When planning a vacation, the average traveler might ask where the weather is best that time of year, how to find a great airfare deal, and how much it costs to stay in that luxury hotel they have their eye on. But if you’re Edward Norton, you ask how that hotel hotel uses its energy, where they source their water and how the surrounding community benefits from the business they generate. Edward Norton isn’t the average traveler and during a Q&A with National Geographic Traveler’s Costas Christ at the Bodhi Tree Foundation’s annual gala he asked all of us to stop acting like one as well.
I first had the opportunity to hear Norton speak on the topic of sustainable tourism at Condé Nast Traveler’s annual World Savers Congress in 2009. Since then, he’s been busy making films, founding Crowdrise, running marathons and being appointed by the UN as their Ambassador to Biodiversity, but his dedication to this topic is as tireless as ever.
The Bodhi Tree Foundation was founded in 2008 to harness the resources of the travel industry to protect the places and communities that are endangered and in peril. Norton supports this cause through his work with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and believes in order to protect these places we must first grapple with the needs of its community; we need to teach them how to make their wilderness and wildlife provide for and benefit their needs. Norton believes this challenge is what conservation is all about in the 21st century and the one we should all focus on.
During the Q&A, Norton, who says he “works in conservation and moonlights in movie-making, but fortunately hasn’t had to choose between the two,” once again put the travel industry to task by saying it needs to do more to protect the places it encourages us to visit. He pointed out that good hotel CEOs are the ones who challenge their green models, build sustainability efforts into their bottom line, and realize their success hinges on having a true local partner in the communities in which they operate. “Tourism as an industry has to be viewed with enormous positive and negative impact,” Norton said. “Practiced poorly, tourism can be extremely negative.”
Norton’s call to action certainly didn’t stop with the hotels and tourism boards. He wants all of us to travel with meaning saying “it’s an opportunity to expand our depth of awareness, taking us deeper into conversations about more than just travel.” Norton’s passion and enthusiasm were obvious to everyone in the room and we all shared his inspiration.
If you want to travel with meaning, a good place to start is to ask those three questions Norton does before booking a hotel. For more information, check out our Sustainable Tourism Adviser Hitesh Mehta’s eco-conscious travel tips and take a look at out our new Eco-friendly Hotels and Resorts category.