RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS: Sustainable Travel – Best Places and Practices
Bill Bryan, Co-Founder and Chairman, Off the Beaten Path, discusses the meaning of sustainable travel, with examples of sustainably planned places and best sustainable practices.
As founder and Executive Director of the Northern Rockies Action Group in the late 1970s, Bill Bryan aided in the start-up and reorganization of many state and regional citizen or public policy development groups. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, he also served as founder and president of Silvertip Consulting Associates, gave public speeches and taught and lectured across the United States on Natural Resource Management and related challenges. At the close of the ‘90s, he was retained by the Montana Department of Commerce as a resource contact and speaker for a series of Farm and Ranch Recreation workshops.
Bill has served on numerous boards and advisory councils in the West dealing with environmental policy and strategic planning. He currently serves as Executive Director and board member of the Rural Landscape Institute: A Catalyst for Food and Agricultural Integrity in the American West; he also is a member of the advisory councils of the Adventure Travel Trade Association and The Yellowstone Business Partnership, and sits on the boards of the Center for Responsible Travel (interim Chair) and the Resource Renewal Institute of San Francisco, California. Bill is Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of the adventure travel operator, Off the Beaten Path, which offers a wide range of journeys in North America, Central America, South America, and New Zealand.
Don George: What is sustainable/ecotourism/green travel?
Bill Bryan: You could go on and on with that litany. There is also geotourism, nature-based tourism, responsible travel, conscientious travel, adventure travel. First of all, many of these terms have been individual or special interest focused, but all come from the genesis that people within the industry understand the extractive nature of the industry and are trying to figure out ways to minimize that extractive nature so that tourism has less of a footprint on the environment, culture and community. In my view, all of these terms must incorporate culture, community, the environment and the fact that we, in the travel business, are all in this together. In other words, all of these labels or concepts must address carefully the three Ps: people, planet, and profit.
In your 25 years in the travel industry, what places stand out as stellar examples of sustainable travel? Why?
I can come up with a variety of places that take the issue of sustainable travel very seriously. None has totally mastered it — I don’t know if that’s even possible or practical. Regardless, some that immediately come to mind include:
Camp Denali within Denali National Park in Alaska. They work very hard, from transportation to recycling to energy issues and the like in a very difficult and very fragile environment.
Clayoquot in northern Vancouver Island in British Columbia also does a wonderful job in this area. While a high-end property, they don’t compromise on trying to have as negligible as possible a footprint regarding the environment.
In the Rockies, the J Bar L Ranch in Centennial Valley in Montana has been working hard on this issue. A high-quality operation from an accommodations and activities standpoint, their manager is working very hard in the local foods movement, particularly in the area of natural beef. Their accommodations utilize solar power and some even have compost toilets.
Xanterra, which is more of a service than a place, is the concessionaire in Yellowstone National Park and many other national parks in the United States. In Yellowstone, they have put the issue of sustainability in the forefront of their work. While I’m not qualified to talk about how they operate in many of the national parks, I do feel that their efforts in Yellowstone are most worthy of mention. The LEED-certified staff housing recently built in Gardiner, Montana, is only one of the concrete examples. Others, including their efforts to get their food (which is obviously high volume oriented) to be locally raised and produced, are exemplary. They are also working very hard to have their transportation program in the Park be as carbon neutral as possible.
Hells Backbone Kitchen in Boulder, Utah, is another example. This particular restaurant is between Capital Reef National Park and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in a very, very rural area. Yet using local food is a very high priority, as is composting and how they handle their waste. They also utilize solar energy. The owners of Hells Backbone have been more than willing to share their commitment to sustainability with the Boulder Mountain Lodge, which is adjacent to the restaurant.
If I look at places in other countries, certainly Lapa Rios on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica comes out as perhaps the leader in sustainability. There are many other sustainable-oriented eco-lodges in Costa Rica as well. Being able to practice sustainability in a subtropical area such as Costa Rica is somewhat easier than it is in the Rocky Mountain West. Therefore, Costa Rica has made a conscious choice to embrace the concept of sustainability in their tourism sector. On the other hand, Costa Rica is facing serious challenges going forward as the cruise industry and some of the larger hotel destination chains are beginning to make a major impact on community and environment in the Guanacaste area of the country. Therefore, the sustainability issue in Costa Rica is a sensitive one at this time in terms of tourism and sustainable economic development there.
What are the best resources for policy makers, tourism planners and those in academia who are researching best practices?
Recently I was involved in setting up an inbound regional organization in the Aysen region of Chile. In a consulting capacity through the University of Montana, I was one of these “tourism planners” and found it very difficult to find one best resource in this area. Rainforest Alliance was and is a fairly good resource, as is the Center for Responsible Travel and their Co-Executive Director, Martha Honey.
While this may be a bit self-serving, I do believe that other resources for best practices in the sustainable travel area are the companies in the Adventure Collection. For example, I’m not sure that there is a better cruise operation in the industry that takes sustainability more seriously than Lindblad. Certainly Geographic Expeditions is a major leader in the sustainable travel arena as well. Being land-based, many of us in the AC look to them for advice in this area as we try to improve our sustainability practices.
Another organization that is a great resource in the area of community and cultural sustainability is Wildland Adventures based out of Seattle. For us at Off the Beaten Path, we feel Wildland Adventures is a great resource as we try to be as sustainable as possible regarding the communities in which we work and the cultures in which we immerse our clients.