With an ever-growing demand for responsible travel and ecotourism, Alicia Gough looks at new developments and holiday hotspots for travellers with a conscience

The global market for environmentally and socially responsible holidays is growing rapidly and Britain’s own green travel market – worth £409 million in 2006 – is increasing by 25% a year, according to a report by market research analyst Mintel.

Exodus responsible tourism manager Simon Forster said: “More clients are not only asking operators about responsible travel but are expecting it as well. It is moving from a niche market to part of the standard operating procedures for many travel companies.”

The ecotourism market is becoming more sustainable and profitable, with many operators seeing it as a positive addition to the standard product. At the same time, destinations are continually improving their infrastructure for this type of tourism.

Responsible Travel managing director and co-founder Justin Francis said: “While smaller operators can immerse themselves in more off-the-beaten-track places, bigger operators have more clout with hotels – some of which they own – putting them in a position to create or demand change. Both can make a real difference.”

Carbon offsetting schemes are particularly popular. Last year First Choice introduced a scheme in which customers make a small donation on an opt-out basis that is matched by the company.

So far, more than £1 million has been raised for The Travel Foundation and ClimateCare, two leading carbon offsetting providers.

But does carbon offsetting really make a difference or is it just a smokescreen? ClimateCare executive director Edward Hanrahan said: “Carbon offsetting absolutely does make a difference – we make about two million tonnes of verified carbon reductions a year, and it’s growing.

“It is also increasingly important to holidaymakers – 70% of our online customers said offsetting was an essential action when they fly.”

The list of possible ecotourism holidays and destinations ranges from African safaris to Antarctic cruises. And responsible travel isn’t just aimed at young adventurous types either – families, couples, honeymooners and the over-50s are all going green.

Exsus Travel public relations and marketing manager Lucy Clark said: “Themed holidays are particularly popular in the responsible tourism sector, like our trekking holidays in Peru where we ensure guides receive a decent salary, or diving holidays in Mozambique where clients can stay in eco-friendly lodges rather than high-rise hotels.”

Ecotourism destinations in hot demand this year include Thailand, Egypt, Kenya and India. South America is also rocketing with popular activities including hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, staying in luxury eco-lodges in the Amazon jungle, visiting deserted islands off the coast of Brazil and exploring the rare wildlife of the Galapagos Islands.

Brits are also holidaying closer to home. England has become more popular than ever as a destination for responsible travellers. In April, Responsible Travel reported that England had jumped from the 14th to second most popular destination in terms of actual holiday bookings. England now trails just behind Egypt, which takes first place.

Egypt: the ecotourism capital

Egypt ranks as the number one eco-destination for many UK tour operators. The country’s infrastructure is perfect for this type of tourism, with plenty of small-scale locally-owned accommodation and greener forms of transport, including trains, feluccas (sail boats) and camels.

Popular eco-holidays in Egypt include tours of Cairo’s pyramids, temples and tombs using native guides and small locally-owned hotels; cruises on the Nile River in traditional feluccas crewed by Nubian villagers; and scuba diving holidays in the Red Sea in the village-style resort of Dahab, with its locally-owned and operated dive schools.

Diving holidays are often combined with camel safaris in the Sinai desert where visitors can spend time with desert tribes, learning about their way of life.

Just a five-hour flight from the UK, Egypt is also much closer than the rival eco-destinations of Asia or South America.

Top five selling tips for ecotourism holidays

  • Have a clear policy: Produce a written policy on responsible tourism that sets clear targets and covers social, environmental and economic factors.
  • Research well: Make sure the product team has carried out in-depth research to ensure accommodation, resorts and tours are managed responsibly.
  • Think local: Ensure all food is locally sourced and people from the region are employed wherever possible.
  • Do green marketing: Share local stories and experiences with customers through travellers’ reviews. Include specific details in brochures on green aspects of each property or destination. Send emails to customers and retailers on your latest green projects. Sell through specialist travel agents.
  • Offset carbon: Offer a scheme whereby the customer pays a small amount towards carbon offsetting on an opt-out basis. Operators should match all customer donations.

Sample product

Exodus offers an eight-day Classic Kenya Safari in July for £1,703 per person with three nights in a luxury tented camp and two nights in a lodge. The price includes most meals, minibus transfers and direct flights to Nairobi with Kenya Airways. The safari supports a school project at Aitong and can be visited as part of the holiday.

Kuoni Travel offers seven nights’ bed and breakfast at the Tivoli Eco Resort Praia do Forte, Brazil, in July for £1,762 per person twin-share. The price includes flights with Air Portugal and transfers. The resort supports the local community and helps preserve the natural heritage.

Exsus offers seven nights at the Londo Lodge, Mozambique in the Baobab Tree Villa in July for £2,995 per person twin-share. The price includes return flights with South African Airways, domestic flights and meals. Londo Lodge is closely involved in community projects with its nearby village, Londo.