By Micaela Williamson
Northern Virginia mom, Irene Lane, is the founder and president of Greenloons, LLC, an eco-tourism company offering unforgettable vacations and adventures. It is her hope that “ecotourism won’t be as much of a niche as the norm.” Find out more about Greenloons in my interview with Irene below.
How did you get involved in ecotourism?
It was a bit of a circuitous path! From the outset, my parents instilled in my brother and me a love of travel, culture and nature, which resulted in having had the good fortune to live in 5 countries and travel to 30 more. My professional track had me in the corporate world as a business and software implementation consultant and at eBay where I managed a team tasked with solving some of the company’s most difficult customer service challenges. These were great experiences, but the passion for authentic travel never subsided. After we moved to Northern Virginia, I chose to get a Certificate in Sustainable Tourism Management from George Washington University. While completing the coursework, I realized that there was a lot of misinformation about ecotourism and very little transparency within the industry. So, I decided to combine my business and personal experiences with my passion for travel and start Greenloons.
Ultimately, my young son, who has traveled with us to more than a dozen countries, has been my inspiration. When I understood the potential that ecotourism had for creating teachable moments or moments that captured his interest whether it was a cultural tradition, wildlife habitat or explaining the fragility of an ecosystem, I wanted to be able to offer that opportunity to all families.
What services does Greenloons provide?
Greenloons.com is a premier online resource that enables people to book unique, meaningful and eco-certified travel experiences all over the world. Because we are the only company that solely works with eco-certified tourism businesses (such as lodges and guides), Greenloons provides assurance to travelers that these independent or small group vacations not only offer distinction and quality in pristine natural surroundings, but they’ve been verified as “green.” Travelers can make a reservation request directly online or if they want to customize a trip, we can work with them to make it the perfect vacation.
What is the advantage of booking a vacation through Greenloons rather than “doing it yourself?”
Certainly there is a lot of information available on the Internet for people who want to book a cruise or sun-and-sand resort vacation. These vacations are tried-and-true and work for many travelers. However, for those who are looking for unusual, high-quality travel experiences away from the crowds that also support communities as well as culture and conservation efforts, it can quickly become a cumbersome task to put together an itinerary that takes into account transportation, guides, lodges, meals and activities.
Because of our vetting process and the fact that we are only focused on ecotourism, Greenloons has deep connections with eco-certified tourism businesses all over the world, and as such can provide better access to natural areas, reputable guides, remarkable lodgings and personalized service. Most importantly, the money you spend will be staying in the communities you are visiting.
Can you make some recommendations for families that have never experienced ecotourism before?
Absolutely! I’m very hands-on, so typically I have a short discussion over the phone (or in person) with a client so that I can understand a family’s vacation preferences. Everyone’s vacation styles and interests are different, so a first ecotourism vacation may be a small yacht cruise through Prince William Sound in Alaska or focused on the whale migration patterns of the gray, blue and humpback whales in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico or whitewater rafting to a rainforest eco-lodge in Costa Rica. We offer family eco-destination guides online for many countries if some inspiration is necessary, and if the family prefers to stay in the continental United States, in addition to a few trips, we provide free, self-guided itinerary suggestions as well for quick eco-getaways.
How do you work within your client’s budgets and still provide unforgettable vacations?
As the popularity of environmentally-friendly products has grown over the years, people have been conditioned to believe that green goods or eco products equate to more expensive merchandise. In the specific case of ecotourism, this is simply not the case. Indeed, it is possible to participate in ecotourism and stay well within your family vacation budget. The options range from the luxurious to the rustic, so your standards do not need to be adjusted for a responsible travel experience. Simply, we will work with you to suggest itinerary options that suit your tastes and budget.
What do you tell families that are limited for time or unable to travel far?
Some of our featured trips are just three days long, so we can accommodate most schedules. If a family is unable to travel further than the Mid-Atlantic area, besides the aforementioned self-guided US eco-itinerary suggestions, we have a myriad of practical tips and downloadable information written by us as well as submitted by members of the Greenloons community that help families identify some great travel ideas.
Describe the most amazing eco-vacation you have gone on with your own family?
Am I only limited to one amazing experience? If so, I’ll tell you about our week-long trip to the tiny eco-island of Alonissos, Greece. At the end of what was a beautiful August day spent sailing through the National Marine Park of Alonissos (a Greek island in the Aegean Sea), I glanced over at my then six-year-old son. He looked blissfully happy after a day of snorkeling, hiking and listening to our naturalist guide tell us about the historical and environmental significance of the area.
Curious, I turned on the camcorder and asked him what he had learned during the scenic day trip. He very seriously looked at the camera and explained, “Don’t pollute or else the animals will die. If you pollute too much, it will be bad for the air and no fishermen could fish and…“ His newfound consciousness of how one person’s actions can affect an entire ecosystem made me beam.
Micaela Williamson is the creator of www.supernovamommy.com, a popular, local blog that focuses on Northern Virginia families and events. Her website was recently voted “Best Blog 2012” in Northern Virginia Magazine. Micaela enjoys supporting area businesses and scouting out family-friendly venues with her two young sons.