Liz Wessel’s passion for travel became a career after promoting the benefits of ecotravel and supporting local economies. When Liz started Green Concierge Travel in 2006, it was because she felt there was a need for more ecotravel and green tourism. “Ecofriendly travel was the way I liked to travel, but nobody was really doing it. When I planned my own trips, I recognized the gap. The other part of it is, at the time, I was doing some contract work for a nonprofit organization, the Biodiversity Project. They were doing market research to reach different audiences with their message, and what we found was there was an ecotravel niche out there. Not so much in the United States, but definitely in Europe and other places.
“Looking back to 2004 to 2005, North American ecotravel was behind what was going on globally, although it was growing. So I decided to focus on that niche of travelers. I like ecotravel because I [get to] work with people in a personal way to build trips that are unique, provide an authentic experience, and really fit what they want to do, which includes some green options.”
Green Concierge Travel designs custom trips. There are many benefits to ecotravel besides the obvious savings on your carbon footprint and respecting the natural landscape. Liz says ecotravelers notice a difference. “I think travelers get more personal satisfaction. For example, I’m helping to supplement a packaged trip for someone who’s doing a horseback riding vacation in the mountains of British Columbia, but they’re staying in Vancouver, so I’m sending hotel options they’ll need before and after. And one of the options is a green option. I have a leaf symbol that marks it as being green, and I put a link to their green policies. That’s one of my rationales as to why they should stay there even for one night. It also happens to be convenient for what they need to do, and they offer great service.”
Offering options is the best way to create customized vacations. Liz says, “Everyone’s got a budget, and I want to meet their budget and what they want to do. For example, if they’re staying in a place they’ve never been to before, I love to recommend bed and breakfasts. Your money goes to the local economy and you’re getting a built-in host. For a lot of my clients, they want a travel experience where they feel and live like a local.”
Liz builds on repeat destination recommendations for her clients. Also, she works with her clients when it comes to booking or planning their trips. “It doesn’t have to be a complete booking—the way I charge can range from doing research on a particular destination to clients that want to do some or none of the bookings themselves. For a longer trip, I research each major stopping point, and we decide how and when to do the bookings. I always start with the budget, but sometimes I send them something that would be above their budget since it really meets what they want in that trip. And oftentimes that makes the difference.”
Liz’s background is in environmental policies, working within the environmental community and partnering or doing contract work with nonprofits. She has been a member of Green America and now the Green America Business Network, where she served briefly on their board. Liz believes in their mission of trying to build a whole green economy. “Travel industry has been very disconnected in North America, so in other words, we don’t have as organized an approach to green tourism as other countries do. The International Ecotourism Society, another organization Green Concierge Travel joined, is trying to raise the profile of green tourism around the world, bringing together suppliers, travel agents, nonprofits, and governments. And they consult professionals in the field regarding these practices.”
Green tourism isn’t a trend, it’s vital to our future way of life. Liz notices this in the green tourism business, and says, “We [the United States] have to change our economy to be more sustainable to help with global warming and climate change.” Online research and reviewing websites to find green programs is important, but so is supporting independently owned businesses. Supporting local business makes a trip sustainable not only for the environment, but in the local economy and community.
Liz encourages clients to keep an open mind. “Many Americans are shy about going out on their own. Don’t let the idea of big cities or not knowing the language hold you back.” Also, consider a train for your next travel plans. Liz is a European railway expert and advocates trains for more ecofriendly travel and to increase vacation enjoyment.
One example of growth and change Liz has noticed in the green travel business is food travel. “Newest thing I’m excited about is the World Food Travel Association. It’s really developed since 2001. They promote all types of tourism related to food, from one-day walking tours to multiday cooking tours, like going places specifically to experience lobster or foraging for mushrooms or truffles in Italy. This is really awesome because it’s an ultimate way to really immerse yourself in a culture.”
Other getaways are romantic or honeymoon, and Liz loves recommending dude ranches to adventurous couples. “They’ve really changed over the years, offering a range of activities from riding to hiking to rafting. It’s one of the few all-inclusive vacation destinations you can experience in the United States. It’s important to support these local stewards of amazing properties because they really care about their land and the land ethic. It’s an authentic American-adventure travel experience.”
Travel with a purpose. Some see travel as leisure time, but others may want to find adventure or explore new locales with exciting, unique experiences. Liz advises clients to “put your best face on and really go with an open mind. Curiosity is key in getting yourself out there to travel to different places.
“I haven’t traveled that much specifically for my business,” Liz says. “But when I do travel, even if it’s to places I go to all the time, I’m always looking for new ideas. For example, Walden Pond is a really iconic place for all sorts of reasons. The last visit, I made a donation to the local friends’ group that cares for the pond. I like to get people involved in what I call travel philanthropy—finding ways to support local communities through your travels.
“Through some organized travel organizations, they may include an add-on or charge that goes to the local conservation group or whoever is responsible for maintaining that special place, which is a great idea. Even if you go on your own to a museum or conservation place, you can make a donation to show your appreciation for the people that continue taking care of these important places.”
Liz’s motto: don’t leave your values at home. A good travel experience should be one where you support the local people and respect the environment. “When you go somewhere new, look for those things that you care about and go with the cultural flow.”
Krystle Engh Naab is a freelance writer and copy editor for Madison Essentials.