Travellers, take note – there’s a new buzz phrase in town. But what exactly are ‘nature-positive’ holidays? Ahead of Earth Day on Saturday April 22, Catherine Roberts sheds light on the concept.
Put simply, “nature-positive” trips help restore the natural world.
Forget “leaving no trace” – these getaways are about maximising positive impact. And it could be vital.
Why? Nature is essential to tackling climate heating – because when ecosystems are healthy and in balance, the Earth can naturally absorb more carbon than human activity emits.
And although flying less and reducing meat consumption are great steps toward averting the climate crisis, they’re not enough. We’ve got to both cut carbon and restore nature.
Restoring nature one trip at a time
Whether heading to the Gold Coast, flying to Europe, or spending the weekend in Wellington, every trip we take impacts nature. We swim in pools, drink beer under the shade of palm trees, go whale watching, and marvel at postcard views that we trust will stick around for the next trip.
But the views are changing – and often, it’s our holidays altering them.
Beach resorts clear rainforests for panoramas and pools. Flights contribute to climate heating and idling cruise ships pollute ports. The vast amounts of water needed to keep golf courses and hotel gardens green increase the likelihood of water shortages in drought-stricken regions.
Every trip has the power to harm nature. But each can also help restore it.
From city breaks to safaris
Many holidays put nature-positive travel at the heart of the trip.
Exodus Travels runs a rewilding holiday in Italy led by Mario Cipollone, a project leader at the not-for-profit organisation Rewilding Europe. Guests learn about the NGO’s mission to bring Marsican brown bears back from the brink of extinction while hiking the same mountain trails the bears ghost through. And for every conservation-curious tourist who signs up, Exodus funds the rewilding of 100sq m of the bear’s territory.
Conservation Carpathia, meanwhile, invites holidaymakers to stay at a restored farm in Cobor, southern Transylvania. On one hand, it’s a relaxing escape. On the other, your tourist dollars support a biodiverse haven that shows exactly how farms can work with nature.
It’s not all about heading out into the wilderness, either.
Singapore is charging ahead with efforts to become the world’s greenest city. That means using canny “biophilic” architecture to invite the wild back into the metropolis in ways that benefit both nature and people. Take the Park Royal Collection Pickering Hotel – repeat winner of the Leading Green City Hotel at the World Travel Awards. Its paddy terrace-inspired floors overflow with greenery, including 50 plant varieties that efficiently slurp up pollutants from the city air.
Local people leading the way
One thing is for sure: nature-positive holidays are at their best when driven by local people.
Conservation has an ugly history of prioritising wildlife over communities. “Fortress conservation” methods historically pushed by colonial powers are still in use today. In 2022, Maasai leaders in Tanzania were arrested while protesting against eviction from their ancestral lands for a luxury lodge and reserve.
Community partnerships and benefits are vital in nature-positive tourism. It’s about setting up an ecosystem where everything and everyone can live – and live really well.
In Kenya’s Masai Mara, the Basecamp Explorer Foundation works closely with local Maasai, leasing land from the community for safari camps and helping to establish the community-owned Mara Naboisho Conservancy.
Rewilding Europe, meanwhile, works on increasing biodiversity in the Greater Coa Valley of Portugal. Here, both tourists and permanent residents are being drawn back to the rejuvenated landscapes.
Then there’s the Community Baboon Sanctuary in Belize – a women-led conservation programme that has increased resident black howler monkey numbers by about 500 per cent to 5000 since 1985. Admission and nature tour fees help fund the community-led project.
Change built on hope
There is plenty of climate doomism out there. But the success of these projects, and more like them, should give cause for hope.
If it’s done well and sidesteps the curse of greenwashing, nature-positive tourism could be a powerful tool in helping to restore the wild places we love – and desperately need.
Nature-positive tips for home and holiday …
- Book a responsible wildlife holiday or visit a conservation project. Many directly support existing protected habitats or new rewilding initiatives. Wildlife tourism also offers an economic alternative to more destructive activities like mining and poaching and makes the case for rewilding more land.
- On a nature holiday, ensure your dollars stay locally so that communities feel the economic benefits of conservation.
- Curb your carbon “foodprint”. Avoid food waste and try more locally sourced, plant-based produce. Meat and dairy equal more carbon – and more land converted to intensive agriculture.
- Reduce your use of the seven key products that destroy forests and their wildlife: beef and leather; soy; timber; rubber; palm oil; cocoa; pulp and paper.
- Cut your holiday carbon. Fly less and instead stay longer, be energy-conscious, hop aboard public transport, and consider people-powered tours and activities like kayaking, cycling, hiking and swimming.
Catherine Roberts is a writer for Responsible Travel