Up & Coming Destinations

Since the idea of ecotourism first emerged some 20-odd years ago, its success has been measured by how it has spread around the world. Ventures that benefit local ecosystems and communities have taken hold everywhere from Panama to Gabon to...

Since the idea of ecotourism first emerged some 20-odd years ago, its success has been measured by how it has spread around the world. Ventures that benefit local ecosystems and communities have taken hold everywhere from Panama to Gabon to the mountains of China’s Yunnan province. The notion of sustainability in travel is also moving beyond developing nations and natural settings, as industrialized countries bring green energy and good environmental sense to rustic parks, tony resorts, and even business hotels in major metropolitan areas. These six regions are at the vanguard of the new generation of planet-friendly travel.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
It shouldn’t be hard to lure tourists to this Balkan nation, which claims some of Europe’s last virgin forests, picturesque medieval villages, and the historic city of Sarajevo. Seven-year-old Green Visions is trying to bring visitors back to the war-fractured country, and to forge a link between tourism and conservation. Founded by aid workers, the nonprofit has published guidebooks to the region and helped train local people in organic agriculture, guiding, and preparing meals. The country still has a way to go—land mines buried in the forests make hiking guides mandatory—but Green Visions has already lured major tour operators like Intrepid Travel and Mountain Travel Sobek, which offers its first tour of the region in June.

Other parts of the world have nurtured standards for green travel, and soon at least one of the United States will join them. This year, Wisconsin will launch Travel Green Wisconsin, a voluntary but rigorous environmental certification program. Almost any kind of facility—hotels, golf courses, and marinas, to name a few—may participate, provided it makes substantial efforts in areas ranging from water and energy conservation to wildlife management. Attractions will be rated on a point-based system, and must make improvements every year. The best thing about the program? It has spawned successors: This year, West Virginia will institute a similar pilot program.

With two UNESCO World Heritage sites, a dense rainforest, and a diverse array of peoples and cultures, Laos has a lot to show travelers. The number of visitors has jumped from 14,000 in 1990 to nearly 900,000 in 2004. In response, the Laotian government has implemented a sustainable development policy to promote cutting-edge management practices in pilot projects. And with help from the Asian Development Bank, the country is organizing 20 community-based tourism projects along the wildly diverse Mekong River.

Ecotourism has long had a social agenda, but communities in northwest Ireland are pushing boundaries by erasing them. The nonprofit Greenbox Network will unite businesses across the border that divides the island, and create its first green (figuratively speaking) destination in the process. The Greenbox region includes parts of Counties Sligo and Donegal in the South and County Fermanagh north of the border, where local artists and a surfeit of health-and-wellness offerings draw an avant-garde crowd. Participants must meet rigorous standards. Last year, 14 Greenbox members won the prestigious E.U. Eco Label; another 20 are working to earn the accolade this year.

Tourism in Rwanda may sound like a tough sell, but this central African country is rich in natural resources as well as vibrant folk traditions that have survived terrible tragedy. With the civil war over, the government has turned its attention to sustainable tourism. Early next year, the country’s first ecolodge will open in Nyungwe National Park, home to a vast chimpanzee population. USAID recently awarded $4 million to reconstruct and improve the park.

Jordan may be adventure travel’s best-kept secret. Spectacular ruins dating back 2,500 years abound here, and now the kingdom is making strides in preserving its natural heritage, too. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature has plans to green facilities at the country’s major preserves, which include desert oases and rugged mountains that draw exotic species. Strategies will include everything from installing solar panels at the lodges to supplying mountain bikes and forging new hiking trails. The Society’s tour operator can arrange homestays in Bedouin communities, and a new ecolodge opened in the Azraq reserve in March. By 2009, the country will open the first five-star green lodge near Petra.

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