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INTERVIEW :: Eco Travel Search and Booking Engine Eco Companion

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Travel search and booking engines are proliferating like rabbits online. They have grown in such number over the last few years that it is now almost impossible to keep track of which ones offer the best deal or if indeed eco stays and holidays are available through them. Usually I have to search deeper and deeper to find any hint of an eco-orientated hotel, regardless of the green rhetoric many booking engines spruik from time-to-time.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was one portal dedicated solely to the various eco accommodations and experiences available worldwide?

Naturally, I was excited when Eco Companion ventured onto my radar. Interested to find out more about this new eco travel search engine, the idea behind it and how they work, I spoke with Eco Companion’s editor-in-chief Taz Bogue and Eco Companion’s founder Max Sinclair.

ETG: Tell me about Eco Companion

TB: Eco Companion is a search and booking engine designed to help travellers find their next sustainable holiday in nature. We put the world’s best eco-accommodation, tours, and conservation projects all in one place: from volunteering projects with orangutans in the Bornean rainforest, to luxury eco-lodges in Scotland – and everything in between! And it’s my job to write up these different experiences, to tell our audience why we love them.

ETG: Just to be clear, Eco Companion only offers accommodation and experiences in nature. Is that right? I was really hoping it would be the eco search engine I’ve been waiting for, one where I could search eco accommodation worldwide, including cities. Do you have plans to include city stays?

MS: We started out with a focus on accommodation, tours and conservation projects only based in nature as ecotourism by definition is only focused in on nature tourism in particular. According to the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (TIES, 1990)

We do think we would add value by adding well-managed good examples of hotels set within cities when we think it’s appropriate as ultimately our nature lovers may need city hotels as part of a larger trip. For example, visitors to Iceland may want to use Reykjavik as a base for going out to experience ecotourism.

ETG: How did Eco Companion come about?

TB: We realised that humans have made more of an impact on the Earth than any other species. And, as one of the world’s biggest industries, travel is a big part of this. People are always going to want to travel, so we decided that what we need is a sustainable tourism industry that protects wildlife, natural environments, and local people.

ETG: Surely there are plenty of eco travel companies in existence already?

TB: While there are lots of ecotourism companies and eco-tour agencies, before Eco Companion it was hard to tell how truly sustainable a travel experience was. For those travellers that really care about their travel impact, and about how sustainable their holiday is, it can sometimes be hard to be sure. This was the problem we were looking to solve.

We wanted to empower travellers to allow them to make an informed choice about their next sustainable holiday in nature.

ETG: OK, so how does it work?

TB: Firstly, we’re a search and booking engine, so it works like any other you might have come across. You can search on our site to find your perfect holiday, read all about why we love it in our unique write-up, and then go ahead and book. You can also ask questions that matter to you. Plus, we have lots of inspiration too, as well as a blog for those who want to live vicariously through our Eco Companion journalists.

And then the feature that’s really unique: our World Rating System. To achieve our aim of empowering travellers, we’ve developed a system based on the principles of ecotourism to assess how sustainable experiences really are.

ETG: How does the World Rating System work?

TB: We collect a large amount of information directly from companies and operators about their accommodation, tours and projects. We then use pre-set internationally accepted criteria to award each experience a ‘World Rating’ of Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Elite Green. So if a traveller sees an experience with a Bronze globe, they know that that particular experience has made some steps in achieving sustainability. If an experience has an Elite Green world, the experience is top-class in terms of sustainability. This allows travellers to visually identify the most sustainable experiences when they are browsing, so they can make an informed choice.

ETG: When you say you use pre-set internationally accepted criteria, do you mean the pre-exisiting international measures used buy sustainable or eco councils/organisations, such as The International Ecotourism Society or the GSTC?

MS: Yes, you’re right. We in particular have worked with the GSTC. Ecotourism Australia have been a massive help for us as they’re one of the original accreditation systems and are also uniquely like us focused on ecotourism. So for example ecotourism has education and conservation efforts as part of its core principles beyond what ‘sustainable’ or ‘responsible’ tourism have. We are also members of TIES and just starting to do more with them too.

ETG: And what benefit is there of using Eco Companion?

TB: Ecotourism is gradually entering the mainstream – it’s the biggest growing sector of the travel industry. This is great, but as this happens, more and more people try to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ and exploit this – you might have heard it described using the term ‘greenwashing’. One of the ways in which we confront this issue is through our World Rating System. By clearly displaying an experience’s eco-credentials, people can be confident that they’re making an informed choice. And as well as empowering the eco-conscious traveller, this rewards those operators that are making the most progress with sustainability! We hope to drive standards upwards, as increasingly travellers will demand higher and higher levels of sustainability from the operators.

ETG: Is the World Rating System the only way you plan to make an impact?

TB: In a word: no! While this system is one weapon in our arsenal, we believe that it’s people are ultimately the biggest driving force for positive change. To harness this power, we want to create a community of eco-travellers. They’ll be our eyes and ears on the ground, helping us to analyse how sustainable each experience is and flagging up any ‘greenwashing’. Of course, the best way to make a big impact, and to transform the travel industry, is by coming together!

Thanks very much for talking to Eco Traveller. While Eco Companion may not be the holy grail of eco travel booking and search engines, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you may like to read these:
~ Top Tips for Choosing an Excellent Eco Travel Company
~ What is Sustainable Travel?
~ How Do You Know You’re Staying in an Ecolodge?


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