Can dolphins be admired without closing them in an aquarium and instead swimming with them in the open sea? Is it possible to make a classic tour in India while also coming to grips with the difficult social realities in the country and, at the same time, help its development? Can you take an eco-holiday in the Central American tropics without sacrificing anything but being sure that you eat locally?
These are three examples of sustainable tourism, holidays managed by non-profit associations or entrepreneurs who do not forego their profit, instead earning it by combining holidays with respect for the environment and nature. But many are not satisfied with the labels or ads for this or that place that are on the internet. And some also go to verify them. This is the case for these three stories that take place in Australia, Costa Rica and India and that have been collected by Florian Kaefer and Natalia Ferrer Roca, two curious travellers who work at the Sustainability Leaders Project, started in 2014 with the aim of sharing information on sustainable tourism. Given their interest in real experiences of a new way of travelling, they decided to recount good practices related to tourism sustainability, visiting facilities and participating in tours to go beyond appearances because, they say, “...over time, we have noticed that what our readers liked best was the ‘behind the scenes’ view of personal experiences, stories, and observations regarding the main tourism professionals and those who were already successful with their sustainability practices”.
First place in their top 10 (in reality, no case has a higher or lower score, it is simply a reporting of nine interesting cases) goes to the Dolphin Discovery Center in Bunbury, in the South West region of Western Australia. An hour and a half from Perth, Koombana Bay hosts bottlenose dolphins who regularly visit this area and can frequently be sighted. The bottlenose dolphin is an odontocete cetacean in the dolphin family, one of the few species of dolphins that can tolerate captivity, and is in fact the most common in dolphin aquariums. But in this case, there is no dolphin aquarium: visitors can swim with bottlenose dolphins in their natural environment. Accompanied by expert guides and trained volunteers, depending on dolphin sightings, the swimmers are guided in the water where these marine mammals may (or may not) decide to start interacting with them. The philosophy of the Dolphin Discovery Center - a non-profit enterprise - is to promote research, conservation, and education regarding bottlenose dolphins and other forms of marine life. According to Florian and Natalia, that is precisely the case.
Perhaps a more typical experience, that does not sacrifice an ounce of tropical paradise luxury, according to the Sustainability Leaders Project, is a holiday at Rancho Margot in Costa Rica, a facility with an ecological focus that does not deny comfort: relaxation, yoga courses, canoeing, natural pools, forest tours, all in a pristine natural environment, with lodgings in spartan but very refined bungalows that lack for nothing, not even wi-fi. The ranch organically grows between 50 to 75% of what workers and guests consume and 100% of the meat. Zero-kilometre eating is guaranteed.
Instead, a totally different experience is offered by Reality Tours & Travel, a responsible tourism company active in four Indian locations. Its distinctive characteristic is combining holidays and real experiences not only in museums or seeing the classic beauty of nature in a trip to India: in addition to those, the tour also includes visits to the slums of Bombay or Delhi. In addition, 80% of the proceeds of these tours are turned over to the communities where tourists become aware of the social reality of these big cities. This experience has been in place for ten years and combines social responsibility with travellers’ personal responsibility.
In assessing the sustainability of various projects, the Sustainability Leaders Project evaluates not only the consistency with the principles of sustainable tourism and the truthfulness of information, but also, for example, if salaries are fair. In fact, behind the scenes sometimes there are also pleasant surprises.