Q & A with Irene N. Lane, Founder and President, Greenloons, Vienna, VA, USA
Since 2010, Greenloons has offered certified eco-tour vacations in selected global destinations. "Eco-adventures for a greener world."
IRENE, WHAT DID YOU DO PRIOR TO FOUNDING GREENLOONS?
I was an eco-conscious Mom who loved to plan vacations and travel to exotic and inspirational places in an environmentally responsible manner. Before I started doing mommy time though, I had completed my MBA in International Finance and was in the corporate world for 12 years as a consultant for US federal government agencies as well as for private information technology companies. I also worked for a few years at eBay, in their information technology department, specifically focused on customer service solutions.
SO THEN WHAT WAS YOUR PRIMARY MOTIVATION TO LAUNCH THIS COMPANY?
I started Greenloons in May 2010 while completing my Certificate in Sustainable Tourism Management and after I realized that there was a lot of misinformation about ecotourism and very little transparency about the industry. Of course, I wanted to create a site that would present the facts about ecotourism, let consumers decide for themselves, and supply a forum to share their experiences. But I wanted to go one step further and only offer vacation packages provided by certified or accredited tour operators. It doesn't need to be said that families are very busy these days and that vacation time is precious.
WHAT CHANGES HAVE YOU MADE SINCE 2010 – IF ANY?
Greenloons’ mission became two-fold in its effort to bridge the communication gap about ecotourism. We’re here to engage travelers’ altruistic notions of the social, environmental and economic power of an authentic travel experience by featuring ‘what’s going well with eco travel’ or ‘what questions to ask’ – we want travelers to make educated decisions about eco-certified vacations. And then on the side of the tour providers, our aim is to increase supply by engaging them in discussions about the criteria, challenges, critical success factors, and bottom line economics of ecotourism. Greenloons is doing this through consultation and by providing them with a proprietary ROI tool that calculates the operational, community, employee and customer impact of ecotourism investments.
Greenloons is trying to raise the level of discourse of what it means to “travel responsibly” or “run an ecotourism company.” Too often the focus is squared on the environmental components of ecotourism with too little emphasis placed on the social and economic components of “going green". What does “ecotourism” mean? The tourism industry needs more clarity on this. For travelers, the question should be: “what vetted and transparent methods are there for travelers to choose eco travel?” For travel business owners, the question should be “what is the actual economic value for a tourism business that wants to 'go green'?”
WHAT DO CUSTOMERS SAY THEY LIKE BEST ABOUT TAKING VACATIONS WITH GREENLOONS?
As our testimonials attest, our customers appreciate our high level of interaction, honesty, thoroughness and personalization. This rings true for the quality, eco-certified partners we work with as well.
HOW DO YOU SELECT YOUR DESTINATIONS?
As mentioned, we select our partners from those who are eco-certified. Not every region or destination in the world has a certification program in place, which
is why Greenloons is working with tourism boards as well as certification bodies. With that said, we do have eco-certified tours available on each continent.
Family tours are specifically geared for families with young children, aged 6 years old and older. These eco-tours focus on educational and fun activities that children, parents, grandparents, and other extended family members can participate in with ease. There is also a wide variety of activities included with the tours, such as cooking classes, language lessons, immersion in culture activities, hiking, biking, and kayaking to explore the surrounding nature reserves, and specialized conservation or photography trips. These trips include plenty of down time to connect as a family.
WHICH TRAVEL EXPERIENCES STAND OUT FOR YOU AND YOUR OWN FAMILY?
Our favorite trip just happened to be a 7-week mother-son trip through Cyprus, Greece, Croatia and Scotland a couple of years ago. The purpose of the trip was to test some new family packages and understand better what sustainability meant through the eyes of a child (Huffington Post - March 31, 2015). Throughout the experience, I got to see a different side of my tween-age son. We talked about the connection between history and current events, kayaked and biked our way through pristine nature, tried new foods, navigated our way through all sorts of public transport, and laughed a lot.
HOW DO YOU ACCOMMODATE A CUSTOMER’S SPECIAL DIET NEEDS?
Most of the lodges that we partner with around the world are well versed when it comes to accommodating gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian diets.
ANY GENERAL TIPS REGARDING CLOTHES AND ACCESSORIES TO PACK?
As the old saying goes when packing for a trip - take half the clothes you've set aside and twice the money. Kidding aside, think layers when putting together your list (such as merino wool sweaters that wick away moisture and don’t have any lingering odor so you can wear them repeatedly) along with a small first-aid/medicine kit.
About 90% of our Green Vacation Collection tours are customizable. In North America, there is a fantastic adventure tour through Quebec, Canada, while in Europe, we offer cultural tours through Croatia, Ireland, Bulgaria, and Iceland to name a few. We also offer a flat-rate fee concierge service for those travelers who want to visit to a country, not currently in our collection, in a sustainable manner. We do all the research for you in accordance with your preferences, provide options, and enable you to book directly.
SO TO SUMMARIZE, WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BOOKING VACATIONS WITH GREENLOONS?
The benefits of working with Greenloons are that your eco-certified trip will a) benefit local communities b) provide better access to sites and c) enable you to work with a licensed guide. In addition, because research can be very time consuming and companies are sometimes not transparent about their eco claims, we can assure our clients that the experience will meet their needs and preferences.
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