Sustainable Travel Trends for 2011

Sustainable travel has taken off over the past decade. Luxury farm spas, staycations, glamping…. What's going to grow this year?

At the first ever European Eco-Tourism conference in Estonia, delegates discussed sustainable travel, and, according to The Green Travel Blog, they touched on some hot topics which could imply future trends.  First off, they discussed the zero carbon hotels that are getting trendy in Europe. Pop up eco travel hotels and tree houses are two examples of low-carbon lodging, but we've also started seeing super-high class resort style hotels boasting carbon free accommodation. Given that forthcoming legislation may offer support for low carbon businesses, perhaps more zero carbon hotels will open.

Secondly, voluntourism, the community form of sustainable travel, could be on the rise. Voluntourism has a volatile reputation, since it can be really expensive and not actually that helpful. But, programs are improving, and it's easier to get away from the middlemen. For example, WWOOF allows people to volunteer on organic farms in exchange for food and accommodation. MyMediaInfo also predicts that voluntourism will be one of the top trends for 2011, since, according to their database, "voluntourism has gone mainstream".

Thirdly, the travel industry leaders at the conference in Europe talked about slow travel. Nice. Slow down, green up: it's the journey, not the destination. Proponents of slow travel emphasize how slowing down (and staying put) allows travelers to connect with the local culture.

Which leads to the fourth prediction: the local travel movement is expected to grow during the next year.  Wondering what, exactly, local travel is? Well, it appears to go hand-in-hand with slow travel. Local travel implies that a traveler live like local. Do the local thing. On, travelers ask questions, and locals offer advice. You can also meet locals (many of whom are tour guides, or work in the travel industry). Local travel is sustainable travel, because it's about connecting with the community. Then again, local travel is also, uh, traveling locally. And, maybe, couch-surfing. And, eating local food. So, perhaps the local travel movement will define itself in 2011.

Finally, sustainable travel networks were discussed at the conference. Where are the social networks for green travelers? recently launched, though it appears to be doing a lot at once. In their words: "We trying to do is to grow and share ideals, suggestions, destinations, news, images, videos, stories, folklore, perplexities, recipes, maps, coordinates as long as all concerns unforgettable experiences of sustainable and responsible traveling." Well, it's certainly an international effort with a worthwhile (though vague) goal and they have some fun little videos, an excellent artist ("Jack"), a fun advent calendar, and the claim that they're "growing from a whisper into a dawn chorus of thousands of colourful birds".

The Green Travel Blog did not include eco travel in their list of trends, but it was an eco tourism conference and eco travel was surely among the subjects discussed. Eco travel is, of course, a very apparent sustainable travel trend (perhaps the most obvious of them all). Another trend that could be included: boutique travel agents. There's so much to sort on the Internet that people are turning to professionals to tell them what good and what's green. Also, one last trend to consider: green news sources. There are a few good sites dedicate to sustainable travel news (Responsible Travel News, Travelanthropist, etc), but there will most likely be an increase in the number of sites that focus on showcasing eco friendly transportation, hotels, and so forth. And, hopefully, innovators in the sustainable travel industry will come up with marvelous and unpredictable trends...

photo credit: Kotzian