Category Archives: Sustainable Tourism

Starry, Starry Night

One of the most memorable experiences from my trip to Morocco was the night we spent in the Sahara Desert. From riding a camel into the deep orange desert, to singing and playing drums around the campfire while trying to stay warm in below freezing temperatures… it was all amazing.

But it was the experience of seeing the stars that night that is most memorable for me.

The sun was still setting when we arrived at our Sahara camp. We spent the last few moments of light setting up our sleeping tents and settling into our dining tent as we waited for dinner to arrive. After a while of playing word games while we waited for dinner, someone alerted us to the fact that it would be dark outside by now and we should go out to look at the stars. As soon as we stepped out of our warm tent and I looked up to the skies… I was floored. A vast sea of glittering stars were spread out above me. After the initial ooh’s and aah’s (think 4th of July  fireworks reactions), most people headed back to the tent for warmth. I knew I was experiencing a rare nights sky, so I grabbed a blanket, spread it out on the sand and laid down for the best seat in the house. In a unpolluted night sky, one can literally see layers of stars as if you were wearing 3-D glasses. And the milky way! It looked like a kid spilled milk on the sky and his mom tried to unsuccessfully wipe it up. With a sky so clear I spotted a handful of shooting stars. It was a truly magical experience.

Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult these days to find yourself below a clear night sky as I did, devoid of light and air pollution. The good news is, there is a group of people trying to preserve said skies.

As I was taking in this magical ceiling above me, I remembered that one of my tourism professors, Dr. Edith Szivas, had told us a about a project she was involved in with UNESCO and the UNWTO called the Starlight Foundation. The aim of the foundation is to “promote the importance of clear skies for the humankind, emphasizing and introducing the value of this endangered heritage for science, education, culture, technological development, nature conservation, and tourism.” The Starlight Foundation has created a certification process, to help promote clear skies for the sake of science and tourism:

The Starlight Tourism Certification System was created with the aim of encouraging, at world-wide level, the improvement of the quality of tourist experiences and the protection of the night skies in Starlight Destinations.The Starlight Certification seeks to guarantee the capacity to enjoy the view of the stars and to discover the associated scientific, cultural, natural and scenic values.

The Starlight Certification makes it possible for the first time to bring science and tourism together, It aims to ensure the quality of tourism experiences involving the nightscapes, the view of stars and the cosmos and the related scientific, cultural and environmental knowledge. Recognition of science as a tourist product and, at the same time, as a working method in tourism, is the foundation of developing this standard. – Source

Looking to find an unpolluted piece of the sky to experience for yourself? Use this Starlight Finder to start your search!

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Day 4 in Morocco

We are closing in on the end of day 4 of our 15 day trip through the Best of Morocco and I am already amazed and smitten with this country and it’s people. Equally, I am impressed by the quality of learning and experiences Intrepid offers on it’s tours. I cannot imagine having a 1/100th of the experience I have had so far if I planned this trip on my own.

Here are the top 5 lessons/facts I have taken away from my experience so far (not in any particular order):

1) Moroccan history and culture is ingrained with respect for humanity and tolerance for all religions. While the country is 98% Muslim, over a thousand years of their history indicates they have always welcomed, protected, and included Judaism, Christianity and Muslim faiths in their country without war or persecution. The rest of the world could learn a lot from this country.

2) Everyone should follow the rule of the Moroccan spice of life. Indulge in 15 minutes of crazy everyday. This includes laughter, dance, celebration, etc. If you do this it will keep you happy, healthy, and wealthy.

3) Camel meat is delicious. No joke. Moroccan food in general is pretty amazing. I have indulged in olives, tangine, couscous, lentils, moroccan whiskey (aka moroccan mint tea), harira soup….

4) Moroccan man love melts my heart. I love the affection that is shown between male friends here. From the way they great each other with hugs and kisses to the dance moves they share when moved by their favorite traditional tunes.

5) Pigeon poop is the key to soft and colorful leather. Gross, but kind of fascinating.

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An Urban Adventure In Your Own Backyard


Staycations seem to have become a rather popular replacement for vacations these days due to the current economic environment and growing environmental concerns over vacation related carbon footprints.

But doesn’t STAY sound boring? I don’t know about you, but when I take vacation days off of work I want to GO somewhere, not STAY at home. So the question is, how do you GO on a vacation while sticking to a low budget and a commitment to a small carbon footprint? An urban adventure, that’s how.

What is an urban adventure?

Urban Dictionary defines it as:

1. urban adventure
when you intend on looking up 1 random word on urban dictionary, but actually spend hours being entertained by the randomness

Well, that is one version of an urban adventure, but not really what I was aiming for. The Urban Adventure League in Portland, however, describes it more accurately as:

“…events that explore the urban environment using feet, bicycles, public transit, and possibly other alternative forms of transport… events and projects will emphasize fun, de-emphasize competition, and foster connectivity and awareness. There’s plenty of interesting things to be done in an urban environment, and we want to encourage and foster creative ways to enhance out living experience to its fullest. Boredom will no be allowed.”

Exploring urban environments while away on vacation is a pretty common activity. Most people, while away on a vacation, stay in centrally located accommodations so that they are able to walk around a town’s historic center or downtown area. But what is less normal is taking the time to explore the urban environment in your own backyard. This allows you to STAY at home, while still getting the sense of adventure that you would come from GOing on vacation.

There are two ways to participate in an urban adventure.

1) Book a tour with Urban Adventures.

Urban Adventures offers unique local day tours in over 100 cities around the world. They follow a simple recipe: small groups + local transportation + local guides + real local experiences = urban adventure. The best part? The affordable prices. For example, in New Orleans, for $25, you can: “See Hermann-Grima House, learn about Creole mourning customs, visit the oldest cemetery in the city, wander past the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, spot the tomb seen in the film Easy Rider, and take a peak at the future tomb of Nicolas Cage.”

So, the next time you plan your staycation, see if Urban Adventures has a tour in your city and maybe you can learn something new about your homestead.

2) Plan your very own Urban Adventure in your home or neighboring town.

Plan 2 was exactly what I did for myself and four of my friends a couple of weeks ago. We went on a homemade urban adventure in… drum roll please…. SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA!

After preaching about the benefits of sustainable tourism to my friends for the past couple of months, they finally gave in and demanded I plan a day of sustainable tourism for them. With some creativity, a sense of adventure, and a bit of research, I planned an urban adventure in Sacramento. The theme was Art in Public Places. I can guarantee that my friends were not expecting our plans would be to spend the day in our own city, Sacramento. But, at the end of the tour they were all asking when the next urban adventure would be.

The Sacramento urban adventure included the following: using public transportation (the light rail), visiting and learning about locally owned shops, uncovering and learning about some of the public artwork Downtown Sacramento has to offer, and some treasure hunting in the form of geocaching.

All-in-all the urban adventure was a great success. My friends were surprised at how much fun they could have by exploring their own city in a new way. So, with a little bit of creativity, I was able to successfully plan an urban adventure that was both economically and environmentally friendly, while also making it feel like we got to GO somewhere as opposed to STAYing at home.

Below are some photos from our Sacramento urban adventure:

My traveling companions and I enjoying the sunshine while on a break by the Capital.

Stanford Mansion - It was Free Museum Day so we were able to check out the Stanford Mansion for free, among other museums along our route.

We spotted this on top of a rooftop garden.  Photo by Emilia Cottrell.

"Golden State" by Lita Albuquerque and Mitchell De Jarnett

Agritourism – A Family Friendly Travel Option, And So Much More

A friend recently asked me, or rather begged me, to offer her suggestions on sustainable tourism options for families with toddlers. It didn’t take me long to uncover, in my opinion, the perfect form of sustainable tourism that has the ability to entertain all ages: AGRITOURISM.

As defined by the UC Small Farm Program, agritourism is “a commercial enterprise at a working farm, ranch or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment or education of visitors, and that generates supplemental income for the owner.”

Good for the kids: For children, participating in agritourism is a great way to have fun while experiencing what Irene Lane describes as “teachable moments.” By visiting a farm or ranch, children are given the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from, how plants and animals live and grow, and about the value of natural resources. An example of some popular agritourism activities include: farm tours, pick-your-own-fruit opportunities, animal farm visits, craft fairs, and other family oriented agricultural events.

Why is agritourism becoming so popular? I was thumbing through some old Ode magazines the other day and came across an article on agritourism in the April/May 2010 issue. Ode describes this new wave of agritourism as farms “opening their doors to a public hungry for a up-close look at how their food is grown or raised.” Similar to the attraction tourists have towards the unknown and authentic when they travel, the production of food has become an unknown entity to us. This has made agritourism a thriving niche market around the world, particularly for the American market, whereby they seek authentic food and farm experiences for personal education and fulfillment.

Agritourism around the world: Agritourism opportunities can be found worldwide. In Italy, agritourism has become a huge niche market due to the country’s visitor attraction being strongly associated with food and wine. Italy has even created a new form of accommodation called, agriturismo. Agriturismo are farm holiday accommodations often manifesting themselves as historic country farm houses. Staying at an agriturismo allows the visitor to learn about the family who run the farm, take part in farm activities, participate in cooking classes, etc. This is a unique opportunity to get to know both the history and culture of Italy, while supporting the local economy. You also get to enjoy your vacation surrounded by a beautiful rural setting and delicious local cuisine.

My most memorable agritourism experience? Visiting the Surrey Hills Llama farm in Surrey, England. In addition to offering treks with the llamas, the farm owns The Merry Harriers, a pub praised for their use of fresh and local produce. My teachable moment from the experience was learning that llama’s have big personalities. Louis, pictured on the left, likes to be at the end of the pack while on a trek. To make sure he is the last llama, he hangs around waiting and eating while the rest of the llamas and trekkers move along down the trail. However, once he can no longer see his brethren, panic sets in and Louis goes running to catch up to them! My friends couldn’t help but laugh hysterically every time Louis and I would disappear from the pack, and then re-emerge at lightening speed.

Resources to plan your own agritourism holiday:

California: Check out the California Agricultural Tourism Directory. They have a list of farms and ranches you can visit, upcoming events, and farm trails you can follow if you are up for a multi-agritourism adventure.

UK: Go to Farm Stay UK for more information on booking a Farm focused holiday in the UK.

Canada: Trail Canada offers a great comprehensive guide to different agritourism ideas throughout the country.

Everywhere Else: Agritourism World provides a worldwide search engine to find the best farm stays and ranch visits at your next holiday destination.

Local Travel – Values To Take On The Road

Local Travel. It is a simple concept that most people can understand. You can apply it to local travel within your own community, as well as traveling like a local to destinations outside of your home base.

I recently came across the Local Travel Movement blog, through my connections with WHL, an e-marketplace for local accommodation providers.  While reading about the Local Travel Movement, I discovered their Local Travel Values (as shown below):

  • If you are mindful of the local people, you put yourself in the locals’ shoes and discover what they really think.
  • If you are mindful of the local environment, you put yourself in the heart of it, feel its beauty and power, and do what you can to preserve it for the future.
  • If you are mindful of the local culture, you put yourself in the local mindset and share in activities and experiences as locals do.
  • If you are mindful of the local economy, you put your money into local business and ensure that your tourism benefits the right people.

These are exactly the type of travel values I would deem appropriate for supporting sustainable tourism. With all of the different sustainable tourism terminology out there, that I mentioned before, it can be confusing for a new traveler to know how to travel the “best” way. But, the concept of Local Travel seems to fit the bill perfectly.

My challenge to you: keep these Local Travel values on hand and put them into practice when you plan and embark upon your next vacation. You may be surprised to find your travel experience more fulfilling and meaningful than ever before.

Sustainable Travel? There’s An App For That

There seems to be an app for everything these days. From different knock off versions of scrabble, to camera effect apps that make you and your nearest and dearest look fat, old, and/or bald.

So I was thinking, if there is an app to make you bald, there must be an app, or multiple apps, that can aid you in making more sustainable travel choices on your next vacation or weekend excursion.

I dug around the internet searching for mobile apps that might help the average traveler participate in sustainable tourism and found these 3 gems: LocalEats, Green Travel Choice, and World Customs and Cultures. Combined, these apps will help you cover all the bases of sustainable travel: supporting the local economy, supporting the environment, and supporting the local community and culture.

LocalEats – This app is hosted by www.WheretheLocalsEat.com. It is a great resource to find the best eats in town while supporting the local communities economy. The purpose behind the website and app is that it promotes local eateries in cities as opposed to large chain establishments. By supporting local businesses, you are supporting the local economy, as opposed to giving your money to international investors who are less likely to be connected to the communities they do business with. Favorite App Feature: The app has a ‘search nearby’ function. So, as long as your phone has GPS functionality, LocalEats can identify where you and produce a list of all the best local eats options in your immediate area.

Green Travel Choice – This is a pretty simple app that calculates and tracks your total carbon emissions as you travel. You can enter your starting and ending point and the app will produce a chart for you listing what your carbon emissions will be for 9 different transportation choices. For example, if I were to travel from where I am sitting right now, in Davis, California, and go to New York City, these are the carbon emissions I would potentially produce:

  • Hiking/Biking – 0.0lbs
  • Train/Subway – 573.9 lbs
  • Bus – 684.6 lbs
  • Motorbike – 1167.8 lbs
  • Small Car – 1409.5lbs
  • Medium Car – 2114.2 lbs
  • Large Car – 2970 lbs
  • Medium Hybrid Car – 1761.8 lbs
  • Airplane – 1872.6

I think the most interesting result here is that taking an airplane to NYC creates almost the same carbon emissions as driving a hybrid to NYC. This is a great resource to help you realize how your travel choices affect the environment. This app, however, could improve itself by offering a carbon offsetting program where you can donate money to tree planting to offset  your carbon footprint. Favorite App Feature: By purchasing the Green Travel Choice app, you get a $15 discount code for membership to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES).

World Customs and Cultures – I recommend this app to any international traveler. The value get from this app is that it covers a huge variety of country specific customs and cultural eccentricities. By studying up on the country you are visiting ahead of time, you can save yourself from potentially embarrassing and/or rude interactions with the local people. Topics covered range from communication styles, to eye contact rules, to local taboos. There is also a great greeting component that goes over the expected greetings between different relationships with people: man/man, man/woman, etc. If you have ever been to Europe I am sure you have encountered the awkward “how many kisses do I give this person” moment. This app could have saved you from that experience. Favorite App Feature: The random button. Every time you hit it, it will tell you a random cultural custom or ritual from around the world. Example: In Cameroon, sometimes the forefinger and pinky are extended and used to mime Dracula teeth, making fun of someone for having bad teeth.

Those are my mobile app recommendations. What are yours? Do you use any apps that help you travel more sustainably? Make better choices in your everyday life? Get you more connected with your community or other communities?

Eat Local, Eat Cheap – California Restaurant Month

As I previously mentioned in my Sustainable Tourism post, part of traveling sustainably is supporting local economies. One of the most fun and self-indulgent ways to do this is through food. Particularly in California, where most of our food is locally sourced, eating out means you are supporting local agriculture, as well as local business owners. Additionally, visiting local eateries allows you to experience the local culture of a destination, by tasting their culinary delights.

The California Travel and Tourism Commission has decided to kick off the new year with California Restaurant Month.

So, what does this mean and why is it so cool? Let me tell you…

Throughout the month of January, cities and towns from Northern down to Southern California will be holding Restaurant Weeks. Each destination is doing it a little bit differently, but the underlying theme is that some of the best restaurants, cafes and bistros in California, for their designated week, will be offering discounted prix-fixe meals just for you. For 1 entire month you can enjoy the seasonal and local culinary concoctions of some of California’s best known chefs, but for a fraction of the price.

You can go to official California Restaurant Month website to see the list of participating cities, as well as the dates of their participation.

For those living in or near Sacramento, or just want a reason to come visit me, our Restaurant week starts TOMORROW! Dine Downtown runs from January 7-16. 30 of Sacramento’s best restaurants will be offering top class 3 course meals for just $30. To see who is participating, what the menus will look like, and to book your reservations in advance, go here.

So what about those of you not from California, or not planning to visit the sunshine state this month? Don’t worry! Many cities and states across the nation are planning similar events this month! Here are some examples. Check out your cities tourism board to see when they are hosting one.

Sustainable Tourism, What’s that?

Sustainable tourism…what on earth is it? Before taking a 3 month course on it in school, I had a very mishmashed understanding of it myself. I knew it had something to do with doing positive things whilst traveling. But really, how vague is that idea? Thankfully my understanding of sustainable tourism was corrected by my professor, Dr. Caroline Scarles, and I hope I can share some of my insights with you.

So, it is my mission, through this blog, to step up the discussion about sustainable tourism. To talk about what it means, what it looks like, how you can get involved in it, and how it can benefit you and others.

Therefore, before I get the 2011 posts started, I thought it would be a good idea to set everyone up with a base understanding of sustainable tourism.

First off, let’s talk about sustainability in general.

Sustainability, while a seemingly modern concept, is a rather old idea based on science: the capability of an organism to sustain itself. Easy enough.

Now let’s move on to 23 years ago when the term sustainable development was defined in the Brundtland Report in 1987. Also known at Our Common Future, the Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as:

“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

To this day, this definition is still referenced.

Now, there are 3 areas, or environments, to which such sustainable development is supposed to consider: economic, environmental, and social. These are sometimes referred to as the Pillars of Sustainability or the Triple Bottom Line.

Have I lost you yet? I hope not. At this point you are probably thinking “but what does this have to do with tourism?” Well, the goal of developing sustainable tourism is to support the concept of sustainability, as referred to in the Brundtland Report, and support the Triple Bottom Line:

1) the consumption of resources in tourism should not compromise the ability of future generations to appreciate the same tourism resources

and

2) when developing sustainable tourism, it should take into account the economic, environmental, and social affects it will have on the area it is being developed. Some examples of these three categories in tourism are…

  • economic: does the tourism development benefit the economy of the locals in the destination it is being established?
  • environmental: how does increasing visitors to the destination affect the local environment? Can it still survive for future generations to enjoy?
  • social: is the local community’s culture and way of life positively or negatively affected by this tourism? Are they happy with it? Getting involved with it?

At this point I think I have given you enough to chew on for a bit. I will introduce more ideas in the weeks to come. Specifically, I will talk about some of the different forms of sustainable tourism that you may be more familiar with and how they fit under the umbrella of sustainable tourism, such as: Eco-Tourism, Green Tourism, Responsible Tourism, Ethical Tourism, Pro-Poor Tourism, Slow Travel, and Voluntourism.

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