On my second trip to Italy, I visited a cousin on her study abroad semester of Florence. We rose early one morning to catch the train to Venice since I’d never been. That day’s reality did not match my expectations of a charming afternoon exploring the city. As we strolled past canals, gondoliers and cafe owners aggressively barked for our business. Shop after shop sold the same cheap souvenirs and many of their famed brick and stone structures were deteriorating.
While I didn’t regret making the trip, I wished I done it differently. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the concept of overtourism and how damaging travelers can be to the most beautiful and well-known attractions on the planet. Maybe on that visit to Venice, I could have patronized more mom and pop vendors that operate off the beaten path, or educated myself on the small businesses that enhance the local’s lifestyle or restore the health and structure of the canals.
As lovers of travel, culture and ecological wonders, we want to see the faraway lands we fantasize of, while frankly, not being jerks about it. Here are a few travel businesses that operate in some of the most visited places on the planet, while maintaining an ethos of sustainability, respect and responsible tourism.
Iceland is famous for its northern lights but notorious for overtourism – with a high proportion of international visitors to its population. However, Iceland is still one of the most successful countries in instituting sustainable tourism practices. Hidden Iceland is a boutique tour operator that takes their visitors to parts of Iceland they describe as ‘feeling like the edge of the world.’ They guide small group tours on hikes past waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, and as you might have guessed, the Northern Lights. They even bring their adventurous patrons to the local tomato farms for true farm-to-table meals. But this boutique business is also a carbon negative tour company. What does all that mean? They actually offset their carbon emissions by 100% by investing in the global carbon reduction consultancy, ClimateCare, and even add in an extra 10% for good measure in anticipation of unforeseen emissions – that’s commitment! Their tour groups are 12 or less, in order to effectively educate guests on how to thoughtfully interact with the environment and monitor their impact during the excursions.
I don’t often associate cruises with sustainable tourism. Does anyone? In 2018, Croatia capped the number of cruise ships coming into Dubrovnik. Unforgettable Croatia, which boasts itself as the county’s most eco-friendly cruise line, operates small ship cruises along the Dalmatian Coast. With their no-single use plastic policy, you won’t find a single plastic water bottle on board, and they consider ‘straw’ a dirty word. Unforgettable Croatia provides continuous financial support to Blue World Institute, a non-profit specializing in marine conservation. However, the guests won’t lack for luxury. They offer oyster and wine tastings, (sourced from local small or family-run producers, of course). The line specialized in tours of 5 Croatian locations, including cities, islands and Games of Thrones filming location. Bonus fact: Croatia is the site of the very first Optimist Made and designer partnership! Optimist Made now sources from 3 absolutely talented fashion and accessory designers: Cup, Hippy Garden and Olja Einfalt!
In 2017, Peru’s government enacted a system to limit Machu Picchu visitation, in an attempt to ensure that the tourists didn’t ruin the ruins. But Peru has been a pioneer in eco-tourism and Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica, part eco-lodge business and part non-profit, has led the way. Founded in 1975 by Jose Koechlin von Stein, a world renowned conservationist and film producer, Inkaterra’s 7 hotels’ designs are inspired by local architecture in order for guests to feel fully immersed in Peru’s natural environments. Properties even grow their own organic crops and guests are welcome to pick their own produce! But if you aren’t in the mood to forage for your dinner, their hotels have blissful Amazonian style spas, with skincare products and fragrances derived from local botanical ingredients, including cacao! Who wouldn’t want to spend the afternoon at an eco-friendly spa that smells like chocolate?