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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Ecotourism Blog!

Welcome to the Greenloons Blog, your go-to ecotourism / sustainable / responsible (or whatever term you feel comfortable with) travel resource. Here, you will find eco travel destination profiles, environmentally friendly travel tips, ecotourism certification information, eco trip reviews and much more! Read, share and let us know your thoughts about ecotourism!

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For generations, nature and wildlife conservation has been a part of the Indian culture and heritage. From its highest peak at Kanchenjunga to the Indian Ocean, amazing India also spells variety and adventure. A land of rich and varied geography including the Himalayan Region, Kerala and the Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshdweep Islands, India offers such diverse activities such as elephant and camel safaris, and yoga and meditation retreats, to thrilling whitewater rafting adventures.

Ask most international travelers about the eco-label that most comes to mind for sustainable tourism and the common answer given will be Europe's VISIT eco-label. Yet, the European VISIT (Voluntary Initiative for Sustainability in Tourism) eco-label is actually a collaboration of existing tourism certification schemes throughout the continent. It's not an eco-label as much as an association of sustainable tourism business and certification organizations.

In the age of travel alerts, political uprisings and airport security lines, it is no wonder why so few people travel outside of their home regions. A recent article posted on CNN.com gave a grim view of Americans who prefer to not travel internationally for a myriad of reasons ranging from our general lack of interest and intense work culture to expensive airfares and logistics.

This past week, the National Geographic Society played master of ceremonies for the premiere of Dereck and Beverly Joubert's "The Last Lions". The extraordinarily powerful documentary film by the award-winning couple focused on the plight of one lioness, Ma di Tau, and her determination to keep her three cubs safe and thriving despite numerous obstacles.

As the popularity of environmentally-friendly products has grown over the years, consumers have been conditioned to believe that green goods or eco products equate to more expensive merchandise. In the specific case of ecotourism, this is simply not the case. Indeed, it is possible to participate in ecotourism and stay well within your vacation budget. The options for ecotourism travel range from the luxurious to the rustic, so your standards do not need to be adjusted for a responsible travel experience.

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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”.

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