Sustainable travel – why we travel and maybe why we shouldn’t

Posted: December 2022

For those associated with travel or offering travel prizes, the term ‘over-tourism’ is on everyone’s lips.

As consumers become more aware of the impact of tourism on the planet, here at NDL Group, we keep this top of mind when offering travel packages for prize promotions and reward and recognition schemes.  We aim to offer travel packages with minimal impact to each country and its people, supporting eco-friendly and sustainable themes where possible.

Responsible tourism refers to travel which creates better places for people to live and visit – with the emphasis on ‘to live’. Therefore, by definition, it is the opposite of over-tourism, which diminishes the quality of life for residents and creates a negative experience for visitors.

With an increase in population utilising air-travel, travel has never been so popular, however, public expectations are changing. Hotels such as Soneva Kiri in Koh Kood, Thailand, have found that the eco-friendlier they become, the more luxurious they are to their customers, according to co-founder Sonu Shivdasani.

Eco-friendly family time in the UK 

Last year we delivered the ‘Great British Summer’ promotion for the Co-op, creating three tiers of inspirational prize ideas that connected with their ethical company values.

In tier one, we celebrated eco-friendly family time, offering 4 night family stays with Forest Holidays and Featherdown Farms.  Living on a working farm allows the whole family to get involved with collecting eggs for breakfast, enjoying locally sourced ingredients and cooking up a feast on a camp fire.

In tier two, we supported the National Trust and the Eden Project in Cornwall, offering families the chance to learn about historical buildings, experience the rainforest environment and discover thousands of plant species.

Our third tier offered the chance to win British Afternoon Teas and day trips to Go Ape, to enjoy a fun-filled tree-top adventure.  The combined prize pot worked well to support the Co-op’s message, as well as reward their customers with a range of inspirational prizes.


What is Sustainable Tourism?

The United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism as part of its plan to raise awareness about the need for brands in the industry to adopt an eco-conscious mindset. According to Credit Suisse’s 2017 Global Investor Report, ‘companies must deliver good social and environmental performance, and engage in sustainable practices’ to ensure future growth.

  • 42% of respondents to a 2016 survey  considered themselves sustainable travellers
  • The luxury eco-travel market is expanding as high-net-worth consumers seek sustainable travel options
  • Growing consumer awareness of the negative impact of pollution is driving brands in the travel market to offer more eco-friendly options


What this means when considering a travel prize option

  • Travellers are increasingly aware of the environmental, social and economic impact of tourism
  • Brands should consider long-term sustainable strategies rather than simple marketing campaigns
  • The growing luxury eco-travel market presents opportunities for brands to combine sustainability, high-end design and a sense of purpose
  • Accountability and trust are key. Brands needs to invest in schemes that are credible and transparent to meet the standards of their customers and industry regulators


Spotlight on Costa Rica

We decided to choose a country on the tourist trail, to see if we could experience the highlights in a  socially and environmentally friendly manner. That country was Costa Rica.

In a country with rainforests, cloud forest, national parks, and reforestation programmes, it is important for us as a business, to be part of the solution. Our Head of Travel Products Iain Shiels took on the sought-after challenge of experiencing Costa Rica in a responsible manner.

“Costa Rica is as beautiful as I expected and up there with my favourites. Yes, it is firmly on the tourist trail however, Costa Rica offers a unique and unparalleled glimpse into a country of natural beauty and a forward-thinking approach to conservation.”

Responsible tourism is important to Iain. His research for the trip focussed on five pillars of how to travel responsibly, something he tries to build into all his travel prizes.



There has been considerable focus on plastic waste in the media recently, namely bottles and bags. As Iain was travelling by vehicle (in a group), he was able to buy a 19-litre water drum to decant into smaller bottles, and exchange once empty. He hand-selected hotels with a treatment plan in place so he could drink drinking directly from the tap. A collapsible bag-for-life meant there was no need for plastic bags.


Locally owned business

Supporting locally owned businesses and spending money with local people is an important part of sustainable tourism. Iain researched businesses which were owned by local people, that gave back to the community and worked in parallel with the environment.



There is a huge volume of accommodation options in Costa Rica, so it’s easy to tailor a package to suit everyone’s specific preferences. Iain selected hotels which worked with the environment instead of against it. After all, nature was the reason why he chose Costa Rica. Two of his favourite hotel were:

Piedras Blancas National ParkEsquinas Rainforest Lodge

The backstory of this lodge is incredible, as is the reforestation surrounding it. The grounds are a tropical paradise and the pool is stream fed and 100% natural. The lodge employs and trains up only local people, and profits are used to fund village projects. I would wake up and fall asleep to a cacophony of birds and monkeys. During the day, being in the forest meant wildlife could be spotted everywhere, in the evening it was the perfect place to spot the Poison Dart frog.

Savegre Cloud Forest – Savegre Hotel, Nature Reserve & Spa

This hotel was beautiful and rated as carbon neutral which is no easy accolade to achieve. There are so many different sustainable practices in place within this hotel. But what I liked was that they have put the steps in place, but also put emphasis on the visitor to have the same appreciation and cooperate whilst staying there. After all, sustainable tourism is a two-way street.



Wildlife, wildlife everywhere. In Costa Rica you don’t need to search of animals, they will come to you, this is what makes it such an appealing destination. Sloths hang from tree branches, hundreds of bird species flutter overhead, monkeys swing from tree tops and iguanas soak up the rays.

All too often, the lines between wildlife in the wild, and what is a safe distance to avoid impacting them, become blurred. By travelling with a local guide, Iain was able to observe wildlife from a safe distance, without causing undue stress to wildlife or affect their natural behaviours.

The highlight for Iain was the chance to observe sea-turtles hatching at dawn and making their way down to the ocean for their maiden voyage. Iain said “I grew up watching turtles hatching with my Dad on wildlife documentaries, and here I was watching them in Tortuguero National Park. Definitely one of my favourite ‘David Attenborough experience’ to date!”

Itinerary – get away from the crowds

Iain chose an itinerary away from the classic tourist trail. This helped to spread the benefits of tourism dollars and reduce the impact of mass tourism in specific areas. It also gave Iain and his group with a very genuine experience in Costa Rica.

One of his favourites was Piedras Blancas National Park. “I spent two nights in beautiful Esquinas Rainforest Lodge in the heart of primary rainforest. The hotel was something of an oasis and as close to working in harmony with nature as I imagine possible. There were loads of rainforest trails to hike, evenings spent spotting frogs with flashlights, and a stream fed pool to relax in whilst listening to nature unfold around me.”

Check out this video he made of his time in Costa Rica, we are sure it will inspire.

Interested in finding out more about how sustainable travel might fit your next promotional brief?

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