Ecotourism, gentle tourism or green travel: sustainable travel has many names and is an absolute trend. More and more people want to discover the world, but don’t want to do any harm to it. 57 percent of vacationers from German-speaking countries stated in a Statista survey from 2019 that vacation trips should be as socially acceptable, resource-saving and environmentally friendly as possible. For 23 percent of those surveyed, sustainability was also an aspect when designing their vacation trips in 2018. But how does ecotourism work and how can you tell whether a provider fits this concept or not?

In 1990, the International Ecotourism Society was founded in the USA. She defined sustainable tourism as “responsible travel that protects the environment and increases the prosperity of locals.” The concept therefore not only includes not only ecological but also social aspects. The aim of this form of travel is to show special consideration for the local population and at the same time to have as little impact on the nature of ecologically important and protected areas as possible.

The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation also takes various aspects into account when defining the sustainability principle: the protection and development of the natural and cultural heritage, the improvement of the quality of life of the local population and the economic strengthening of the region. But ensuring high guest satisfaction is also part of this concept for the Federal Office.

For those who want to consistently travel sustainably, it is not enough to simply forego a long flight. Likewise, it is a fallacy to believe that long-distance travel per se cannot be sustainable. Ecotourism relies on different aspects that can be considered either individually or in aggregate.

The European VISIT initiative (Voluntary Initiative for Sustainability in Tourism) has developed a whole range of criteria to assess tourism services in terms of their sustainability, including the energy balance of an accommodation or location. However, this does not take into account the total amount of electricity consumed, but rather the source of the energy.

Water consumption is another important criterion. But here too, it’s not about the quantity, but rather the way it is used. Effective waste management is also a key criterion. This involves questions such as: Is waste being disposed of illegally? Are there negative health effects of waste disposal (e.g. through waste incineration)?

If you want to travel sustainably, you should keep these criteria in mind:

The tourism industry has long recognized the trend towards sustainable travel and is converting. Eco-hotels are springing up in the Alpine region. The mountain village of Priestegg in the Salzburger Land demonstrates how sustainable holidays can be done.

For its tenth anniversary last year, the family business transformed itself into a premium ECO resort. Together with the German Viessmann Group, an ecological energy concept was developed that supplies all 18 chalets and the spa with heat, water and electricity: sun, earth, wastewater heat recovery, biomass and biogas serve as energy sources for ecological energy production.

The photovoltaic system and a bioliquefied gas combined heat and power system are used to operate the pools and hot tubs in the chalets, with the waste heat from the water being recovered and fed into the energy system.

The idea of ​​sustainability is also reflected in the architecture of the chalet village. The spa is built into the hillside, its flat roof is planted, a lot of reclaimed wood was used in the construction, and some chalets are reminiscent of tree houses. Two electric bus shuttles taxi guests around the site. Green luxury is the motto here. Surrounded by forest and meadows, the traditional mountain chalets and the innovative villas are exclusive enough for a secluded holiday with lots of privacy.

Another example of a successful environmentally friendly hotel is the Forestis in South Tyrol. The house has stood in the mountains for over 100 years and was once a sanatorium for lung patients. The historic house has been home to a 5-star hotel since May of this year.

The operators attach particular importance to the use of local products. In the future, almost exclusively local materials will be used to develop the suites. Local farmers supply the kitchen. And in the bar, drinks are mixed with essences from the surrounding forests, such as herbs, nuts, berries, but also bushes, bark and tree needles. In October, room prices start at 392 euros.

But the ecotourism boom is also bringing black sheep onto the scene. Many a tour operator tries to sell any form of nature-based travel as an eco-vacation. So how can you make sure that where it says “eco” there is also “eco” in it? There are countless seals on the market from both private sector providers and state authorities. The EU’s VISIT initiative also provides assistance here. The project brought together the various European ecotourism labels and developed the “Green Globe 21” seal of quality awarded worldwide. You can find an overview of the most important seals in this document.

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