Can the Words “Eco” & “Travel” Ever Go Together?

Travel for goodIn recent decades, travel has become cheap, thereby allowing a large portion of the population to go wherever it pleases. While, at first glance, this seems a good thing, it has contributed in many ways to the increasing homogenization of world culture, and an increasing environmental footprint–something that more then 70 world leaders are meeting to discuss at this week’s COP15 meetings.

You’ve probably heard of ecotourism, traveling with a lighter impact and more meaningful experience, but you might be surprised to know that Travelocity, one of the major online travel agencies, has been running its Travel For Good program since 2006.

The program came not from some opportunistic marketing department, but from within the staff of the company, and it is composed of several people who wanted to find ways to make travel more meaningful, and help connect a more mainstream audience with voluntourism opportunities. When Travelocity reached out to its customers, it realized that there was a lot of interest out there as well, but consumers didn’t know where to look.

Like Walmart mainstreaming sustainable consumerism, Travelocity then set about creating Travel For Good.

Wanting this to be more than something that well-to-do people could do, it also created the Change Ambassadors Grant program, where people without the means, but with the demonstrated desire and history of volunteering, can get up to $5000 towards a trip organized by one of Travelocity’s voluntourism partners.

Travel for Good has awarded more than 30 grants to date and has sent people to give back in Kenya, China, India, Cambodia, Peru, Russia, the U.S., Brazil, and more.

The company has also made finding green hotels easier, via The Green Hotel Directory, that currently has over 700 places listed, from a start of 200. (More on the directory here.)

Also branching out beyond its Travel For Good program is the carbon offsets offered it seems with all travel booked through Travelocity, via the Conservation Fund’s Go Zero program which collectively has restored 20,000 acres of forestlands in the US, 6 million trees. The company’s UK arm also offers an offset program through the well-respected Last Minute.

Is it possible to completely zero out the impact of travel? No, but with some thought, education and resources such as Travel For Good, it can be much more beneficial, in direct and less obvious, more pervasive ways, back home and in the places where people travel.

Readers, what’s your take? Can eco and travel ever truly go together? What are some innovations you’ve seen to help make it more so?

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media.

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing. || ==> For more, see

10 responses

  1. No! When the word 'eco-tourism' was first coined probably 20 years ago, I shuddered. The point was to bring people to fragile areas to show them what raw nature looked like. Well, it's raw, because no one has been there! And it needs to stay raw!

    I don't mind eco-friendly hotels, because they are enormous resource wasters. I love to see them changing their ways. I do like the idea of Travel for Good helping others in developing countries. I don't believe in carbon offsets – paying your way out of a non-eco lifestyle without making any change.

    Eco travel is responsible travel, and we should think before we scoot.

  2. This is good news. When big companies like Travelocity begin introducing new ways for consumers to reduce their carbon footprint they provide for ways in which big business can partner with every day citizens on combatting climate change. There are already thousands of companies who are building companies and programs from te environmentally friendly model and consumers are responding in droves. The website http:/// has a directory of these companies and a plethora of case studies that demonstrate how profitability, job creation, and sustainable business practices can be incorporated seemlessly and creativel together moving forward. I encourage readers to take a look.

  3. Good to see a company listening to employees. Eco travel is problematic, but it's an improvement over regular travel. I've always thought labeling travel to environmentally sensitive places was poorly labeled when called ecotourism. As nanfischer said, some areas need to be protected, not visited. There are plenty of beautiful places we can visit that are still pretty wild, and leave the most sensitive areas alone. Visiting nature is good, it builds an appreciation, but which part we visit matters.

  4. I agree with nanfischer in that the focus for eco-travel should be more on the normal trips people take where most of their carbon footprint is placed (the hotels!). Now, the flights are another topic all together, but I think hotels are really starting to catch on to the fact that going “green” is a triple win. Win #1 = Great ROI, Win #2 = Consumer response, Win #3 = Responsible.'s Green Travel Hub highlights green hotels in their directory and in the search results. And, each hotel is given a green branch score with a detailed description of their green amenities. It makes it easy for the normal traveler to identify green hotels, the level of eco-friendly activities and book those hotels.

Leave a Reply