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The top 3 green travel trends in 2012

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(TRAVELWIRES) : In line with the greening trends worldwide, the tourism industry is undergoing a significant shift in the way it operates and in the types of travel packages it offers.


: (Cape Town, 3 April 2012) As a &lsquogreen wave&rsquo continues to sweep across the globe, and consumers increasingly look for ways to minimise their impact on the environment, the tourism industry is undergoing a significant shift in the way it operates and in the types of travel packages it offers.

&ldquoA number of recent high-profile environmental campaigns have generated broad awareness of the dire state of some aspects of our natural heritage. Today&rsquos traveller wants to know that his holiday is meaningful and not harmful to the environment. Players in the tourism industry that understand this &ndash and can adapt to the needs of the responsible tourist &ndash will have a distinct advantage over those that can&rsquot,&rdquo says Gavin Bell, Marketing Co-ordinator of ecoAfrica, a special-ist eco-travel consultancy offering responsible travel packages to more than 15 destinations in Africa.

As Marketing Co-ordinator for ecoAfrica, a company with significant experience in responsible travel, Bell has identified some of the major green travel trends that are likely to affect the tourism industry in 2012:

Voluntourism &ndash Bell says that one of the key changes in the tourism industry after the global economic meltdown of 2008 is that many travellers are more focused on value &ndash both in terms of value-for-money as well as their own values and principles. &ldquoWe are increasingly seeing travellers wanting their holidays abroad to be meaningful experiences that offer opportunities for self-growth and helping others.&rdquo

ecoAfrica also offers a 22-day Vets in the Wild experience that gives veterinary science and wildlife management students an opportunity to gain hands-on field experience. &ldquoStudents get to meet and interact with conservationists and wildlife veterinarians and take part in game capture operations. The students earn university credits for the programme, and get to learn from experts who can give them a unique insight into the issues associated with conservation in Africa today.&rdquo

Walking safaris &ndash Bell mentions that walking safaris are proving to be very popular &ndash where small groups of tourists go on a walkabout with two experienced guides. &ldquoThe guides share a wealth of bush culture and knowledge while tourists get to see and experience nature first-hand. It serves the dual purpose of bringing people closer to nature while also educating them on the current challenges and issues that our sensitive environment is facing, often turning tourists into nature activists.&rdquo

Guilt-free travel &ndash the on-going prevalence of &lsquogreen&rsquo as a global trend means travellers are placing ever-greater importance on the effect that their holidays have on the environment. &ldquoWe have recently noticed a major increase in people asking for holiday experiences that &lsquodo no harm&rsquo.&rdquo

There&rsquos a danger of overstating your &lsquogreen&rsquo credentials, however, explains Bell: &ldquoTravellers aren&rsquot all that interested in hotels using low-energy LED lighting anymore &ndash it has become expected, the norm. Many hotels are therefore differentiating by offering exciting eco-related experiences to guests &ndash one hotel even has beehives on the roof and actively encourages guests to go see the beekeeping operations.&rdquo

Locally, a number of hotels have embraced the green trend as a key differentiating factor. Bell says some of the hotels they deal with, such as the Cape Grace in Cape Town, go to great lengths to ensure it is as environmentally responsible as possible. &ldquoThe hotel only has indigenous plants in the garden, reducing the watering requirements for the grounds, and even the cooking oil from the kitchen is collected and recycled as biodiesel.&rdquo

African environmental issues &ndash Africa is one of the last places on Earth where people can see and experience the untouched natural environment in all its splendour. &ldquoThis has helped bring African environmental issues to the forefront of the tourism market,&rdquo explains Bell. &ldquoTourists become invested in the natural beauty once they&rsquove experienced it for themselves, and want to do their part to address the major environmental issues facing Africa.&rdquo

The most famous example at the moment is the issue around rhino poaching. According to recent research, 117 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in the past few months, and there is a very real danger that these animals will become extinct if this continues unabated. &ldquoRight now there is a lot of talk of the &lsquoBig Five&rsquo becoming the &lsquoBig Four&rsquo, as dozens of rhinos are poached for their horn, which is then sold on the black market in the East. Due to the publicity that this issue has received, we&rsquove seen an increase in tourists wishing to see these majestic animals in their natural habitat before they are all but extinct.&rdquo

Another big current African environmental issue is the destruction of the natural habitats of chimpanzees due to continued deforestation in Central Africa. &ldquoDue to their appearance in a host of Hollywood movies, these primates have become favourites among audiences around the world. Now they are being driven to the brink of extinction &ndash in four African countries they have disappeared altogether. The only place where they can still be seen in their natural environment is in forest reserves and national parks, but even here they are under threat due to illegal hunting practices, and we&rsquove noticed an upsurge in bookings to these reserves and parks in the last few months,&rdquo says Bell.

Environmental responsibility is likely to continue to be a leading consumer trend over the next few years, as people try to counteract the effects of their lifestyles to ensure the survival of our natural heritage. &ldquoDuring the course of the next year, responsible travel will take centre stage in the international tourism industry, where it will likely remain for years to come. It is important for players in the travel and hospitality industry to be aware of these trends in order to accommodate an increasingly environmentally-aware traveller, who wants his holiday to be great not only for him, but also for the environment,&rdquo Bell concludes.

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