Louisa Rossel Author

Louisa Rossel is currently a junior at Stonehill College studying education and environmental studies. She is constantly seeking creative ways to convey that people are not powerless in the fight against climate change. From teaching a Farm to Table class where she connects children with where and how their food is grown, to writing this article that highlights Wayaj as a resource for making sustainable travel a far less daunting task, she enjoys opening conversations on how to better our relationship with the environment. Having studied abroad in Samoa and Fiji from January through March 2020, she was extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to write this article. Wayaj’s mission of helping tourists to leave a positive mark on both the community and the environment where they visit were at the core of every decision she made while abroad. She hopes fellow adventure-seekers feel empowered knowing that traveling doesn’t necessary need to go hand in hand with harming our beautiful Earth.

Close your eyes and picture your dream vacation. Where are you? What are you doing? How do you feel? Is a bright sunset above you enveloping the sky in orange and peach hues as a gentle breeze sways your hammock inside a cozy verandah? Maybe your body aches after a day filled to the brim with hiking, zip-lining, and kayaking through the lush, verdant wonderland of Costa Rica. Or perhaps you are diving into a fresh batch of spätzle with the wondrous sights of Nuremberg’s medieval and gothic architecture spinning through your head after a day in central square. 

Je voyage…vwayaj…no matter how you say it, people have an innate, deep desire to travel, explore, and take wild adventures into the great unknown. However, the overwhelming thought of researching hotels, scouring the comments section, or even being overcome with the guilt of the 53 pounds of CO2 that are spewed out into the atmosphere every mile you fly, likely deletes any mental picture you took of your dream vacation. 

Nonetheless, I ask that you reach back into the trash folder of your mind and silence your worried thoughts, because there actually is an app out there that can help solve your problem! Wayaj, a travel app designed for travelers, by travelers, was created to help vacationers explore and book eco-friendly luxury hotels and wellness retreats all around the world. 

Nelly Gedeon, the founder and CEO of Wayaj, decided to start the business in 2017. Before starting the business, Gedeon not only had a love for travelling, but also a vision to reduce the negative impacts that tourism can have on some of the most exotic places in the world. With this goal in mind, Gedeon, originally from Haiti, joined together the Creole and French variations of the word “voyage” to form the title Wayaj; and thus, her business was born. 

In an interview with Gedeon, she explained that the main drive for starting Wayaj was “to make it easier for people to find eco-friendly travel. People are more opt to be eco-friendly if they know the options.” And indeed, their app gives users options for approximately 400 accommodations in over 94 countries across the world! Take a scroll for yourself sometime. 

Unlike other travel apps where you simply search your city or country, Wayaj also allows you to search by experience. Craving a hotel or retreat with yoga, mountain climbing, or a health and wellness focus? Type those keywords into Wayaj and a plethora of options will pop up. Wayaj partners with hotels, hostels, and B&B’s from all over the world, so you are bound to find what you are looking for, where you want it. 

Photo by Ray Berry

However, it is important to remember that travelling sustainably should not end with a desire to simply experience exotic places and post stunning pictures on your social media page. In reality, it’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone. It means opening yourself up to the community of the place you are travelling to, sharing the same experiences and activities as the local people, and being conscious of how you spend your money and who is directly benefiting from it. 

By opening your mind and your heart to the local culture and people through travelling sustainably, you’ll surely want to do everything in your power to leave the local community and their environment in better shape than when you first arrived. Gedeon urges travelers to “really go somewhere where [their] visit and interaction with the local community does not negatively impact [that] community. You travel, you show respect for the local culture.” Short, sweet, and to the point, Gedeon sums up perfectly the core definition of sustainable travel.   

By now, you are probably wondering how Wayaj shows a little love for the planet, and it’s people while travelling. Well, my fellow Earth-dwellers, unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few years especially, you simply have to be aware of the ecological crisis our Earth faces today. We, its inhabitants, are not immune to the damage we have created. 

As you can imagine, tourism is just one piece in the puzzle of Earth’s destruction by humans. Airplanes spew out an unbelievably large amount of carbon dioxide into the air, and the United States is one of the top-ranking offenders of releasing this man-made greenhouse gas that warms our planet. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, U.S. flights alone account for nearly half of the worldwide CO2 emissions from aircraft. More specifically, airplanes are responsible for approximately 11% of CO2 emissions from U.S. transportation sources and 3% of U.S. total CO2 emissions. 

Image provided by Wayaj

However, airplane flights aren’t the only aspect of regular, business-as-usual travelling practices that are degrading our planet. Additionally, 80% of tourism takes place within coastal communities and fragile ecosystems, such as coral reefs, which have been devastated due to over tourism and unsustainable development. The Center for Responsible Travel reports that direct climate change effects, such as “heat waves, water scarcity and other weather-related factors” and indirect effects “through changing ecosystems and the impacts of climate change on health and welfare,” are exacerbated by unsustainable tourism. Due to these effects, locals in many touristy cities, such as Venice, Cape Town, and Sydney, are finding it increasingly difficult and expensive to continue living in the place their family has called “home” for generations. 

So how exactly should you go about travelling sustainably? According to a survey conducted by National Geographic, approximately 42% of U.S. travelers would be inclined to prioritize sustainable travel going forward, but only 15% of these travelers are truly familiar with what sustainable travel entails. Fear not, ever-growing 42% of the population, Wayaj makes it easy to get you started. Every accommodation on this app, ranging from luxury hotels to wellness retreats, are scored based on several sustainability factors. Hotel companies who partnered with Wayaj fill out a questionnaire online, and based on their answers, they earn an ecoscore of up to 100% sustainability. App users can actually see for themselves how each score was calculated. Hotels earn their ecoscore based on seven different sustainability factors: water, management, energy, products and purchasing, waste recycling, indoor environment, and community. Attached to every hotel page lists each factor and how the hotel faired, breaking the ecoscore down into easily understandable categories. 

The algorithm used to calculate this ecoscore is based on pre-existing sustainability assessment tools, one being LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This well-known assessment tool, used as a certification process for environmentally conscious building constructions, made their set standards public for other companies to use and assess their own projects. These standards, as well as the ones laid out by Envision and Green Globe, an assessment for travel and tourism, served as key inspirations when Wayaj was forming their own ecoscore calculation. 

Image provided by Wayaj

With the help of these tools, Wayaj looks into the purchasing plan of the property where the hotel sits, as well as discovers how many local products are used, both of which fall under the “Materials & Resources” category of the ecoscore. Additionally, Wayaj scores hotels based on their management policies taking in consideration employee education on sustainability, policy against exploitation and discrimination, etc. Wayaj even considers if the accommodation employs local people, or better yet is run by locals, and how it engages with the outside community, all playing an essential part in calculating the “Community” score. These varying factors, among others, add up to the all-encompassing ecoscore listed next to every hotel, hostel, and B&B. The higher the ecoscore, the greater the likelihood that both ecological and social responsibility are core, fundamental goals of the accommodation company. The negative impact that tourism can play on local communities is far from a myth, but with Wayaj as a guide, the power is in your hands to support hotels with high “Community” eco-scores.  Why wouldn’t you want to support such a mission?

Still feeling guilty about the flight emissions? Wayaj has partnered with the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change to offer carbon credit options right on the app to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from travelers’ flights. No, we may not have the technology yet to power our planes with renewable jet fuel, but we do have the ability to purchase carbon offsets that support organizations engaged in sustainable projects. According to Gedeon, “people need to travel, [yet] we are not at the point where travel [is] carbon-free. But, there are things we can do that are positive to offset it. We don’t have to do it directly – there are organizations and people that are engaged in sustainable projects.” Gedeon notes that Wayaj users can “make a contribution by purchasing a carbon offset” directly on the app. After doing so, travelers get a certificate, stating how many carbon tons they helped to offset by supporting their chosen sustainable organization. 

At times such as these when articles titled “Earth is Doomed” flood your news feed and social media, it’s understandable why escaping it all on a dream vacation is at the top of your to-do list. Wayaj offers a pathway towards sustainable travel, without sacrificing your personal comfort and happiness. Wayaj has transformed vacations, a time when people often solely focus on relaxing or enjoying time with family, into a golden opportunity to consciously take efforts to reduce their impact on the planet.  

As Gedeon reminds us, the fight against climate change “starts with individuals and small actions by individuals. That is what will make the change.” Whether you are driven by ecological or social motivations to travel sustainably, discover what will move you to give more thought into how your actions cause a ripple effect on the community and the environment you choose to visit. Your decision to use Wayaj’s ecoscore as a basis for which hotel you vacation at, or even when considering purchasing carbon offsets for your plane ride, are small but crucial steps towards showing a little love for the planet. The ecological crisis we face is overwhelming and terrifying, but here’s a glowing opportunity to make a positive impact and become a part of the solution. So use it. 

Visit their website at https://wayaj.com/ for more information!


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