So your vacation resort is "eco-friendly"....are you sure?

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A few months ago, my husband, daughter, our friend Dan and I visited Grand Riviere, a village on the north coast of Trinidad, to watch the nesting of the giant leatherback turtles. We stayed at Acajou, an "eco-chic" resort -- and indeed, it was simple, but lovely.

On the way back from Grand Riviere, Dan mentioned he had mixed feelings about the whole "eco-tourism" thing -- questioning how good for the environment eco-tourism could possibly be, since in theory, the environment is impacted by the presence of a resort in the first place. Besides, he continued, the resort would probably attract people who don't necessarily care about the environment -- they'd just visit because it is the "cool" thing to do.

I assured Dan that this wasn't the case at Grand Riviere -- the little village had made great strides in protecting the nesting grounds of the giant leatherbacks, by restricting the beach at night to only those who are accompanied by a licensed guide (the services of which can be had via a modest fee to the conservation society). As a result, the population of nesting turtles at Grand Riviere is one of the only such ones experiencing a growth, rather than a decline. Furthermore, the resort where we stayed was committed to working with the village, using only locally-supplied foodstuff, and fully staffed with local villagers, thus helping the small community's economy.

Still, I think Dan probably has a point: there are probably many hotels and restaurants that call themselves "eco-friendly," when in fact, they just happen to be located in a beautiful place -- their actual commitment to the environment might be nonexistent. How can you know that the resort you've chosen for your exotic getaway is actually focused on the sustainable development of its location?

Thank God for Google. Turns out, there's an International Ecotourism Society, whose mission it is to "promote responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." According to the society's homepage, the word "ecotourism" is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." Resorts claiming to be eco-friendly should adhere to the following principles:

- Minimize impact
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
- Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate
- Support international human rights and labor agreements

Sounds pretty straightforward. The website is worth a look if you're considering travel to an exotic location, and are interested in ecotourism -- in addition to information on various eco-tourist spots around the world, it can help you figure out the right questions to ask when doing your own research on places to stay. Because, let's face it: there's no reason why your holiday shouldn't also be good for the environment.


Contributing Editor Karen Walrond writes all about her life in the tropics at her personal blog, Chookooloonks. She is also the creator of Emerald Market, a green shopping blog, where this piece was originally published.


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