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Guide to Alternative Travel Lingo

Tourism is the number one industry in the world with about 700 million people spending $2-$3 trillion annually on travel. Travel can be divided into two main categories: conventional travel, like trips to Disneyworld or Paris, and alternative travel, best described as a new travel ethic that is aware of the finite, interconnected and precious nature of our world. Alternative travel is expected to grow most quickly over the next two decades. It is projected to grow to 25% of the world’s travel market within three years, valuing that sector at about $600-$700 billion a year.

With popularity for alternative travel growing, niches are springing up all the time.  In newspapers, magazines, and online, we are seeing a lot of these buzzwords: sustainable tourism, green travel, eco-travel, responsible travel, adventure travel, cultural tourism, voluntourism and others.  Do all these terms refer to the same thing? No. It is tricky defining them since these concepts are still in their formative stages and often, many of these terms share common traits. Fueling the confusion or misunderstanding is that people use some of these terms interchangeably.

We decided to put together a guide to the language of alternative travel. This list of terms is by no mean exhaustive or conclusive, but hopefully it will clarify these popular buzzwords and give you a better understanding of alternative travel options.

Eco-conscious travel Conscious means being aware of something. Eco means concerning the environment, so “eco-conscious travel” means being aware of the environment, and your impact on the environement, when you travel.

Eco-friendly travel Eco relates to the environment, so “eco-friendly travel” means being nice to and having little impact on the environment when you travel.

Eco-tourism is ecologically sustainable travel with primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation. It is essentially a set of principles and practices for how you should travel and for how the travel industry should operate.

Responsible travel expands beyond the traditional notions of environmentalism and encompasses socially-conscious travel. It means understanding, respecting, and supporting the cultures and people in the area you are visiting. This helps with the development of the local economy. Lonely Planet defines it as travel that takes into account the “triple bottom line” issues of:

Environment: travel that minimizes negative environmental impacts and, where possible, makes positive contributions to the conservation of biodiversity, wilderness, natural, and human heritage.
Social/Cultural:
travel that respects culture and traditions and fosters authentic interaction and greater understanding between travelers and hosts.
Economic: travel that has financial benefits for the host community and operates on the principles of fair trade.

Sustainable travel like responsible travel, involves “all forms of tourism development, management and activity which respect and preserve natural, cultural and social resources in the long run, and contribute in a positive and equitable way to the development and fulfillment of individuals living, working and staying in these areas”.  It is also defined as “a level of tourism activity that can be maintained over the long term because it results in a net benefit for the social, economic, natural and cultural environments of the area in which it takes place” (Detour Destinations).  An example of this is for travelers in Costa Rica who stay at the Hotel Punt Islita, which encourages the rational use of natural resources for those who stay there.  Travelers who take a sustainable trip intend to leave a positive effect on the environment.  They take into account that future travelers will want to visit these places and must ensure that there is still something left to see.

Geotourism, a more specific form of sustainable tourism, that sustains the geographical character of a place, including the culture, environment, heritage, and well-being of the residents.  Landscapes, structures, and the arts are included in this form of sustainability.  It is the type of travel that focuses on the big picture of the location, not just focusing in on a particular point.

Green travel is a narrower term that relates closely to responsible travel. It is about considering your impact on the environment (both the physical and social environment) when you travel. Understanding the eco-friendly choices that you can make and doing research to ensure that you make eco-friendly choices when given the option. It will also help you to save money by making low-impact choices. You can book a stay at a green hotel through a site like the “Green” Hotels Association.

Adventure travel involves going beyond your comfort zone, to seek out new experiences that are unfamiliar to anything that you have done before.  It is a trip with the purpose of actively participating in the exploration of something new.  This type of travel creates excitement because it is part of a world unknown.  An adventure trip could be something like a long trek or even a trip to go sky diving.  Many that are done in large groups usually have some sort of association to a foundation or organization.

Voluntourism is incorporating a volunteer or service element to your traditional travel or vacation. Another name for voluntourism is volunteer travel, although the distinction is in the duration of the trip. Voluntourism is generally shorter in duration.  Volunteers usually pay their own expenses for their trips.  Some projects have some a fee on top of living expenses that the travelers must pay to participate.  If a volunteer trip is run through an organization, many of them will follow the rules of fair trade tourism.  This allows participation of host communities in democratic decision making, in eco-friendly production systems and in fair wages for local services.  These types of tours are more grass root than anything, but attempt to keep the ideals of fairness for all parties involved.

Travel philanthropy can be described as a trip with the intentions to increase the well-being of other humans.  Voluntourism is one form of travel philanthropy.  The purpose of the trip is to promote the welfare of someone else, with your own personal aid and labor or form of a donation.  For instance, the Salaam Baalak Trust in India provides shelter and education to underprivileged children, which is provided through the aid of volunteers who travel there and donate time and resources.

Cultural tourism is concerned with a country’s or region’s culture, specially the lifestyle of the people in the geographic areas, the history of the people, their art, architecture, religion, and other elements that shape their way of life.

Post Contribution Assisted by Nicole Rutledge
photo credit: lonni sue johnson


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