Mary Gabbett and Bret Love are the creators of one of our favorite travel websites, Green Global Travel, which is devoted to promoting ecotourism, nature/ wildlife conservation, and cultural preservation. GGT not only served as an early inspiration for our travel dreams, they taught us how to be BETTER tourists.
What do we mean by better? Too often we look upon travel as a temporary form of escape, and in the process of escaping we sometimes forget that the places we visit have a life of their own. They existed before we arrived, and will continue to exist after we leave, making the impression we impart a pretty important aspect of exploration. This is as true when walking around the glorious landmarks of Paris as it is when camping in the hills of Pai, Thailand. The world is not just for us and building a level of awareness, looking both inward and out at the environment around you, is a crucial aspect of responsible, sustainable travel.
Do you want to be a more responsible traveler? Do you want to read about two people who are doing their best to travel and preserve the world for the future? Of course you do! Let’s get started.
Hey guys, thanks for taking time out of your schedules to join us! Green Global Travel has made a name for itself as a staunch advocate of “Ecotourism”. Can you tell us what Ecotourism is, and why you think it’s important?
Bret: We believe that ecotourism– which we define as “Responsible travel to natural areas, which helps to conserve the environment and improve the welfare of local people”– offers a simple way that travelers can help protect this precious planet we all love to explore. A lot of people mistakenly think of Ecotourism as “Nature Travel.” But if it’s not providing economic benefits to indigenous people as well as protecting the flora and fauna of the local ecosystem, it’s really not true responsible ecotourism. As for why it’s important, it’s the only form of travel that is completely non-exploitative, which seeks to give back more than what we take from a destination. And in that sense, it’s the only form of travel that’s truly sustainable in the long term.
Neither of you had a background in Ecotourism or nature conservation before you launched GGT. What made you decide you wanted to devote so much of your time and energy to it? Was there any specific incident or experience that triggered that desire in you guys?
Bret: I’ve been a fan of what we now know as ecotourism for most of my life. My parents didn’t have money for travel, so I spent a lot of time exploring Georgia’s lakes, mountains, and rivers as a boy. But I got serious about ecotourism after a 2-week trip to South Africa’s Kruger National Park in 2000, which is where I first started to understand the science and economics behind ecotourism and environmental conservation. Ever since then, I wanted to create a book, magazine, or website dedicated to the subject, and I spent time researching it and interviewing experts for my freelance writing work. By the time we launched Green Global Travel, I’d been traveling this way for years, but it was difficult to find clients who wanted ecotourism-focused stories. GGT allowed us to pursue our passions without having to worry about selling these stories to an editor.
What has GGT accomplished thus far that you are most proud of? What cause or goal have you achieved that you look at and think “Damn, we did good work there”?
Bret: Our tagline is “Saving the World One Story at a Time,” and it’s a mission we take very seriously. We really want to use our site’s authority and influence to show people that responsible ecotourism is simply a better way to travel– better for the traveler, the destination, the people and wildlife who live there, and the planet. So our proudest accomplishment has been partnering with Travelers Building Change the last few years to help raise money for ecotourism projects we believe in. We raised $7000-$8000 for Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park in 2013, and this year we coordinated over 125 bloggers and 20+ sponsors to raise more than $13,000 for Rhinos Without Borders. Expect to see more, bigger project as Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media continue to grow.
When did you guys realize you had a passion for travel and world exploration? How did you transition from your previous lives/careers in order to make that dream a reality?
Mary: I discovered my passion for traveling in the years during and after college. My friends and I took some amazing trips, including a week in Ireland and a month in India with a friend whose family lived there. But it wasn’t until Bret took me to Hawaii about three months after we started dating that I started traveling the way we do now, which is more active and adventurous. After I got laid off from my position managing an independent corporate psychology company in early 2010, it proved impossible to find a job that would pay me a decent salary and allow me time off to travel. Just over 6 months later we launched GGT.
Bret: I’d dreamed of traveling like this ever since I was a kid, reading my grandparents’ National Geographic magazines and watching shows like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Once I became successful as a writer in the mid to late ’90s, I started taking bigger and better trips, but I was on staff with a magazine until 2001, when my daughter was born. After that, I didn’t want to be gone too long, because I didn’t want to miss anything. Once she turned 5 and I started writing for airline and hotel magazines, I started traveling more often. But I never traveled nearly as much as we do now until Mary & I started working together.
What is your favorite travel experience thus far?
Mary: Picking a favorite is difficult, but our trip to Tahiti in 2013 was a big one. I’d had these romantic dreams of going there for around 15 years, back when I was married and had a very different life than we have now. Bora Bora really seemed out of reach for me and my lifestyle, but then in 2012 the Four Seasons Resort asked us to come and write about the marine sanctuary they’d built there. The fact that it was our website– this passion project that had no guarantees of any real reward– that finally got me to Tahiti was a real game-changer.
Bret: I can’t pick a favorite, but there were three that were very meaningful. The first was South Africa in 2000. Not just for the wildlife safaris (which were amazing), but for the people we met in Kruger, KwaZulu Natal and Durban, and the understanding they gave us about the importance of tourism in preserving their natural resources and culture. The second was the Galapagos Islands in 2011: It was the first big press trip we got from GGT, and it led to a lot of amazing business opportunities. Our site went from around 7,000 page views to 40,000-50,000 in less than 8 months. The third was Antarctica, because… well, it’s freakin’ Antarctica! When we got there at the end of 2012, I knew Green Global Travel was going to be bigger than we ever imagined.
What projects are you tackling this year? Where will you be going?
Bret: Coincidentally, I’m headed back to the Galapagos this week with International Expeditions, which signed Green Travel Media to provide content, social media and branding services for their 2015-2016 re-branding. They’re one of the leading Nature Travel companies in the world and a co-founder of The International Ecotourism Society. So the fact that they chose us to represent their brand, allowing us to hire many of the bloggers whose work we respect most, is a blessing we’re eternally grateful for. We’re already talking about ways to expand this relationship even more next year, and will hopefully have some exciting announcements soon.
Next month we’ve been invited to the Dominican Republic by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) to speak and host panels at an international Think Tank on Climate Change and Coastal Tourism. We’ll be among a few dozen thought leaders on the subject attending, discussing sustainable ecotourism policies that can help counter the effects of climate change and ultimately contributing to a book on the subject.
Then in September we’re arranging a 3-week trip to Africa, hopefully splitting our time between Tanzania and Rwanda. Tanzania and Kenya have been #1 on my travel bucket list for more than 20 years now, and I’ve been dying to get back to Africa ever since that South Africa experience. The adventures currently on our itinerary will give us YEARS worth of stories to share, and we’re in discussions with a pretty major outlet to cover some of those stories for them. If it all comes together like we hope, 2015 will be our best year ever.
Finally, name a place you guys haven’t been yet that you would LOVE to go.
Mary: I went to Tangiers for a few hours about 15 years ago, taking the day ferry from southern Spain. But I’ve love to go back to Morocco with Bret and explore it the way we travel now. He knows a lot about the music and culture of Morocco, and I think getting out of the major cities and exploring the rural areas would be amazing.
Bret: For me it would be India. I started studying and writing about the world’s indigenous cultures long before I ever had the means to travel to see them. India’s history, spirituality, music, cuisine and art have always fascinated me. I’ve had a chance to talk about these subjects with icons such as the late Ravi Shankar, percussion legend Zakir Hussain and author Salman Rushdie, and of course I’ve seen dozens of movies and read many books about the country. But to explore India for myself, in the unique way Mary and I like to travel, would really be something!