Today on Alphabet City: JP premieres the new series Green Globe Trekker—a personal look at stylish & sustainable travel; first stop gay & green Amsterdam
Sometimes it’s easy for me to overlook the seeds of my interest in green travel, because my bookshelf is filled with pre-teen travel journals that include these hilarious pronouncements:
Age 12, 20 February 1981, London Journal “Today was so exaspirating! (sp) We got on the plane o.k. But, they put us in the smoking section! So, we traded. The movies were Hopscotch & Raise the Titanic. The food was awful! It was a great trip!”
Age 12, 24 December 1981, Canadian Adventure “I was not as impressed with the Four Seasons in Calgary as I was with others.”
Age 13, 16 June 1982, Rhein (sp) River Adventure “I say, you seen one palace, you seen ‘em all”
But next to these riveting written accounts of my early life as a travel critic, there’s an old black binder of pictures from a family eco-adventure I will never forget. Instead of our usual cushy stay at Point Clear, Alabama’s Grand Hotel, my family spent six days white water rafting down the Grand Canyon. At the time, I was six years old and one of the youngest kids allowed to undertake the semi-dangerous excursion. Because I was so light in weight (and probably the loafers), my father had to sit on top of me in order to hold me down when we passed through treacherous rapids.
The thing I remember most about the trip is not my mother wrapping her legs around my sister Pam to save her from going overboard—but soap. Biodegradable soap, mind you. I was fascinated with the concept that there were special, glycerin cleaning products for use in the muddy waters of the Colorado River. My sister Paige, a budding environmental advocate who now works for Whole Foods Market, explained to me how important it was to try and leave as little impact on the surroundings as we could—and that included sensitive detergent that didn’t harm the ecosystem.
It’s been 35 years since my first taste of green travel, and now I am right back in the thick of it. For the past four years, I have been advising Condé Nast Traveler on issues of social responsibility and the travel industry, including the planning of the magazine’s annual World Savers Congress. The conference is a gathering of over 200 leaders of the travel industry designed to celebrate, promote and encourage a range of efforts—from poverty alleviation and health initiatives to environmental and cultural preservation. Speakers have included everyone from noted economist Jeffrey Sachs to musician-activist Wyclef Jean, from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times to Queen Rania of Jordan (talk about stylish—staring at her Versace pumps almost got me in security trouble).
At this year’s conference on October 20 in Singapore with keynotes by Academy Award-winners Mira Sorvino (UN Goodwill Ambassador advocating against human-trafficking) and Louie Psihoyos (environmental activist and Director The Cove), I will be moderating the panel “To Preserve and Protect: Can Going Green Coexist with Luxury?” Joining me will be Debra Erickson, Executive Director of the Kerzner Marine Foundation; Hans Pfister, President and Co-owner of Costa Rica’s Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality; Adine Roode, Managing Director of South Africa’s Camp Jabulani; Gary Stickland of Melbourne’s Alto Hotel on Bourke; and Brigitta Witt, Vice President Environmental Affairs, Hyatt Hotels Corporation. I’m excited to dig into some important questions like how can big corporation scale up the amazing green advancements made by small hotels and lodges. And perhaps, more importantly, how does (or should) a company communicate to consumers their commitment to these causes?
Some question whether the travel industry, thanks to its expansion, is responsible for killing the planet. But visionary Virgin mogul Richard Branson tackled this thorny question rather well at a recent luncheon hosted by Condé Nast Traveler at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I don’t think asking people to hold back progress is the way to deal with global warming. Rather, we should all invest a percentage of our profits in energy that is clean.” Whatever my feelings about Branson’s braggadocio, he is an innovator that is leading the way on clean aircraft fuel development.
Fellow Brit Tony Blair backed up Branson’s belief in the tourism industry being a positive force, albeit from a completely different standpoint. Mr. Blair made a very powerful and forceful argument for tourism development as being critical to the Middle East peace process in helping Palestine achieve a viable economic state. Blair in-person has that Bill Clinton-effect of mesmerizing an audience. I hung on his every word. At times, I wondered if maybe I had seen Love Actually too much, equating the real Blair with Hugh Grant’s version. Regardless, by the end of his impassioned plea, I was ready to write a check and become an investor in a hotel in Gaza—for the sake of the planet.
Given my interest and knowledge of sustainable travel issues, I thought maybe it was time to start writing about it on ABCityblog. So when the Holland Tourist Board asked me if I’d like to find out if it was true what their ad campaign proclaims—Everyone’s Gay in Amsterdam—I queerly said yes. I have had some memorable, sexy times in Holland’s eco-friendly capital. So what a perfect place to combine gay style and green travel in my new series of columns I’m calling “Green Globe Trekker—a personal look at stylish & sustainable travel.”
So stay tuned while I try to prove Kermit the Frog wrong—in this day and age it should be easy and fun and chic being green.
Let’s just hope that throughout this journey there are copious amounts of biodegradable soap.