Peter Matthews – Site Seeing: Eco travel sites

This month I have another three sites to review – and a burning issue to consider that affects us all.


Travel is the enemy of the environment, right? Cheap flights are responsible for accelerating carbon emissions and our planet is in peril. Meanwhile, we book our weekend flight to Prague, emitting 38 tonnes of CO2 in the process, with the ticket costing us little more than the price of offsetting our personal carbon consumption. Quite a dilemma…


Reflecting on our industry, what do we see? A massive waste of resources; litter found on once pristine islands; and five-star deluxe juxtaposed with poverty on the same beach. What is this industry doing to our planet? What is this industry going to do for our planet?


Okay, I’ve woken up with a start. I’ve become a ‘Generation Jones’ activist, (Generation Jonesers are squeezed between profligate Baby Boomers and procrastinating Generation X-ers, I’m told), or, as I prefer to think of myself, a conscious consumer. I see the same consciousness growing in the suburb where I live. Conscious consumers are about to start asking some awkward questions, methinks.


This may seem extreme, but it’s not. I’m sure travel brands will be increasingly affected by consumers’ increasing awareness. Humans won’t want to stop travelling unless they have to, but they will want to travel knowing they are making a light footprint on our fragile world.


For those of us who make our living entirely, or like me, partly, from travel have to understand our responsibilities. But looking around, as my search proved, there are very few travel brands with much to say about this burning issue. Who are they, what do they offer, how deep are their ‘green’ credentials and are their website any good? Let’s find out…



Responsibletravel.com


Responsibletravel.com claims to have the world’s largest collection of responsible and ecotourism travel products, for people who want real, authentic holidays that benefit the environment and the local people. Considering that I struggled to find any direct competitors, this doesn’t seem to be much of a fib.


Design
Graphically, the site feels a little too frivolous for its moniker; the toucan image, ethnic colour palette and playful typefaces create a first impression closer to pastiche than a business passionate about saving the planet. At least the text is legible enough and there are images in all of the right places.
Score 15/25


Usability
The site is fairly intuitive to navigate thanks to the logical structure and the no-nonsense taxonomy. The zippy download time during my first visit got me to the booking pages before I could say ‘anthropogenic carbon dioxide’. On another occasion it took forever. The links on the secondary navigation bar could be more prominent.
Score 20/25


Content
The frugal content that accompanies each holiday description always includes a thought-provoking passage, ‘How this holiday makes a difference’, outlining the trip’s low-impact nature. The website also contains tips on responsible travel and the increasingly ubiquitous ‘carbon calculator’.
Score 20/25


Revenue generation
Don’t be fooled otherwise – this is a slick, commercial aggregating beast that is built to convert using a simple enquiry form. The aggressive search engine marketing and the gigantic ‘Click Here to Book Now’ buttons will ensnare some and scare others.
Score 20/25


Verdict
A unique portal; this a well-conceived, deceptively effective website that will please many people. However, it may seem a touch too commercial for staunch eco-warriors. Having said that, it probably makes Al Gore’s ‘favorites’ list.
Overall score 75/100



Intrepidtravel.com


Winner of the Best Tour Operator and Overall Joint Winner of the First Choice 2006 Responsible Tourism Awards in the UK, Intrepid Travel is one of holiday providers for Responsibletravel.com. Yet this sustainable approach is more of a company policy than a business proposition; the website has ‘adventure travel’ written all over it, from the brand name to the strapline (“real life experiences) to the blurb on the ‘about us’ section.


Design
The imagery and also the look and feel of the site is of the Lonely Planet ilk and it therefore should appeal to the target audience of young travellers in search of the perfect rite-of-passage trip. The interactive world map is good for entertaining idle hands even if its graphics are on the crude side.
Score 17/25


Usability
A much more sluggish affair than Responsibletravel.com: the download time is excruciatingly slow and the structure of the site is questionable. Long, scrolling pages on key pages such as ‘trip styles’ conceal crucial links.
Score 9/25


Content
The highly visual approach at top level breaks down when you delve into the holiday details, which are surprisingly absent of images. However, they do contain full itineraries, reasonable descriptions and well-presented maps.
Score 16/25


Revenue generation
The fact that the site does not appear in searches for ‘responsible travel’ or ‘sustainable travel’ would seem to confirm the lack of marketing emphasis in this area. But the site isn’t visible for ‘adventure travel’ either, so I have concluded that search engine optimisation has perhaps been neglected. Furthermore, the slowness of the website may deter the more impatient Phileas Fogg wannabes.
Score 10/25


Verdict
Flawed execution compromises this marketing tool for a respected and popular travel company.
Overall score 52/100



Exploreworldwide.com


Like Intrepid Travel, this operator is featured on Responsibletravel.com and is also geared towards – yes, you’ve guessed it – the young adventure travel market. The company divides its website offering into six clear categories: worldwide, walking and trekking, cycling, short breaks, family adventures and beyond.


Design
Pages are well merchandised, full of visual stimuli and are alsoreasonably well structured. There is a lot of content presented on the higher level pages that will appeal to those consumers looking for action-packed ideas, but the design starts to creak a bit with so much going on.
Score 18/25


Usability
Structurally, the site is divided into the six different sections; this aids user-orientation and provides well-defined boundaries. Given the brand name, if the website wasn’t easy to explore it would have a big problem! However, page download speed could be quicker.
Score 21/25


Content
The content is rich and has fairly detailed itineraries. This is supported by maps and dossiers, but has too few photos. Wouldn’t it be good to see some reportage imagery on a site like this? Who’s going to discover user-generated content first? Surfers can watch a video on responsible travel, which is okay but not that informative. There’s also a small section on responsible tourism and a discreet link to Climatecare.org to calculate you own smog halo.
Score 19/25


Revenue generation
The site has a strong search engine presence and it looks like it has been built for search engine interception. There is an effective availability search facility, depicting available dates, and users are offered alternative ways of booking.
Score 20/25


Overall verdict
Explore Worldwide has a good all-round adventure travel website. There’s some evidence that environmental responsibility is on the agenda, if not the priority.
Overall score 78/25

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