10 Eco-Friendly Travel Trends to Watch in 2020

These are the latest sustainable travel developments across industries to pay attention to, from airlines experimenting with plant-based biofuels to destinations putting the environment first.

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January 28, 2020
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Photo By: Etihad Airways

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Travel Greener

Travel is not always the most environmentally friendly behavior, especially when factoring in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by airplanes and cruise ships, or the influx of tourists damaging popular destinations and attractions. Fortunately a variety of industries within the travel sector are trying to make a difference, moving beyond simply eliminating plastic straws or planting vegetable gardens. While some of these developments have been called greenwashing, which is the marketing practice of making green initiatives seem more eco-friendly, the truth is that the major changes needed across the board are still years away. In the meantime, the following trends are ones to follow in 2020 and beyond.

See More Photos: 10 Overtouristed Places and 10 Cool Alternatives

Rewilding Chimpanzees

Rewilding is an aspect of wildlife conservation that involves rebuilding animal populations. Both destinations and hotels are participating in this movement; Volcanoes Safari in Rwanda is one such example. While the region is best known for gorilla conservation and tourism, there is also a small group of 27 chimpanzees who live in Uganda, and are at risk of dying out due to a dwindling population. To help, Volcanoes Safari recently announced its Kyambura Gorge Eco-tourism Project. The chimpanzees live in Uganda’s Kyambura Gorge (pronounced Chambura), and are isolated from other chimp communities due to years of deforestation. To help reunite them with other chimps, and ultimately boost their numbers, Volcanoes Safari is working with local communities to replant a connecting corridor between forests. But since the tree planting has just started, the reunion won’t be happening anytime soon. But if it works, it could serve as a future model.

Rehabbing Coral Reefs

There are a growing number of opportunities for travelers to help rehab coral reefs. On Moorea, part of the Islands of Tahiti, Temoana Tours recently added coral gardening (pictured) for those on its Fabulous Tour. The excursion involves a lunch break on the company’s private motu, or reef islet, during which guests can affix damaged coral to a healthy underwater reef in the lagoon, all while learning more about the ongoing reef restoration efforts. Tourists can also help repair coral reefs at Baros Maldives and Andaz Mayakoba Resort in the Riviera Maya.

BOOK NOW: Andaz Mayakoba | Hotels.com, $377/per night

Increased Train Travel

Train travel is experiencing record numbers: Amtrak reported 32.5 million riders in 2019, 800,000 more than in 2018. Not only that, but Amtrak plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20,000 tons in 2020. Meanwhile, it’s estimated that Eurail ridership is up 40 percent in Scandinavia. These are significant changes considering that airline emissions are also up; in 2018, airlines contributed 3.4 percent more carbon dioxide in 2018 than the year before.

Reduced Airline Emissions

Speaking of airline emissions, there’s little question that the current numbers need to drastically decrease in order to combat global warming. Clean alternative fuel sources are still on the horizon, but experimental trials bring hope. In January 2019 Etihad Airways became the world’s first commercial flight to use plant-based fuel in addition to jet fuel on a flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam. The plants were grown in saltwater to produce the biofuel at the Khalifa University of Science and Technology, before being tested on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. However, regular use of the biofuel is still a few years away. But other airlines are also trying to reduce their carbon footprint. Air Tahiti Nui now employs a more fuel-efficient fleet of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, estimated to lower emissions by about 30 percent. And for what it's worth, Frontier Airlines was the most fuel-efficient US airline in 2019.

Lower-Emission Cruise Ships

In 2019 Hurtigruten launched the MS Roald Amundsen (pictured), the world’s first (partially) battery-powered ship. While the hybrid expedition ship doesn’t cut CO2 emissions as much as electric cars, it does reduce them by about 20 percent. 2020 sailings on the Roald Amundsen include Alaska, the Northwest Passage, Antarctica and South America. Hurtigruten plans on adding a second hybrid ship within a few years.

On a related note, it’s worth mentioning that other cruise lines are attempting to lower their emissions by using liquified natural gas (LNG), a type of gas that releases less carbon dioxide into the environment than the standard diesel that's used. Carnival already possesses some LNG-powered ships, while Royal Caribbean, Disney and Hurtigruten are among the lines that will be adding LNG-fueled ships in 2020 and beyond. However, LNG is controversial since it’s not a true clean alternative, considering how much pollution the average cruise ship contributes to the environment, but this is something to watch.

More Electric Cars

As more countries are encouraging electric car use among its citizens, the same goes for visitors. Norway boasts one of the highest rates of electric car usage, making it easy to rent one, like a Tesla, for your next road trip. Speaking of Tesla, a growing number of luxury hotels offer rides in them for guests traveling short distances, like the Andaz Scottsdale. Then there are hotels offering electric vehicle charging stations; there are more than 3,000 charging stations at Marriott Hotels around the world. And destinations like Costa Rica are increasing the number of electric charging stations around the country, where 34 are planned by the end of 2019. Also be on the lookout for more Renault Twizys — two-seat electric cars that are as fun to drive as they look. The Best Western Hotel Kranjska Gora in Slovenia offers them as of this past summer; you can also find them at the Hamilton Princess Hotel and Beach Club in Bermuda and at the Hotel Kia Ora Resort & Spa in Rangiroa, Tahiti.

BOOK NOW: Andaz Scottdale | Hotels.com, $539/per night

Sustainable Efforts From Travel Companies

Responsible tour groups are continuing to evolve their environmental practices. For one, Intrepid Travel is aiming to become the first climate positive travel company in 2020. Intrepid is already carbon neutral, meaning they offset carbon emissions by investing in renewable energy. Climate positive goes one step further by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As part of this goal, the company will offset flights for those booking through Intrepid. Also know that the company gives back to communities by patronizing local businesses such as in Greenland (pictured), where Intrepid has added a new 2020 trip. Intrepid isn’t the only group making an environmental difference. WHOA Travel is contributing to reforestation efforts in Iceland and Chile, among other countries, and participating in trail cleanups as well. And Wild Frontiers has eliminated water bottles on trips in addition to offsetting flights booked through them by contributing to Carbon Clear.

Sustainable Destination Developments

Some destinations are also doing their part to uphold sustainable tourism. There’s California’s Sonoma County, which became the world’s first certified sustainable wine growing region in 2019. In Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is transitioning to renewable energy to power the resort. Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, tiny Dominica in the Caribbean is hoping to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation. Akagera National Park in Rwanda has recently reintroduced black rhinos and lions, while in the long term the government plans to expand Volcanoes National Park by 26 percent. Costa Rica recently banned foam containers, and plans to ban all single-use plastic products in 2020. Gozo, Malta (pictured) landed in the top 10 on the 2019 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations for best Communities and Culture. And the Republic of Palau in Micronesia plans to ban non-reef-safe sunscreen in 2020.

Environmental Talks

It seems that every other hotel is now committed to banning plastic straws, providing incentives to forego daily housekeeping or replacing travel-size toiletries with full-size dispensers. Of course all of these changes are welcome. Something to watch though? Hotels offering environmental talks. Arlo Hotels (pictured), with locations in NYC, Miami and Washington, DC, offer a series of pARLOur talks that are meant to educate and engage.

Avoiding Overtouristed Places

Everywhere from Mt. Everest, Nepal to Mallorca, Spain made 2019 headlines for overcrowding. Overcrowding on the former resulted in 11 climber deaths this past year, while overcrowding in the latter led local group Ciutat to declare an "extreme environmental crisis.” Nepal is planning to tighten permit requirements, while Mallorca has doubled the daily tourist tax. For travelers, the solution is cliche but easy: getting off the beaten path to discover the wider world. Yes, that means foregoing perennial favorites like Venice, Reykjavik and Santorini for now, and exploring the likes of Talinn, Estonia, Greenland or Guyana instead.

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