Interview: Laura Burgess, Editor of Ecoescape Green Guides

It’s not always easy finding genuinely green travel options, especially if you’re not familiar with the country you’re planning on visiting, so eco travellers on their way to the UK and Ireland might be interested to know there are a new set of ecoescape green guides available. They’re cram packed with lots of eco-friendly accommodations and activity ideas to help plan your holiday and stay green.

EcotourismLogue spoke to Laura Burgess, founder and editor of the popular ecoescape guides, to find out a little bit more about the company and what the guides offer today’s green travellers.

EcotourismLogue: ecoescape guides are a wonderful idea and provide more than the average travel guide; what inspired you to become an eco traveller?

Laura Burgess: I was working for a tourism board and got to know the Eco-Lodge in Lincolnshire. After a wonderful weekend visit with friends, I was convinced that there must be more eco places like it in the UK. And thankfully I was right! The only problem was that travellers didn’t know they exist in this country and the general assumption was that green travel was tied to exotic locations on the other side of the planet. So I went about challenging that preconception and came up with the idea for ecoescape.

ETL: Considering people are already weary of hearing about sustainable and responsible travel, did you find it difficult to get publishers interested in your guides?

LB: The first edition of ecoescape I published myself with help from the Big Lottery Fund and advertising sales. So I was able to create a guide that I knew would appeal to travellers and make sustainable travel a desirable option. So anyone who read the first book, without exception, was surprised and delighted by the options available in the UK. Using the success of the first book, I was able to convince a publisher relatively easily the benefits of continuing the ecoescape legacy on a grander scale. We signed a deal for a two book series – an updated ecoescape for the UK and a new one for Ireland (North and South).

ETL: How did you decide on the green criteria you use to rate the places included in the guides?

LB: One of the most frequently asked questions is, “how does ecoescape decide which businesses to include in the book?” None of the businesses have paid to be included in the book. We keep our editorial decisions independent from commercial ones. Although many of the businesses have received formal awards for their green initiatives, ecoescape has another set of requirements which are difficult to measure. We look for businesses that demonstrate that along with fulfilling the criteria set by green accreditation schemes and government initiatives, they offer innovative ways of involving their customers in the travel experience. The business owners need to offer guests an insight into the local communities that sustain them through their supplies of energy, food, drink, local crafts and expertise. We include eco awards such as the green leaf of the Green Tourism Business Scheme as an additional guiding point for readers. An ecoescape is about what the destination offers as an experience and a way to get ‘off-grid’. Ecoescape also uses four main criteria to map how a business in the tourism industry reduces its impact on the environment. These are: conservation, energy, waste and food. Under these headings there are numerous ways a business can improve its environmental performance. All of the business owners in ecoescape take each area seriously and they’ll opt for various ways to deal with these areas, carefully using, renewing or micro-generating resources obtainable in a specific location. Of course there is a lot of variation too. Some business owners might grow their own produce; generate energy through solar panels; encourage use of public transport, offer an honesty shop, or invest in ingenious ways of recycling waste.

ETL: Do you include holidays for a range of budgets? Can you give an example of an ecoescape for backpackers listed in the guide?

LB: Ecoescape shows that going green spans a broad budget range, so there are ideas for 5 star hotels as well as campsites and hostels. For the latter, you could try a campsite on the Norfolk Broads called Clippesby Hall or stay at one of the YHA’s green beacon hostels .

ETL: Ecoescape advocates travelling by train but not all travellers, especially those from overseas, can afford rail travel in the UK and because train journeys have to be booked weeks in advance to secure cheap seats it’s almost impossible to travel spontaneously, so people fly. What do you say to those planning a trip to the UK but are worried about the cost of travel?

LB: I think everyone, no matter how they travel, is currently worried about the cost of travel. As oil prices are so high, travelling by car or aeroplane are no longer cheap options. So it may well be that train travel is, in fact, cheaper. Flying involves early booking, too, so why not instead book your train fare and bag a bargain.

ETL: Where, or what, has been your favourite ecoescape to date?

LB: That’s difficult to say as there’s not been one that I haven’t enjoyed. I loved La Rosa in North Yorkshire – a collection of vintage caravans. There’s also the Cross in Kinguissie – an excellent restaurant with rooms in Scotland. As a kidult, my favourite attraction was Bewilderwood in Norfolk.

ETL: The Ecoescape guide is accompanied with a Slow Travel Tool Kit. Could you explain more about it for Ecotourism Logue readers?

LB: Ecoescape promotes ‘slow travel’ which means that travellers can enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Slow travel is about low carbon forms of travel: cycling, walking, taking the train or bus. These forms of travel are no doubt slower than jumping in the car and dashing along a motorway, but they are more in touch with the landscapes that they pass through and are much less harmful to the environment. Slow travel is a new and exciting movement which celebrates these forms of travel and shows that the alternatives are more rewarding and memorable to flying and driving. The Slow Travel Toolkit is a practical guide to slow travel in the UK giving details of cycling holidays, bus routes and train rides. I’m also a co-founder of the Slow Travel Manifesto, which promotes a widespread acknowledgement of the slow travel movement.

ETL: What else can Ecotourism Logue readers look forward to from Ecoescape in the future?

LB: We’ll be continually on the lookout for ecoescapes in the UK and Ireland, and perhaps further afield too. We’ll be sure to keep promoting slow travel both online and in our guidebooks, and help travellers to find their ‘off-grid’ status. We’ll also be working on our website and building this over the next year.

ETL: Do you have any other tips or advice you’d like to share with eco travellers?

LB: Think about where you need to go to gain true escapism from everyday life. It may well be closer to home than you expected.

ETL: Thanks for your time, Laura, and good luck with the new ecoescape Ireland.

>>> Readers interested in buying a copy of ecoescape UK and ecoescape Ireland (£8.99) can buy them via the ecoescape website.