Greener pastures: ecotourism is taking off
The side effects of mass tourism and flygskam (“flight shame”) going viral, it can now more than ever be said that the journey is as important as the destination. In a context marked by climate change and the aftershocks of the pandemic, the travel industry is adapting to meet an ever-increasing demand for green tourism. Europe is making a bid to be the world’s leading sustainable destination, but how can this be achieved? We asked Ferdinand Martinet, founder of Chilowé, to give us his take on the trends.
Tourism and the environment: renewed challenges
Beyond the mere trendiness factor, ecotourism, or sustainable tourism, is a vector of values that allow the industry’s players to stand out and show their commitment through environmentally sound practices.
Sustainable tourism: taking in the landscape
Behind all the different terms for sustainable tourism, there are several new forms of travel:
> Responsible tourism is based on three pillars: the preservation of nature, participation in local economic development, and mingling with the locals.
> Fair tourism aims to promote local tourism activities based on fair trade, so that their economic benefits are passed on to local populations.
> Solidarity tourism is the most involving form, wherein travelers collaborate with local populations on development efforts.
> Slow tourism is an adjunct to the slow living movement. It is the art of traveling while taking one’s time, in order to recharge one’s batteries as close to nature as possible, with a preference for nearby destinations.
Where to go, what to do
How about a seaside micro-adventure, a trip to the forest to encounter local fauna and flora, or an immersion in a Portuguese mountain town? These are all examples of escapades that contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of the localities visited. For a complete, immersive experience, one can combine these destinations with environmentally friendly activities such as cycling, trekking or canyoning to create memories of meaningful trips steeped in one’s values.
Ecotourism guru Ferdinand Martinet
Q: How did get the idea to launch a responsible travel agency?
A: The name Chilowé – pronounced “chill away” – is like an invitation to escape into nature. We started four years ago as a media outlet. Our mission was to inspire our community to spend more time in nature, close to home, without having to go on a crazy three- or four-week adventure all the way across the world.
Q: In terms of the green travel industry, what trends are you seeing?
A: The trend I see most is this need to get away more often, because we all have very connected lifestyles. There is a need to disconnect quickly and frequently. The micro-adventure concept – inserting short getaways into our hyper-connected, hyper-overworked lives – thus becomes an interesting solution. For some people, that means a monthly trip, while others do it every weekend. It’s all about packing in a short nature interlude with a bit of hiking, or by staying in unusual accommodations, like a refuge. And there is also the community aspect, the desire to travel with other like-minded people.
Q: With the borders reopening post-pandemic, France has been putting its night trains back into circulation. What do you see as the next step, perhaps outside France?
A: All things bike travel. There’s been an explosion in the bikepacking trend. People leave home for a few days and go to another city, another region, or a destination. In the end, the journey is not the destination, but the way to get there. There are also people who take the train with their bike and come back by bike, or take the train to go cycling in Italy, Switzerland, Spain. I think there is a fundamental trend towards biking, hiking, doing things with just your legs. There is a spirit of wandering, of pilgrimage, that’s becoming more and more prevalent.
Q: How do you convince travelers to choose green travel over traditional travel?
A: I think it just happens by itself. Our job is to ride the wave and follow the aspirations of our community. It is necessary to decipher the trends, the activities that work and then to offer the right things. We try to do two things: first, we try to make the regions of France as sexy as Costa Rica, and that’s a marketing effort. The second thing is to make booking as easy as possible. Going on a micro-adventure should be as easy as booking an Airbnb in Barcelona. And that’s what we did: you go to the Chilowé website, you enter your dates, you choose a micro-adventure, you book, and you’re done.
Q: Do you plan to extend your offer to other European destinations?
A: We already are! We’re offering micro-adventures in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, and eventually in Catalonia. We draw the line at air travel, essentially. If you can get there by car, or, ideally, by train, we will offer it, because there are magnificent things to see just next door.
Q: Would the next step be to institute your own label?
A: The Chilowé brand is fated to evolve into more of a marketplace model, whereby people will be able to offer stays on our platform. We will try to increase the number of opportunities to get away and travel. But why would guides, small agencies or organizations want to be on Chilowé? Because the label is cool, the community of people who are going to sign up is cool, the values are cool.
Q: What’s your stance on longer trips? Do you see it as the best compromise between air travel and environmental responsibility?
A: Our plan is to expand our offerings towards permaculture, farming, meditation, fasting. Our micro-adventure idea is about being local and close to home. Now, if you ask me, yes, the idea is to get away more often, but closer – and go to the other side of the world less often. I think it’s a mix between short trips two or three times a year and a long trip once every two years.
Ecotourism labels: seals of approval
Among the many ecolabels that help travelers choose the most responsible getaways, there are: the European ecolabel, which designates destinations with lower impacts on the environment and health; the WWF’s Panda lodges, which are built on protected areas; and the the Blue Flag label, which rewards municipalities and ports committed to sustainable tourism.
To obtain these labels, specific criteria must be met, particularly in terms of energy consumption in accommodation, waste management, choice of cleaning products, etc. A sustainable tourism label also implies savings through the implementation of such changes, and a return on investment that is often achieved in less than a year: a study of sustainable tourism actors showed that 79% of tourists prefer companies with a label.
In the future, we can envision the creation of new labels, such as a "quiet zone" or "100% screen-free" label, to satisfy travelers in search of total relaxation. It is up to the tourism industry to be creative and to listen to their customers in order to market the labels that will seduce future alternative tourism aficionados.
Well-being and respect for the environment will be the foundation of tomorrow’s travel: from local escapades to long-distance trips, tourism professionals can draw from a wide palette to become agents of change, and commit themselves to a type of sustainable tourism that resonates with the values of a growing number of travelers.
 Étude Kantar x L'ADN, septembre 2021.