In May 2010, Irene Lane founded Greenloons, which is an online marketplace that connects global explorers with eco-certified sustainable travel experiences that positively impact communities socially, economically and environmentally. She’s also developed a return on investment (ROI) financial model that analyzes a destination’s sustainable investments, savings and incremental revenue opportunities. In addition to guest lecturing at universities and conferences, she is the only person in the United States that can certify green destinations, accommodations, and events under the internationally accredited Biosphere label.
I wish I could say there was a plan – but it all just evolved from a simple idea. I always had a passion for travel, so I decided to pursue a post graduate certification in Sustainable Tourism Management. It was during this time of study that I realized that there was a lot of misinformation about ecotourism and very little transparency about the industry.
My professional background up to then was cost-benefit analysis, software implementation, change management, etc. for high-tech companies and federal government agencies. So, I thought I could combine those skills and create a resource that would present the facts about ecotourism and its certifications, let travelers decide for themselves, and connect them with impactful travel experiences. Given that I had a young child back then, I decided to focus on family-friendly vacation packages provided by eco-certified organizations.
There are three emerging trends with the first two being two sides of the same coin – specifically overtourism and what I am calling social conscience tourism. The third is the development of mobile applications that aim to consolidate local experience providers.
Overtourism refers to destinations that have suffered from overcrowding and a reduction in the quality of life for local residents. Think what is happening in cities like Reykjavik, Barcelona, and Venice. Essentially, destination authenticity is being overlooked in the pursuit of revenue, and residents are not engaged in the discussion. To counteract overtourism, some clever city leaders are beginning to collaborate with stakeholders so that tourism and economic development schemes are aligned with the interests of local residents. I’m calling that social conscious tourism. In particular, some destinations are aiming to develop tourism outside city centers and expand travel opportunities across seasons while others are beginning to earnestly assess their destination in the context of creating a sustainable tourism framework. This all leads to the third trend, which is the development of mobile applications that spotlight and even personalize local artist, craftsmen, and adventure experiences.
To expand the earlier point, an interesting challenge is the client desire, especially in the luxury market, for hyper-personalized travel experiences alongside easy mobile booking. How hoteliers and tour activity providers respond, especially with ecotourism options, will provide a view for the direction of the industry in the next 10 years.
The present limitation of the ecotourism industry is the lack of verified supply. There’s just not that many accountable, transparent ecotourism vacations out there all over the world. So, our goal with Greenloons is to help destinations, especially within the United States, adopt sustainability principles as they formulate their strategic tourism action plans.
We’re looking at the ‘bleisure’ (business-leisure) market that attend conferences and conventions in the US to see if there’s an opportunity to infuse sustainability principles into all touchpoints within the destination.
A key aspect to our success was the formulation of key partnerships early on with like-minded organizations (such as Rainforest Alliance and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council) and more recently companies (such as Adventure Travel Trade Association) that have different competencies and/or markets but the same sustainability ethos. These partnerships have allowed us to expand our digital marketing influence much more than we could have done on our own.
Defining and understanding the cyclical and (dare I say) fickle nature of family travel bookings. It took a while, but once we figured out that certain months were busier than others or certain events around the world would affect interest, we could transition into consulting work. In the end, it’s worked better for because this allows for us to keep a pulse on what attracts travelers to ecotourism while also drawing upon our professional experience to help tourism suppliers and destinations up their game.
What better way to say it than through pictures and testimonials. I believe the ideal experience documented in this short video (which was filmed last year on the island of Crete in Greece) best describes our approach. We created a farm-to-table experience for 16 people that were customers of a Greek bakery here in Washington D.C. and who all wanted to learn more about the food and land that inspired the chef’s recipes.
I try to lead by example by remaining positive in the face of challenges, open-minded about solutions, and willing to tell stories about how the tourism industry is changing for the better.
For the ecotourism industry, I would suggest three actions. First, make the investment to attend or volunteer at an ecotourism / sustainable travel conference so that you can make connections with people who are inspiring you and will likely give you valuable advice on how you can achieve your goal. Second, actively utilize LinkedIn and its groups to connect with ecotourism professionals around the world. Third, become a member of EcoClub so that you can gain access to their Job Board, which not only lists jobs, internships, consulting and volunteer opportunities, but also eco-lodge purchasing options around the world.