Ecotourism, eco labels, and ethical certification

Sonya Hogan
Jul 23, 2023

My travel is often to places that are in stark contrast to my own country.  Part of the attraction to travel there is how different the country is.  Travel is also about the people you meet and the stories you hear about their lives and realities.  It is the connections you form, with the country, nature, people and culture that matter the most.  Yet it can be these differences and contrasts that can make it difficult to interpret and know what are good choices and positive impacts when you travel.  So how do you choose?

Ecotourism, eco labels, and ethical certification are getting more and more common.  Lots of places and activities promise an eco-something experience.  So how do you know what is good and what will make a positive difference?

Recently I travelled to India and while travelling there I wanted to stay in as many places as I could where I could be confident that they were in some way minimising their impact to the environment and giving back to the communities they were part of.  I ended up staying in a mixture of homestays, locally owned small hotels, eco lodges and green hotels.  Here are some of the things I look for when choosing somewhere to stay, an activity to do, or a way of engaging with the communities I am visiting.

1. Is it locally owned and does it have people from the community it is in working there?  This helps to ensure that the money you are spending is going directly back into the community and helping support people locally.

Jose and Sinta, owners of  Dewalokum homestay

2. Are they giving back to the community they are operating in?  As well as providing opportunities for local employment is the business supporting the community in other ways?  Helping with projects to improve the natural environment, supporting education, training opportunities, encouraging recycling and reuse initiatives, using products produced locally.

Nutmeg and mace produced on the organic farm at Dewalokum

3. Do they take steps to ensure they are minimising their impact on the environment?  In an ecolodge this can be linked to how they run the lodge - providing recycling stations, using renewable or passive energy options, refill rather than replace toiletry bottles, use grey water treatments, provide options to fill up water bottles, source locally grown and seasonal crops for food.  It can also be about the sort of activities they run, promote and provide information about.

Bio gas project at Dewalokum

4. Is there information accessible that helps educate about the local situation and how your time there can and is making a difference?  This helps you broaden your positive impact by being informed about what is happening locally and able to make choices that have the potential to support the communities you are visiting.

5. Are they actively taking steps to conserve and improve the natural environment around them? In essence this is the difference between an eco lodge and a green hotel.  An ecolodge tends to be more remote and dependent on the natural environment than a green hotel, taking an active role in education about and conservation of the local flora and fauna of local ecosystems.  

When you are travelling you won’t be able to find all of these things everywhere you go but even just having them in your mind and making them part of the consideration about where you go and why you decide to visit or stay somewhere can make a difference.  Also asking questions about any of these things when making bookings helps raise the value and importance of these criteria being part of the tourism and travel industries.

A couple of places I stayed when I was in India are both taking great steps towards responsible tourism in Kerela.  They are Dewalokum organic farm and family homestay in Thodupuzha, and Les 3 Elephants in Cherai Beach, Kochi.

Dewalokum, Organic farm, Family Homestay, Thodupuzha, Kerala

From the minute you arrive at Dewalokum Jose, Sinta, Tara and Paul welcome you to their home as a part of their family. Dewalokum is a third generation organic farm in the spice belt of Kerala.  Jose’s grandfather was a businessman who, after losing everything in 1918, purchased the 22 acre farm in Thodupuzha, Kerala. The organic farm of today continues the way of life that was started by Jose’s grandfather.  Jose and Sinta took over the farm after Jose’s father stopped farming at the age of 88.

> Read more about Dewalokum here

Les 3 Elephants, Eco Hotel, Cherai Beach, Kochi

Les 3 Elephants is a beautiful eco hotel set close to the backwaters of Kerela.  Established by french couple Marjorie and Benjamin in partnership with people from the area, the cute cluster of cottages are made in a traditional style and designed to minimise noise and maximise privacy.  The coconut leaf thatched roofs use three layers of specially woven leaves.  The cottages are re-thatched each year before the monsoon.  This traditional practice takes 6 local people 1-2 days per cottage.  Once finished they are watertight and set for another year.  The floors follow the traditional methods too with a red oxide added to the cement resulting in a rich terracotta colour that keeps the rooms cool and the floors naturally polished the more they are used.

> Read more about Les 3 Elephants here

July 23, 2023
5 min read