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E3 Travel and Tourism -
Environment, Economics, Education:
The Triple Bottom Line of Tourism




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Moving Beyond "Ecotourism" and "Responsible Tourism" to E3 Travel Programs

IBF has long been uncomfortable with the terms eco-tour and ecotourism because there is no accountability and they have been used to embrace ANY travel that includes "nature" -- getting out of a city -- even when getting there is by a gas guzzling SUV (sport-utility vehicle or four-wheel drive); ripping up the savannah in the process, and regardless of its impact -- that is not us.  Other not uncommon characteristics of "eco-tourism" can be; energy-intensive accommodations, encouraging gluttonous amounts of eating (with no reference to dining room waste, how food was produced, or where -- a reliance of imported foodstuff and drinks,) prodigious amounts of promotional materials that are paper intensive, and other wasteful and/or energy intensive practices, and little client education on impact of cultural behavior on the environment. Consequentially we rarely use the term ecotourism in any of our publicity.

"Responsible travel" is facing the same deterioration.  It should be "(original) eco-tourism plus" .  Too often it is defined and practiced with a diluted focuses on cultural responsibility and economic benefit, and a general disregard for energy intensiveness (i.e. motorization) and other sustainability issues.

As an alternative we measure programs by a "E3 Travel" standard (environment, economics and education).  This is very similar to the triple bottom line concept of sustainable business (environment, social justice and fiscal), but we like to think of it as the top line for travel programs.

  • Environmentally friendly (using primarily non-motorized transport, but reflecting all aspects of the projects including reducing printing and paper consumption, selection of energy efficient lodging, consuming local produced food and goods, and minimizing waste at all levels),
  • Economic /equity benefits (supporting the decentralized, indigenous economy, including local produced food, goods and services, and local employment generator) and
  • Educational / enriching / engaging (training guides and helping participants to explore the diversity and complexity of the local natural and human ecology.)

If you draw these as a triangle, each element reinforces the others: 

  • The use of non-motorized transports virtually mandates patronizing local business.  In many parts of the world it is often impossible to bicycle from tourist enclave to tourist enclave in a day.  The increased exposure to the local culture, local cuisine, local economy, local interaction, and environment inherently leads to enhanced education and more enriching experiences.  But environmental issues go beyond choosing the mode of travel.  It is worth bringing your environmental consciousness / audit to every aspect of your travel project: If you use a travel provider, is the advertising and back office side of the "eco-tour" company as environmentally friendly as they would have you thing that their program is? Can you steer away from energy intensive and import intensive hotels and over-sized everything and steer toward local produced services and goods?  Vacation is a time to pamper yourself, and you can still indulge yourself in quality, but you may want to pass on providers of lavish (and wasteful) quantity.
  • Aiming for an enriching and well rounded educational experience, is a natural to get more into the community and supporting local business.  This argues for eliminating the barriers of glass, steel and speed that go with motor vehicles. Walking and bicycling are great modes for picking up information, engaging with the community and environment around you and supporting the most-local economy.
  • Including as a goal equity and supporting local suppliers of goods and service dictates increased interaction with the cultural and enriching experiences. The use of non-motorized transport virtually assures that the benefits will be decentralized and widely beneficial.  Sort through you choices is not always easy:  There are foreign owned businesses with excellent environments practices and who provide their employees and the surrounding community with excellent compensation and benefits.  And, there are local owned business that exploit their employees, do very little to share there good fortune with the surrounding community, are energy and resource intensive, and materially wasteful (make no attempt to reduce, reuse or recycle.)  It is hard to make hard and fast rules here, but the small businessperson in the community is usually pretty equitable and a contributing member of the community.  The also likely to be fairly well interwoven in the culture and environmentally responsible.

Incidentally, in tourism E3 product doesn't seem to be a gender thing: We have seen both male and female own travel specialist who were both relatively better and worse.  We have seen foreign owned, male and female, boutique hotel operators who were relatively better and worse.  And, we have seen locally owned, male and female service providers who were relatively better and worse on a E3 audit.

Within the E3 structure, an urban bike ride with a lecture on a historic district, a work project in a village and a forest walk learning about ethno-botany and looking for primates all can come out on top, as we think they should.  Traditional "S"-tourism" (sun, sand, sea, skiing, sailing, sitting, swimming, scuba, snorkel, safari, sitting, sleeping, sight-seeing) can be done in a E3 way.  It is not necessarily the location, the activity or the personnel, but it is how it fits together, the benefits and the costs.  Help heal the world when you travel.

Do the E3 of a defined activity guarantee sustainability?  No, not if integral to getting to the activity is airplane travel by the participants.  Given current technology, even with carbon offsets, you are at best at a "second-best solution". The theory is that second-best solutions are never as good first-best, which in this case would forgoing the flying.  A reasonable expectation of how people are going to get to the E3 activity must be incorporated into the equation.

The triple bottom line of responsible tourism is 3 E’s: environmental sustainability,  engaging in the local economic, and enriching your life from the culture.  Actually, it is about the same for all life.

Related article:


Eco-bird-tourism: Unlike so much of the bird and wildlife “eco-tourism” which relies on land rovers and vans, Keolandea Ghana Bird Sanctuary, Bharatpur, India (home to around 360 species of birds) allows no motorized transport inside.  It is eco-tourism in means and ends.  If you are not up to cycling you can walk, but the more customary way of viewing the sanctuary is to hire a cycle rickshaw.  There are special Keoladeo National Park Authorized Sight Seeing Rickshaws.  Most of the rickshaw wallahs are also quite knowledgeable about the birds.



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