Think rich: The responsibility in luxury travel
All the things I could do
If I had a little money… Goes the ABBA hit ‘Money, money, money.’
I, for one, would travel responsibly by taking only direct flights to cut down on my carbon footprint. And what I still emit, I would gladly offset. I would make my other jetsetter pals do the same. And if they don’t know about carbon footprint offsetting, I am going to tell them about it. It’s an esoteric concept albeit a meaningful one. As a mechanism, it has been around for more than a decade but not many have bought into it, my newfound pals included.
Understanding carbon footprint is as tricky as discussing responsible tourism – myriad definitions are doing the rounds with the only concurrence over their raison d’être. While for responsible travel it is conservation of environment, preserving the people, their heritage and culture, carbon footprint rose from our increasing apathy towards climate change. The ‘footprint’ here is a metaphor for the impact something has on climate change and ‘carbon’ stands for all the different greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Thus ‘carbon footprint’ is the full climate change impact something has; this ‘something’ could be anything – an activity, a kind of lifestyle, an organisation, a country, the whole world.
Carbon offsetting schemes allow individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects anywhere in the world, mostly in developing countries, in order to balance out their carbon footprints. These projects would be mainly working towards the reduction of emissions by working on clean or renewable energy technologies. It might also involve something as simple as planting trees. While some individuals or companies aim to offset their entire carbon footprint, others neutralise the impact of a specific activity like taking a flight, for example. Incidentally, flying has been the most measured activity for carbon footprint as an increasing number of passengers are becoming aware of their need to be more responsible. A personal lack of action has only added to their need for premium air travel to be environmentally considerate.
Today most of the airlines have woven in or made mandatory carbon offsetting charges into ticket prices – like British Airways, New Zealand airlines Pacific Blue, Jetstar and the world’s first carbon-neutral airline, Silverjet (an all-business airline which has claimed that if airlines charged $1.8 per passenger for each hour they flew, the whole industry would become carbon neutral). Other major airlines like United Airlines, Thai Airways, Lufthansa and Finnair have policies in place which help reduce the negative impact of air travel. Most of the Indian airlines too have options to pay for offsetting – clubbed with other value-adds like travel insurance, meal on board or seat preferred. With air fares skyrocketing by 20 per cent over the last six months alone, nobody I know wants to pay that extra. Environment be damned. While taking direct flights are crucial to reduce carbon footprints, don’t we all take via flights to save a few thousand rupees? Brings begs the question, why operate via flights even? Environment be damned?
Making offsetting costs mandatory pushes up ticket prices and neglecting it altogether imperils the environment. The mid path is offered by many agencies which allow you to calculate the carbon footprint of your trip and suggest different options to offset it. Travel websites like Intrepid and Orbitz offers flights bookings and holidays with low carbon impact. They also help you calculate the emissions of the flight you are taking and the cost to offset the impact. However my favourite when it comes to calculating carbon footprints in Route Rank which shows car, train as well as flight options. And the best thing about Route Rank is that it does not sell tickets or holidays making it pure information-centric and therefore probably unbiased. The good part is that everybody uses the money to make up for the impact of the flight – from distributing energy-efficient cooking stoves and low wattage bulbs to capturing methane gas from landfills and related research. Route Rank shares the proceeds with Myclimate which is among the world leaders in voluntary carbon offsetting measures. Orbitz has partnered with a social enterprise called CarbonFund to sell carbon credits; the site also features a host of eco-friendly hotels to choose from.
Big and fat are passé. Those who have really arrived go about quietly and responsibly. They expect the hotels where they stay to be ethical, sustainable and responsible. For those who chart their own itineraries and make their own bookings, the easiest way to zero in on an eco-friendly hotel would be to check whether the property is LEED certified. Then, an LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – certification does not make for a ‘green’ hotel in its true sense. It just means that a building uses its resources more efficiently than other conventional buildings; indeed a cool thing, but that’s it. It thus leaves the traveller to ask the relevant responsible questions: Does the five-star property give back anything to the community? Does the menu offer local produce as well or do they import most of the items? Did the environment take a toll when it was constructed? If it did, has it been corrected? You can also look up the property’s website and see if they have a sustainable policy and whether they are following their own guidelines on responsible travel. Actually doing all these is not as easy as it sounds; to begin with, the sustainability link is invariably buried deep within the bowels of the parent website. Then, as a premium traveller, you can always ask the hotel manager your questions. Recommend the property to your friends only if you are satisfied with what you see and hear.
You might have checked into the swankiest property on the planet paying for one night what would see a backpacker through the whole of Eastern Europe. Take one of &Beyond’s packages. Among the experiences this luxury travel service provider to Africa has includes fly-in safaris and full baths in the bush. Definitely ostentatious but can be forgiven when you consider that they have a very stringent sustainable mandate. “The luxury traveller delivers significantly greater positive impact to the cause of environmental protection and the support of communities as a result of how much money they spend than the budget traveller,” says Claire Howse the sustainability director of the group. ‘The income introduced by the high end operations is often the only way the wildlife land can be sustainably defended from other forms of land use. The small amounts of money that can be charged for the ‘village stay’ option is usually insufficient to protect any meaningful tracts of land from other forms of land use,” Claire drives home a hard point. A chunk of the profit from &Beyond goes to Africa Foundation which works for environment and community benefits.
Travelling responsibly does not mean roughing it out, at least not all the time. You can sip a margarita by the Marina Bay in Singapore or lounge on a lazy hammock along the Amalfi Coast – and still be a responsible traveller. ‘Responsible’ is a way of thinking, an attitude. It’s about asking the right questions, choosing the right tour operators and hotels, ensuring that your money is going into the right hands. It’s about offsetting for you can’t stop emitting.
Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
This concludes the four-part series on responsible tourism. Now begin travelling responsibly this season.