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How to find a responsible tour operator

Unlike hotels, travel companies have no universal third-party eco-certification. As a result, a tour operator might offset 100 percent of its carbon emissions for clients’ airline travel, but places them in a lodge that dumps untreated wastewater into local rivers. To assess how responsible a company actually is, Martha Honey, cofounder of the Center on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development in Washington, D.C., suggests starting with some simple questions: What are the company’s environmental practices?Does it give a portion of its profits to charity?(New York–based Micato Safaris, for instance, pays the administrative costs of its nonprofit AmericaShare, so 100 percent of donations made go directly to the community.) What kinds of projects do they fund?What does the company do to help guests understand local development and conservation issues?Also, look at online message boards, such as Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Travel Forum (lonelyplanet.com/thorntree) and tripadvisor.com, for trip reviews. Or vet potential operators at Sustainable Travel International (sustainabletravelinternational.org), Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.com), travelphilanthropy.org, and Orbitz’s multipurpose green site, eco.orbitz.com. Finally, consider checking bona fides with a third-party auditor such as Green Globe (greenglobe21.com) or Green Leaf (greenleaf.org).

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