the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC), which is undertaken by the Tourism Sustainability Council (TSC).

Recently, the Rainforest Alliance introduced its stricter Rainforest Alliance Verified ™ seal to delineate, for ecotourism purposes, tourism enterprises and projects that meet criteria developed by the Rainforest Alliance or by other aligned organizations.

So, why is the seal so important? When Rainforest Alliance opened its doors in 1987, people were largely “unaware that 50 acres of rainforest were disappearing every minute (resulting in) two dozen species going extinct every day.”

The United Nations Global Compact (Global Compact) is a voluntary, strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations in support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and coordinating their strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the four issue areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption. Since ecotourism addresses each of these four issue areas, some international ecotour operators have aligned their business practices with the Global Compact.

The Green Globe program grew out of the 1992 United Nations Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, where 182 heads of state from around the world endorsed the Agenda 21 principles of sustainable development. Subsequently, Green Globe International, which is a publicly traded company based out of Los Angeles, California, branded its sustainability and benchmarking program, carbon footprint calculation and offset program, and consulting services to help companies achieve certification. Green Globe is aligned with the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and provides certification for hotels, conference centers, attractions, tour operators, businesses, cruises, and spas.

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