Greenwashed Gap Years, How To Spot And Avoid Greenwashing On Your Travels.

panda conservation on a gap year

With sustainable travel becoming increasingly popular, how do you know if the travel choices you make are truly responsible, or if they are just falling victim to a cynical greenwashed marketing ploy by big business? Here is everything you need to know about making eco friendly travel choices and avoiding greenwashed travel before you set off on your gap year. 

Responsible travel is not a niche market anymore. The term used to be something quite novel in the travel industry, nothing more than a nice idea, a small concern that many paid lip service to but few actually did anything about.  All that has changed.

With 2017 being declared the year of sustainable tourism by the United Nations, green travel is now officially at the top of the agenda in one of the fastest growing industries in the world. The demand for responsible and sustainable travel experiences from travellers is growing, irresponsible attractions such as elephant trekking or swimming with dolphins are becoming less and less popular as awareness is being raised and are even being replaced with more responsible alternatives as the industry realises that is where the tourists – and the money – are going. Accommodation options are all starting to promote their eco friendly credentials, whilst some are even using it as a whole marketing technique and declaring themselves eco hotels.

As eco friendly and responsible travel starts to become more mainstream, travellers are starting to ask themselves ‘is this a truly sustainable way to travel’, and industry operators are asking themselves ‘where is the money going’?

The Problem With Responsible Travel.

All this sounds fantastic. Green travel is becoming more widespread and mainstream and travellers are generally more informed. So what is the problem?

Jeep Safari at the Elephant Gathering at Minneriya National Park Sri Lanka Irresponsible Tourism

The big problem is greenwashing. As the industry realises just how profitable responsible travel can be, the entire market is being inundated with misleading advertising, false claims and terminology designed to confuse tourists and get them to part with their cash much more readily.

Basically speaking, organisations and companies are claiming they are responsible and sustainable when they are not, and tourists in general do not know how to tell the difference.

What Is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is disinformation pushed by an organisations PR and marketing to present an environmentally responsible public image.

Essentially it is where a company, a tour or an accommodation option, or any business involved in the travel industry (and beyond), uses PR, spin and marketing to make out that what they do is environmentally friendly, sustainable or responsible when the reality is that they are not.

These companies want to convince travellers, tourists and potential customers of their envioronmental credentials in the pursuit of sales and profit. They know that there is a high demand for sustainable tourism and they want to cash in on it, but instead of putting the money into actual responsible and sustainable practices, they spend it on green marketing and PR instead.

Corporate greenwashing, especially on a larger international scale is extremely clever and very insidious, and even worse than that, it is so widespread many people can’t tell what is real and what is not.

Greenwashing is rife within the travel industry and you will come across a thousand marketing tactics that are designed to portray a certain image. Jargon terms such as ‘conservation’, ‘organic’ and ‘responsible’ are thrown about with wild abandon, and buzzwords such as ‘sanctuary’ or ‘rehabilitation centre’ used in wildlife tourism to convince tourists that petting lion cubs in captivity, riding an elephant or swimming with a dolphin is a responsible thing to do, or used extensively with many ‘local’ tours to con travellers and tourists into thinking they are giving back to the local community. More often than not, this is all a lie.

How Do You Tell The Difference?

The thing is there are genuinely responsible and ethical tours, activities and other travel industries out there, you just have to know how to separate them from the greenwashed businesses. The trick is to do your research beforehand and know what questions to ask. Look beyond the slick jargon and the PR advertising, make them prove their credentials and statistics.

For activities and tours that involve locals and claim to give back to the community, you need to ask:

  • Is the activity empowering local people or exploiting them?
  • Are the tours and activities run by locals or by international organisations?
  • Do they employ local people or source supplies locally?
  • What (if any) percentage of profits goes back to the community or community projects?

For wildlife attractions you need to ask:

  • Are they part of any international overwatch organisations such as WAZA that apply strict guidelines?
  • Do they uphold internationally recognised standards in their activities or tours?
  • Do they allow any riding, touching or interacting with the animals involved?
  • Are the animals kept in unsuitable conditions or forced to perform shows?

These are just the start of the questions you should be asking both yourself and the operators themselves.

Elephant conservation and exploitation

Genuinely responsible and sustainable organisations and operators will abide by international standards and codes of conduct, they will often be accredited with international organisations where this is relevant and this can be easily checked, and most of all they will be more than happy to answer any and all questions regarding their credentials and operating practices.

Where this doesn’t happen, or they do not answer your questions satisfactorily, then odds are they aren’t exactly bona fide responsible operators, and you should stay well clear.

As the demand for responsible and sustainable travel grows, greenwashing is becoming increasingly prevalent and insidious, and it is up to each and every traveller out there to do their due diligence. Be aware of the issues involved, ask the right questions, do your research, and that way we can all ensure we are supporting truly sustainable tourism and avoiding the unsustainable versions of it.

In time, green travel may become the norm and greenwashing may not even be necessary. Until then, keep asking those questions.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

How Responsible Travel Is Boosting Welsh Tourism.

How To Make Your Gap Year Responsible, Ethical And Sustainable.

Responsible Orang Utan Spotting In Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.

The Elephant In The Room: Why You Shouldn’t Go On An Elephant Trek In Thailand.

The Horrible Truth About Animal Sanctuaries.

Why Are People Still Visiting Thailand’s Tiger Temple?

Why Zoos Are An Important Part Of Responsible Wildlife Tourism.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Responsible Travel
12 comments on “Greenwashed Gap Years, How To Spot And Avoid Greenwashing On Your Travels.
  1. Sara says:

    I have to say this is really eye opening I had no idea! I cannot believe how easy these companys seem to get away with it?

  2. Richard says:

    This is so true, I have seen it quite a lot myself on my own travels where a tour or a guesthouse say they are ‘eco friendly’ but they aren’t. I think a big problem is there is no real international guide or accepted standard for travellers to look at and say that is legit or that isn’t.

    • That is a great point, there are international standards but they are very disparate and there are so many of them none of them are very cohesive or known well enough to make a difference.

  3. Anne says:

    Does anyone even really believe the term eco friendly anymore? Because of greenwashing its just used so often and often so wrongly that I think it has lost all meaning.

  4. kksharma47 says:

    Awesome post, I definitely agree we need to look out for greenwashing.

  5. So true, it seems everything is eco this or eco that, and suddenly every animal attraction is a sanctuary. It’s so hard to determine the real from the fake

  6. Olivia Gardener says:

    You are so right, greenwashing is everywhere. Especially in those hotels who try and pretend that saving on their washing bill by having you reuse your towels makes them eco, especially when they don’t do anything else!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

Get notified about all the latest travel tips, advice and inspiration as well as amazing competitions and exclusive discounts! Don't worry we will never send you spam or unwanted mail.

Join 18,395 other subscribers
Global Spirit Partnership Badge
Copyright notice.

© Bemused Backpacker and the gecko logo is owned and copyrighted by Michael Huxley 2022. Unless stated, all blog and website content is owned and copyrighted by Michael Huxley 2022.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Michael Huxley is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Huxley and Bemused Backpacker with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Protected by Copyscape DMCA Copyright Detector

%d bloggers like this: