Thursday, 15 December 2011

Christmas is coming...but where are you going

Like everyone else at this specific time of year, I'm feeling that it's "almost Christmas, but its not quite here just yet" feeling.  It's December we're comfortably into double figures date wise, people aren't starting to slope off on their holiday trips if they're taking them.  Obviously for advertisers it's about getting word out and going absolutely crazy in terms of hyping whatever they're being paid to advertise, for them its most definitely Christmas. 

For most people Christmas is a time for returning to the family home, or having family to stay or visit, or family whatever.  As perfectly typified in "Planes Trains and Automobiles" (okay I know it was actually Thanksgiving, but it's sort of similar) For many the journey home to the family can  be the returning home for the first Christmas since leaving home, young people who've just moved out or have gone off to college.  Their life as new adults and the sort of renegotiation of terms with parents who are still used to the idea of charging into their youngsters bedrooms and telling them to get out of bed, that they are losing the day etc.  

Or new parents spending their first Christmas together as a family in their own home rather than going back to the home of those who are now "the grandparents".  It's complicated time of year, its strengthening ties that may have weakened a bit, or realising that a few people have drifted further away and you'll not be seeing them again.  Usually asking people what they did for Christmas illicit a pretty dull response. So I thought I'd try and find the most ambitious or self-aggrandising Christmas and I think I found it.    

So..... and no prizes for understatement or subtlety here, William the Conquer chose Christmas Day 1066 for his coronation as King of England.  Christ's birth, his coronation are you seeing the link?  Probably for the time an inspired bit of public relations, but then if you've got a load of knights to do your bidding you're probably less interested in what people actually think. So he probably had some family round, perhaps some light torturing of prisoners, but we can be sure they didn't have turkey that year due to the discovery of the Americas not being due for another few centuries.  
Anyway that's me for this week, so have a good weekend, Happy Christmas etc and I thought I'd leave you with this.....  Perhaps not too much of a "Baaa... humbug!" type quote, but it made me smile.... 

"Christmas.......Several weeks of Hell for Christ's sake!"

Monday, 12 December 2011

What is the difference between a Traveler and a Tourist?

Leading on from my posting on the 6th of December (shameless self-promotion of my own blog, oh yes, what irony) I briefly touched on what the most stupid thing was that you may have overheard a tourist say.   I started to think how do would you classify a tourist, I have classified it  in the past as the following - mostly people see themselves as travellers and other people as tourists.  But I although I think that's true for most of us I think it might be better to come up with something slightly deeper, not a lot, just slightly.....

So starting with the dictionary 
tourist  (ˈtʊərɪst) 
— n
1. a person who travels for pleasure, usually sightseeing andstaying in hotels
    b ( as modifier ): tourist attractions
2. person on an excursion or sightseeing tour

   [trav-uh-ler, trav-ler]
1. a person or thing that travels.
2. a person who travels or has traveled in distant places orforeign lands.
3. traveling salesman

So basically, I think you don't need to be travelling on business to regard yourself as a traveller.  But, we're all ready to point the finger. Living in central London as I do, at times, I can get somewhat frustrated by being looked at strangely when I bump into tourists who have decided that it would be advisable to stop in the middle of a busy thoroughfare.  "Tough!"  You might say, "Take it Barnes, that's living in a busy capital city" and for the most part and I'd agree with you, just like people letting out horrific farts on the tube which make everyone in the carriage stare accusingly at their fellow travellers, hoping to scare an apology out of someone. 

Before the nostrils start to burn
It's part of life in the capital, and so it is, but I can tell you that these people stopping suddenly are definitely tourists and not travellers because even if they have spatial awareness at home, they seem to assume they don't need it or forget they will need to remember it, when lots of people moving fast in directions and the people moving fast are unblessed with the powers of telepathy, then slam into them as they have randomly decided to look up, or down, or reach into their bag, or wonder where their friends have gone, or whatever it is that has made them stop suddenly.  

So, in rough terms, and by now what feels like a slightly rant deflected thought later, I think a "traveller" or "traveler" should be defined as someone who moves to or through places and environment without disturbing everyone around them, either fellow "travellers/travelers" or people going about their daily business who are in the locality.  I think that's sort of fair.  

Thursday, 8 December 2011

How hotel chains can learn from Scandic

When most of us think of Eco-Tourism we think of the small lodge in the jungle which is solar-powered, and recycles all the human waste etc etc.  But the reality is that it's not just a field for small independent operators any more.  Many of the chains are starting to make serious commitments to both the environment and their local communities.

I'm not going to do a deep case study of the Scandic Hotel Chain, although I think it's probably worth doing at some stage so, perhaps keep an eye out for that.  Basically put, Scandic is a mid range hotel chain from Sweden, with both a strong offering for business travellers and families, the Scandic chain is spread through out the Scandinavian countries, and is gradually expanding into other countries in Northern Europe.  But what marks out Scandic from most of the other hotel chains in Europe is that their Sustainability Programme reads like a "how to guide" to Sustainable Hospitality.

They started developing their programme back in 1993, hats off there, certainly well ahead of the curve, and they have been refining it and improving it ever since and quite frankly it really shows.  I imagine one of the hardest things to do if you start an environmental policy from scratch is knowing where to start.  In looking through their comprehensive programme, you can see that they worked and worked on it.  

I can't deny a degree of self-interest because we list a number of their hotels.  But the main reason is because our whole ethos at is to take the word "Eco" or "Sustainable" or "Ethical" and not have these terms that just mean something to special interest groups but to put in into the mainstream of travel.  And by focusing on Scandic, perhaps we can push some the other hotel chains to thinking about how they can improve and actually bring a degree of competition to eco policies within the larger hotel groups, to have the most developed eco offering for their customers.  

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

What's the most stupid thing you've ever heard a tourist say?

I had been meaning to write about tourism more widely today, and then I thought back to things I've overheard tourists say at various attractions around the world.  And thought I'd just post a brief couple of thoughts about that.  

The Griswalds Abroad

So here are a couple of choice phrases that I have heard over the years from the mouths of tourists that have stayed with me.

At Stonehenge 
"It's really beautiful, it's just such a shame they built it so close to the road."

At Tate Modern
"Okay, we've done this room and that room, that just leaves this room.... or have we done enough art?"

I hope that I have not managed to utter anything as stupid.  Actually, okay, I have one confession, when my ex and I were about to fly out of Mumbai we'd booked ourselves into the Iskon Hotel in Mumbai, its is a nice hotel owned and run by devotees of Hari Krishna which has amazing food, and its own temple within the hotel complex which runs food kitchens for followers and guests, very nice place to stay and not too far from the airport.  

Anyway as my ex and I were heading back to our room we were accosted by a really big (I'm 6'2" and this guy must have been at least three inches taller than me, I digress) he asked if we had visited the temple?  We had got there after rather long journey due to serious floods in Goa, little did we know what would happen that afternoon. (Again with the digression).  No, we hadn't taken the opportunity to see temple, so off he took us off to see the beautiful temple a few footsteps away.

He lead us in and talked us through the various elements within the temple.  After a moment he fell silent and let us wonder at the beauty of the place.  And what did I say, as he stood welcoming us into this sacred place?  And I still cannot for why it sprang out of my mouth.  I uttered "It's amazing how you keep it so free of dust." !!!!  I don't think about dust, I don't have OCD, I'm not constantly aware of surfaces, but at that moment I managed to offer the point of view of an American house-wife in a cleaning commercial from the 1950s. Fortunately he was such a happy guy that he just nodded and turned back smiling at the impressive ceiling above us.  Doubtless to say after we'd learned a bit about the early days of the Hare Krishna movement we thanked him, made a donation to the food kitchen run by the devotees and continued on to our room.  My ex enjoying the opportunity to laugh at my perfectly chosen compliment.  Anyway these days I try and keep my ear open for new utterances.  (My internal monologue has stopped me saying anything as stupid as the above, ever since.)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A Film Review of The Lady and whether you should travel to Burma

Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi
I saw the film "The Lady" a few days ago at an advanced screening, the film is the biopic of tireless campaigner for Burmese freedom and Nobel Peace Prizewinner Aung San Suu Kyi.  And I thought I might try and combine a rather ragged review of the film with some thoughts on whether it is ethically acceptable to travel to Burma.  

The film does give you an interesting insight of Aung San Suu Kyi's curious situation of being someone who had a comfortable life, who due to circumstance found themselves in a position and was left with the quandary of whether she could walk away. Aung San Suu Kyi as a Burmese woman whose father had brought the country independence from the British, felt a compulsion, to stay and campaign from house arrest and other ongoing degradations for freedom.  The generals who are responsible for savage acts are depressingly comic, they seem to look group of taxi-drivers who like to dress up as generals on dress-down Fridays.  Knowing the butchery and inhumanity the real generals have inflicted I felt we should have felt more than amusement upon seeing them.  Perhaps the one things to come from the portrayal of the generals, is that they are constantly playing for time and ultimately seem to only be slightly bothered about external pressure be it from the US, Europe, China or Russia.  

The Fighting Peacock Flag
The film tries to capture Burma's struggle against oppression, through the life of Aung San Suu Kyi's relationship with her husband and her two sons.  And on some level, it kind of succeeds, for brief moments, but overall it doesn't leave you with much hope for her or the country, and it feels quite distanced from the real the horrors faced by ordinary Burmese people for most of the film.   

The film focuses in the main on Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest and she has now been freed from house arrest and with her freedom has come a change in her views on tourists visiting Burma.  Until recently Aung San Suu Kyi and the Free Burma Coalitionwhich are (effectively the elected government which has not been allowed to govern the country) were both firmly against foreign travellers going to Burma.  
But obviously after such a strong and lasting stance against it, travellers are still reticent and concerned about travelling to a country which such an oppressive regime in power. I think those concerns are perfectly justified and regardless of the views expressed by Aung San Suu Kyi and the Free Burma Coalition each traveller must first find peace with their own conscience.  If travellers can do that, then they may find solace in the interview she gave to the Daily Telegraph this November in which she stated that “There has been change, not sufficient yet but we’ll get there” and that she hopes that the changes will occur sooner rather than later.  I'm of the mind that the generals of the junta will loosen the reins of control off a bit and then pull hard on them when they start to feel real power start to slip away from them.  It was only 2007 when the monks rose to protest against army rule and were brutally put down. I hope will be proven to be wrong as time progresses and if the selfless and courageous people who have spent every day of every year since 1947 trying to bring peace and democracy to Burma say they welcome visitors to the country then you have an open invitation from the people best placed to make that judgement.  

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Review of the "Green Rooms" book

I've seen this book a couple of times in bookshops and last Friday I thought I'd treat myself.  Not to mention that is was reduced.  So I felt obligated to pick it up, thumb through and then even buy it.  

Firstly before even checking starting into the worth of the book itself I took a cursory glance over it to check its own "green" credentials before looking more closely at it's contents, and yes it had a badge telling me that the CO2 emmissions had been offset by putting money into projects that work on reducing carbon emissions.  So if you believe in off-setting (and yes, I'll come back to that), it basically has a tick there and it also had a FSC mixed sources badge.  So hooray, a book that was about green rooms, which was quite green, in and of itself.   

So on to the book, it has a foreword by Richard Hammond one of the leading ecotourism writers within the UK who has his own column in The Guardian and as the papers eco travel correspondent. Then you get a sound overview and some basic background into the ideas and principles of ecotourism.  And Tourism Concern also offers you "Responsible Travel Tips" which gives you some basic pointers on how not to be exploitative when travelling.  All fine well and good so far.  

One thing I like about the guide, is that instead of talking about lodges or hotels or self-catering etc, rooms give it a great deal of flexibility and as a result there are rooms in eco-lodges like Guludo Beach Lodge but there are also "eco-hotels" like Fairmount Chicago, but also more eclectic fare like The Hoopoe Yurt Hotel, Whitepod and Damaraland Camp.  

The actual "Green Room" pages themselves, are nice and clear, each has a brief breakdown enabling the reader to do a quick scan.  It has the usual things like rates, best time to go etc.  On the eco side each listing has the amount of CO2 that would be generated for one person to travel from the various major cities around the world to that particular room, it helps give you a snap shot of what our travel actually costs the planet.  Beneath it are the amounts it will cost to offset the CO2 emissions generated by your trip.  Like you can just add that on to the cost of the trip, and it will take away all the carbon generated by the trip, which you can't.  Once it it has been released, it is out there and there's no putting it back.  Anyway, I think some good and bad there. 

Ultimately this is a "before you go guide" rather than "a guide for when you are there", it is 311 pages long excluding and being about the same width as a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide for a small country, it is not comprehensive enough for you to find places when you are actually within a country.  

As you go through the book there's various ideas for excursions and experiences and which have an ecotourism bent.  Like "Paddle Power" canoing around Isla Espiritu Santo (if you go, feel free to add to the minimal wikipedia entry) the trip is so eco-friendly that you "pack in", everything that you "pack out" which in the case of the trip taken by the contributors includes taking your own poo home with you, as there is no bacteria in the sand on the island.  There are other ideas like "The Grizzly Trail", "Spotting Jaguars" and "Karma Down" (shameless punning is apparently quite acceptable in some ecotourism circles).  These brief ideas and suggestions break up the listings nicely and also give you some unique travel ideas which I think really live up to the ethos of ecotourism.  

As well as the actual trip ideas there are other pages dotted through out the book which are more geared to educating readers on issues surrounding green travel, ecotourism and ethical tourism (one day these will all fit perfectly into a single, catch-all term). There are passages on "Should I hire a Car?" "Should I give to beggars?" and "Tribal Welfare", these help to add insight into the main point of the book and it is perfect for the dipping in and out reader, which is ultimately how the book is set out.  

What I really like about this book, is that it isn't overly preachy, it doesn't feel like it has been written by a group of revolutionaries who are going to make you feel like leaving your home is a crime against the planet, it deals with things in a balanced, intelligent way.  I think on balance I would give it a 7/10 and happily recommend it to anyone who was interested in planning an eco trip or who just wanted to learn more about the field itself.  

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Thomas Cook - Where next?

The travel business is an ever changing beast and after hearing about Thomas Cook's financial woes I thought I'd spend some time considering what it all means.  Both for Thomas Cook as well as travellers and tourists (I'm not going to get into a debate on what the difference is, let's just say mostly people see themselves as travellers and other people as tourists).  

Firstly, what is the problem that Thomas Cook has? Simply put Thomas Cook appear to owe 1 billion pounds to the banks and based on their current share price they are only valued at about 100 million pounds.  The company also needs to convince their bankers that the company's management can handle the companies existing problems.  So all in all then, quite far up a creek it might be fair to say.

As pundits and commentators have quite rightly observed the effects of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia as well as the floods in Thailand, have hit Thomas cook hard as these three countries are key markets for them.  Combined with the world's financial insecurity and the knock on effects of the ongoing "Euro-Zone Crisis" But I think there's more to Thomas Cook's current set of woes.  The business model of Thomas Cook is still based on the founding principles of "packaging".  Creating a "packaged holiday", at a time when we are all becoming aware of how less packaging is best.  Almost everyone in the UK will know the meaning of that term "package holiday" meaning a holiday or vacation, where you buy the travel, the accommodation, insurance etc at one price.  And basically you're whole holiday is sorted out for you, a business model that is starting to look a bit out of date after 170 years.  The peak of package holidays from the UK was the 1960's to the 1980's, people often going abroad for the first time, on affordable holidays to places like Spain, Portugal and Greece.  But now people can go anywhere and moreover the internet means they can do it all themselves and they don't need anyone to hold their hand any more.  Travel Trends point not just to people booking their holidays online, which in someways shouldn't hurt Thomas Cook too much as they have a huge online presence.  But having shops is certainly an outdated concept for most people looking for a holiday, it is also that people are more and more confident about making own their arrangements.  

The shift the world has undergone certainly in the post-industrial information age (thanks for that term sociologists) is people are far more used to travel generally.  When the Thomas Cook, the founding father of the company arranged for a group of temperance (tee-totallers to you and I) to go to a rally in Loughborough in the 19th Century it was all a completely new proposition, a travel "agent" sorting it all out for you.  Subsequently the emphasis was in taking the stress out of travelling, and allowing you to enjoy your time away, without having to think much about arrangements other than making the initial departure point.  So even if the advertising has changed a little and we now see the "done-well couple from next door" namely Harry and Louise Reknapp, who need a break from their busy schedule advertising the Nintendo Wii, and need to look photogenic on a beach in front of a sunset.  We don't see Thomas Cook as reflecting our needs, perhaps for the young family, not for the young couple who are more likely to look to  

Social media sites like TripAdvisor have helped to chip away at Thomas Cook, because people enjoy reading peoples reviews and like to think more closely about where they holiday than they did in the past.  (Leaving aside that some unscrupulous souls seem to be actively holding hoteliers to ransom,even when there have been no problems with their stay as well as some postings are by hotels themselves and a system which is wide open to abuse, which seems to be on the rise, right, enough I'll park this tangent).  

Also the travel market has broken into many different markets and the mass market has become harder to define as well as market to.  People want more, they more for less and they also know far more about what they should expect.  The time of people accepting what they are given and making do is long gone.  

Obviously some people will be looking for a beach, a pool and a hotel with restaurant and bar, a package firm will be perfect for them.  But these days, more and more people want more for their money and that means experiences, in the way people love to cook far more than they did a few years ago.  They are far more willing to be more adventurous with their travel.  In a time when the word "Lifestyle" actually means something to so many people, they see their travel needs as reflecting the image that they have for their own lifestyle.  

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Travel Insurance and Scamming Emails from People in Spain

One thought this week and a word of warning about emails....

Right this is perhaps a very obvious posting.  As someone who has travelled around the world at different times, to various different places.  Including 1st, 2nd and 3rd world countries.   Every time I have been away from my home country of the UK I have had travel insurance.  I was effectively indoctrinated into that being the first thing or the second thing after vaccinations that you got straight on to.  On one level to ensure that you have decent insurance which will cover you in the event of the worst situation becoming a reality and also making sure that the insurer would take the appropriate action and make payments to you as fast a possible, rather than being obstructive.  As a result when I have been abroad and things have gone array, I've always had the psychological reserve that I had financial and medical support.  So much so that I have never made a claim on my travel insurance as the amounts have never been enough to really make it worthwhile.  

So fast forward to lunchtime, this Monday and an email from an old friend who said she had made an unplanned trip to Spain.  She had been robbed, lost all her cards, all her cash and her mobile phone, leaving her in Madrid in the desperate situation of having no money and having to beg friends to send her cash via a Western Union money transfer.  On one level obviously I felt incredibly sorry for her.  But I was also really annoyed that she had just assumed that being a European visiting another part of Europe she didn't need travel insurance. 

Then, after I got over my initial irritation at my friends recklessness while travelling abroad, I remembered that this sounded very like a scam I first heard of about a year ago and had disappeared into the abyss that is my grey matter.  But gradually my steam-powered memory started to recall the details of a scam where people are sent an email, which is written from someone who you know is or was planning to be abroad at the time when the email arrives, purporting to have been robbed and in desperate need of cash.  Looking back at the email I noticed errors in spelling, admittedly at times of stress there's more than a slim chance that most of us would be less concerned about that.  But my friend is cracking linguist and even though English is not her mother tongue she is very precise.  When I responded to the email I got no response on Googlechat while I could definitely see that she was online and someone was logged into her account.   

So please beware, unless you've had contact with the person and you're sure they really have been robbed in Spain and have rather poor spelling.  Then don't send any money.  

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Last Week

Well a it's been a busy week.  Working on the various different elements that go into Eco Accommodation. The struggle I've been wrestling with is that you can either write something in relation to an area of an accommodations offering that it is very detailed and perhaps overly specific, or something that is more general but verges on being so vague as to really not be fit for the purpose of giving a wider understanding of the "eco" terms around eco accommodation. So for example something like "waste management" it's obvious what it means. But the manifestation of this management of can be so varied, it can be tricky to nail down. An Eco lodge can have such a different offering to its guests from an eco urban hotel. I think it can be split simply into two straight forward catagories, there is the minimisation of waste by controlling consumption at source, for example, smart lighting which turns on when there is movement in a guest's room and turns off when there isn't.  The other form of waste management is the more obvious is the more obvious, namely the management of waste after it has been created, like sewage or plastic for example.  Anyway, I'm still wrestling with it all so more tales of further definitions to follow no doubt.  On another note, the website is getting more pages indexed by Google which is a great, we're now comfortably into double figures.  

Friday, 28 October 2011

Back to the Blogging & Eco Tourism Conferences (that I can't go to)

Well, a little time has elapsed between since my last blog posting.  So, I have resolved to sort it out and make sure I post one blog a week at 2pm every Thursday (UK Time), well there maybe with the odd exception, but best efforrt.  For a commitment resistant male this is a big step, and now I have committed to it.  Obviously there's the fear to be gotten over, but.  Deep breath, yep that's it, it's gone.  Who knows, if I get really into it I may even post more than once a week!  But for now I'll just try and keep up with the once a week.  

So, this week. Well the website is starting to shape up, we're pretty much getting there, but like writing, you're never completely finished there's always something to improve.  Something that has been nudged out of alignment by something else.  It seems to be much like DIY, it takes far longer than you first imagined and is never quite finished, which seems to be the same as one's life plans you spend ages working on working towards them and there's always that bit left to do.  The main thing I've been wrestling with, are the definitions (which by the way, I am still in the grip of) for the various elements of sustainability and ethical practices of eco lodges and eco hotels.  There are so many, it's a test to find the right balance between a broad and open definition, but at the same time without sounding too vague and lacking any real weight.  When they are done I'll post links to them and welcome comments, I suspect further refinement will follow.  

Over the past week I've been made aware of various different conferences that are coming up around the world, whose purpose is to promote and develop ecotourism which is great!  This awareness has been tempered by the knowledge that unfortunately due to their various different locations I can't attend them.  Two which I definately can't make is Kenya's 4th Annual EcoTourism Conference and there's also The 2011 Global Eco Conference which is primarily focused on eco-tourism but for some reason it looks like the words eco-tourism, ethical travel, sustainable travel haven't been included in the title, which seems to be a slight oversight.  But they seem to have a wealth of really good Keynote Speakers so to anyone from Oz near Sydney or visiting, I'd do my best to get there if I were you, between the 7th and the10th November, if I were you.  

Anyway it's Friday evening, and so without further delay goodbye, until next week and my next posting.  Thanks for reading.  

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Leading on from my posting last week, I gave some more thought to another very basic error made by many providers of eco accommodation and this time it is more about an simple error, rather than economising on facts.  Ecotourism being a growing market that it is, not surprising many accommodation providers struggling in the hard economic times it is understandable. Last time I checked, and I forgot where I read it, but the study stated that ecotourism had grown by 67% in the previous year, which is an incredible level of growth, but compared to the world travel industry as a whole, it is less than a tiny speck.  So what can ecotourism focused hotels and lodges do to make their tiny share of the world travel market just that little bit bigger. 
Over the past few years while learning more about the field of ecotourism and the wider green/eco cause I have come across the term “greenwashing” time and time again.  From bloggers trying to highlight the eagerness of some eco hotels and eco lodges to finesse or massage their eco/green offering by basically taking a half-truth and exaggerating it beyond recognition.  An example of this might be from a hotel stating on their website they have a “strict and comprehensive recycling policy” when in reality all they do is put their paper in the recycling bin.  That would be a solid example of people “greenwashing”.  The most hardcore form of "greenwashing" would obviously to just make up or copy someone else’s eco policy and put it on the hotels or lodges website. 

But I’ve been becoming more aware of late of a sort of, for the want of a better word, “greenfuzzing”.  Which can be a complicated form of “greenwashing”, but after reading the countless examples of eco policies I think it is an example of fuzzy copywriting.  When you read about an eco lodge, they’ll tell you how their committed to making the world a better place.  And it might be just me, after a little introduction to the ethos or philosophy I just want to get down to the hard facts of what they do in relation to the environment and the local community.  But that’s not always how it reads. 

Many eco lodges get too hung up on over the top description, or adding copy finesse, to make it more of a selling point than perhaps it is.  I think people in the main, and this is my personal experience, people value plain speaking.  So it you have a sewage treatment process that involves worms chewing away happily on peoples effluent just say that, concisely and clearly.  Yes detail is good, but speaking to most people, they just want to be able to scan through quickly see examples of the policy in action where possible, but really just get a good overview and then consider the other elements of the accommodation at more length.  This over complication of simple facts is what I would define as “greenfuzzing” where effectively the information is there, but you have to dig and sift through it to actually find out what you want.  I think as ecotourism grows out of its niche area, eco hotels and eco lodges will need to think about selling their offering by using terminology that is eco transparent.  

Monday, 19 September 2011

A simple misunderstanding?

A couple of weeks ago, a company that shall remain nameless, contacted me on twitter, saying they’d be interested in being listed on  I did the usual thing of checking over their website to see who they were, what they do and what their “eco” credentials were.  Other than offering what look liked very attractive excursions on the great barrier reef, they actually had nothing in their offering to guests, that was actually geared towards either minimising their impact on their immediate environment, improving their immediate environment, or improving the wider environment.  It wasn’t the first time I had encountered an “eco” lodge without any “eco” credentials. 

While researching eco accommodations to list on, we found plenty of so called “Eco Lodges” which were small operations whose "eco" dimension was that they were small, but that was the most environmentally positive thing that could be said for them.  As time has moved on, we’ve found the overwhelming majority of places positioning themselves as “eco-friendly” or “green” accommodations, have made a reasonable attempt to live up to those terms.  

It can always be argued that some people will always stick on a label that is current, or that they think will help sell their hotel or lodge.  You need to only look at the word luxury and see how often it is applied to hotels, and see how; in many cases it isn’t really accurate.  But I honestly think there are people out there amongst the hospitality trade who do not really know what ecotourism actually is.  And that is surprising, as it is growing area of travel and number of guests or travellers who do know what the word means are part of that growth.  So if you do use the word as a tag to attract business without any clear eco credentials I think you will actually start to see your business suffer, especially as guests who feel short changed post comments on TripAdvisor.  

But to go back to my initial reason for posting, when I sent a tweet back to the company operating on the great barrier reef, saying we’d be happy to list them once I could see on their website their eco credentials, I got no response and when I checked my followers list, they had unfollowed us.  Were they guilty of a little bit of conscious “greenwashing” or were they just under the misapprehension that “eco” can mean anything where nature is involved, I guess I’ll never know.  But thankfully, I think one by one making a case for a “misunderstanding” is just getting that little bit harder.  

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Usage of a Word, and the Witnessing of Lives Saved

I've been on twitter a fair bit this weekend, something I feel I can share with you, partly because I have deleted all spam accounts which were following us, which left me with a rather loathsome feeling of smugness, which has now fortunately left me.  But more importantly one of our tweets ended up in an ecotourism Google, alert which made me feel as though we're doing something of worth, in a very modest way.  

Anyway while tweeting, I saw how often the word traveller is used by people as term for a cool, independent (one L for our American cousins of course).  The word tourist would appear to have too many negative connotations for most people, the word conjures up mental images of feckless, camera-laden morons walking gormlessly around oversubscribed tourist hotspots looking for somewhere to have lunch.  

While the word traveller on the other hand, brings to mind people of intelligence understanding their surroundings, interacting on an equal footing on those around them, wherever they are.  A traveller is thought of as someone who can blend into their surroundings effortlessly, who isn't governed by schedules and who is knowledgeable about the places they visit.  

Many westerners who do travel, will have their own stories, in fact they may have, that many will have become oft repeated tales, about near misses and close calls, and some of them will have come close to death.  But I'm sure almost all their travels were undertaken as part of their own choice, not from pure desperation.  So with that in mind I want to expound the need to widen meaning of the word traveller.  

Prior to going out this last Friday evening I was watching Channel 4 news (the best television news by far in the UK) and there was a report from Tripoli.  The correspondent* had happened into a group of rebels who had found a group of black Africans.  The rebels claimed the men were mercenaries who had been fighting for Gaddafi.  The captives were in a state of shock, the fear on the mens faces was palpable.  Their eyes had that look of distance, desperate, unable to see a way out of their situation and the exhaustion of being in a heightened state of terror for a long time.  The men pleaded their innocence as best they could while not resisting the manhandling of their angry captors.  The men claimed to be passing through Libya and had just been trying to get across the Mediterranean and into Europe in the hope of finding work.  The rebels where convinced the men were mercenaries, who had been fighting for Gaddafi. 

The prisoners whispered and pleaded with the correspondent not to leave them, convinced they would be shot as soon as the correspondent left.  The correspondent said he would stay with the men, so that nothing would happen to them.  While the correspondent spoke to one of the prisoners the man asked if the correspondent could convince the rebels to let one of the men to take their captors to see the women the men were travelling with, who were taking refuge nearby.  After a brief conversation with the correspondent the rebels were convinced the men were not mercenaries, the men were released, given water and sent on their way.  

What has happened to those men since then, is anyone's guess.  Will they make it across the Mediterranean, are they now in the hands of new rebel group who are less inclined to believe them, who can say.  I hope they get somewhere safe, where they don't live in fear and are not exploited.  But this briefest of glimpses of these men's lives made me think they aren't just "migrants", a 'catch all' dehumanising term, but these men were travellers, on a journey.  Risking all they had, in the name of hope.  

So I appeal in a wider context to have the word traveller broadened back to include those who travel for reasons of utter necessity, not just to take time from their busy schedules to have experiences, or to brighten up a cut and dried career progression.  A traveller in the past often meant someone without much in the way of possessions and sometimes, someone in often in desperate need of help. I think one reason, many cultures offer the traveller hospitality, is perhaps the knowledge that they, one day may well be in far from home and in need of help themselves.  

*The correspondents name is Alex Thompson.  

Friday, 26 August 2011

The End of the Summer - And brief rant about the weather

Well, this it, the last weekend of the summer of 2011, and well despite some really gorgeous days in April (which is technically Spring) and a few good sunny days since then, it has by all accounts been one of the most typical British summers I can remember.  

For those outside the UK, the cliche of the British always talking about the weather is cliche which we truly deserve, but that is because it is such a changeable thing, we're always optimistic, the excited chatter as there was back in April, "perhaps it's going to be a really hot one this year".  Well no, it wasn't, and were we surprised, no we weren't, our lives spent in the UK had us prepared for such an outcome and although as spring sprang from the darker shades of winter there was even talk of a drought over the summer, as the winter this year had been one of the driest on record (just about every year is the something "ist" on record for something.  In fact there was talk of the whole of the British harvest failing, but we should have known that we got the dry patch in the winter, which helped make it freezing, and we'd have our rain during the summer, but one half of my family being farmers.  I was glad that the weather provided for the country and that we weren't left needing to import vast amounts of food which would doubtless had a knock on affect on poorer countries.  

But that still leaves how best to define the experience of a British summer in the minds of most British people.  I think everyone in England will know what I mean when I say that the expectation of the British people to summer is much like that of England football supporters prior to the World Cup.  (I'm not for a second confusing England with Britain, but using an example that is specific to England, to encapsulate a mindset of the British).  In the run up to the world cup (an England supporter can probably see where I'm going with this) every England supporter feels a stirring of the heart, a feeling that maybe this time, with a bit of luck, if we can just hold our nerve, maybe this time we can win it.  It defies all logic, the rest of the world knows that England isn't going to win the world cup, but somehow in the heart of every England supporter, there is an optimism which remains strong, but which in reality it is completely unrealistic.  The other home nations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (if they have played well enough to qualify) are concerned with doing their best, perhaps beating a good side in the qualifiers is the best they can hope for.  But they know, it's not going to happen.  But when as England inevitably gets knocked out, England fans turn to each other, all knowing they were thinking the same thing when they hoped for the best, and now the end has come, are thinking they knew this was the reality they'd stood in the face of right until this moment, but deep down it was a moment that they knew would come, and that ultimately they were ready for.  

So that's the reality of the British when it comes to being optimistic about the weather during our summers.  Just like the England football supporter, we know that in reality all the odds are against us, but we hope this time it's going to be perfect, the reality hits us. We knew in our hearts that it would.  

But then, there's always next time.  

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Travel Blogging and a severe lack of bare necessities

This being my first post and in lieu of any followers, as yet.  I am going to blog about something that may perhaps border on the trivial, but I think with enough examination is one of the great overlooked simple truths of our time among modern travellers.  

I want to draw your attention to something initially quite simple, namely the comfort of your own feet.  Travel offers the adventurous many heady releases, and at times lows that short of grief, we would not usually experience in our everyday lives.  Many things can happen while we are on the move, and at times when world is less than welcoming to us, it is a matter of great importance to carry the simple luxuries that can turn around the day which has gone bad, or even a day which has lasted for the last three.  

There is one very simple thing we can carry to make it easier on ourselves, namely, a good pair of socks.  I'm not talking about socks for everyday use.  These are your regal socks that the instant they are on your feet take you to the heady heights that Mia Wallace in a hundred years of foot massages could never hope to experience.  Too often it is the case that people want to free their feet from the cramped sweaty purgatory of the days sojourn.  But I recommend, once cleaned, aired and dried, slip your feet into the comfort of your favourite pair of socks.  

This has been my first post, hopefully it has held a degree of resonance. Take care of yourself where ever you are and remember look after your feet and they will look after you.  
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