They have different ages and backgrounds, they have different activities today, but what connects them is an energy and faith in their mission.
Ecotourism and sustainability in general are not just about politics. It is the citizens who instigate.
Through these five portraits, we provide a source of inspiration to all those who are tempted by the adventure of ecotourism or to fulfill their dreams in general.
« No one is unemployable and work can be a vehicle for individual emancipation »
When Anne-Sophie bought a small, modest hotel in the 12th arrondissement in 2012, she had a specific project in mind: to create a “laboratory” to explore other ways of working and to offer opportunities to people deemed “unemployable”.
Her goal: to demonstrate that work can be beneficial to people in difficult situations as well as to the company itself. To achieve this mission, she created a company for integration through economic activity.
The hotel industry is at the crossroads of different professions, is constantly recruiting and above all, what Anne-Sophie liked most: it encourages human contacts.
« Environmental aspects derived from social aspects »
In order to offer diversified work to socially and economically disadvantaged people, it was necessary to think about the overall organization of the hotel and work. This led to re-internalizing certain tasks such as laundry. It should be noted that hotels subcontract the cleaning of laundry to companies sometimes located at great distances, which generates road traffic and therefore pollution.
This has made her aware of the environmental impact of her activity and encouraged her to find innovative ecological solutions. Anne-Sophie has been awarded the “green key” label and the “Sustainable Hotel” certification.
« A woman entrepreneur struggles to find sources of financing »
The banking sector was not confident in her plans; fortunately, there are initiatives and funds for women entrepreneurs and social and economic solidartity projects: Anne-Sophie received the support of the Paris City Council and the IDF Region.
Today she is satisfied with the results: in addition to the 4 permanent employees and a social worker, she has trained dozens of people who have been able to bounce back and find their way in the hotel business. On the customer side, the feedback is very positive: the warm “non-standardised” welcome and the environmental initiatives of the hotel appeal to French and foreign travellers alike.
« “You can change your life at 50.” »
After a professional career as a sales executive in Alsace, Christine went through an “existential” crisis that led her to question her life. “What is my added value in this world? “she asked herself.
After leaving her job, she embarked on a quest for herself accompanied by professionals. Her self-reassessment brought her to nature and cooking. And so she turned over a new leaf.
Driven by this new impetus, she attained a CAP (vocational training certificate) in cooking.
« Turning a 70-year-old fallow land into a paradise of flavors »
To implement her project, Christine looked for a place to buy, renovate or build in her region, but it was finally in the Haute-Saône where she found something: a vast, completely abandoned piece of land by the river.
With a limited budget, she drew the plans for her 203m2 house on her own and relied on the expertise of a Vosges company specialising in passive houses for the construction of its shell, adding the less technical bits by herself and with people from the solidarity project.
Her experience as a manager has helped her to coordinate this complex project!
Aiming for a self-sustaining residence and living in harmony with nature
Christine opened her eco-friendly guesthouse and grew her own vegetable garden in an act of self-sustenance, an orchard cultivated according to the principles of permaculture and agroecology. Its crops, its table d'hôtes, its jams, chutneys and pestos and its catering services are certified AB by Ecocert (an eco-label). She incorporates these into the morning breakfast.
Right now she is on a high: her lodgings sees more and more visitors, and Christine offers “Croquez la nature” days and weekends in which they can learn how to recognize and cook wild plants.
For Christine, the change may have come a bit late but her guest house has given her a new lease on life
The nurse who piloted big barges on the Seine…
Dominique got introduced to boats at the age of 33, previously having been a psychiatric nurse by profession in the Paris region. She was looking for a place to create a leisure centre. Finally, opportunity presented itself in the form of a 38-metre barge on the Seine. In the process, Dominique obtained a sailing licence for such vessels. Off she went to the Canal du Midi to start a new project with it.
The first solar-powered hotel barge in the world is the invention of a French woman!
The Canal du Midi suffers from environmental degradation, and Dominique decided to act. And so, she developed the 1st prototype of a solar-powered hotel boat in the world in collaboration with an architect and a professor from the High School of Navigation, . The authorities of the Languedoc Roussillon Region are proud of Dominique's project and contributed to the €530,000 budget. The “beast” weighs 50 tons, has a steel hull and superstructure, has a surface area of 80m2 of solar panels and carries 7 tons of batteries which ensure it is completely energy self-sufficient. Moreover, this boat is accessible to people with reduced mobility.
Will river tourism finally be ecological on French waterways?
Following a family tragedy, Dominique left the Canal du Midi for the River Lot in 2009; the waterway was mostly deserted then. She developed her activity on her solar-powered boat “Kevin” whilst building a new one. In 2019, the prototype “coche solaire” was born with the support of the New Aquitaine Region: Her *CE certified solar-powered boat can be rented without a licence, for the happiness of the customers: zero noise, zero CO2 and total autonomy.
Encouraged by its success, Dominique is pushing for the renewal of the current fleet (300 boats approx.) in electro-solar mode through incentives, to introduce the solar boat on the Seine on the occasion of the 2024 Games in floating and autonomous housing to give a few examples of possible measures. She is currently working on the creation of a “fleet of several boats in New Aquitaine”, operated for 8 months on charter and the rest of the year on electricity production. She is searching for partners.
River tourism in France has a potential 8,500 km of navigable waterways. However, the fleet of boats (approx. 3,000) emits 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, not counting hydrocarbon waste. Could Dominica's invention contribute to a new era of prosperity compatible with the environment?
Putting creativity and energy into a meaningful project
Flora is a young woman who has developed a new concept in urban ecotourism: solidarity treasure hunts. But before being a business creator full of projects, Flora went through periods of doubt and self-discovery.
Like many young graduates, she had to face a closed labour market, without real prospects in the sectors that interested her, namely cultural and social. She dealt with a series of rejections, until she encountered the concept of solidarity cafés in Paris. Her ideas evolved: all these people were so fascinating and committed that they deserved to be put forward, supported, in a word, known. That's how Flora came to create this concept of meeting places in Parisian neighbourhoods neglected by the tourist masses.
Discovering the “inner beauty” of Paris and fostering social interaction
Since 2015, Flora has been offering her “solidarity treasure hunts” for companies on weekdays and weekends for the general public (18 in all). In essence, these hunts foster “meetings and exchanges” as opposed to tourist consumerism.
Routes last an average of one ½ day in Parisian “territories” that are not particularly touristy (e.g. Porte de Vanves, Barbès). Checkpoints include solidarity cafés or hotels (such as Anne-Sophie's), craft shops, and exchanges with people involved in their neighbourhood or in solidarity. The participants travel in groups of 5 to 7 in the company of a facilitator and are involved in the experience. At the end of the tour, the group discusses the experience around a “tea of friendship”. It is not rare that the participants want to see each other again afterwards!
Who's next: Lyon, Nantes, St Brieuc?
Her business is being emulated in other parts of France, and Flora trains and accompanies such entrepreneurs and hopes to network them.
What is the project for an expatriate mother in Germany?
Many mothers find themselves isolated from the world of work after a long maternity leave. Yasmine, a multilingual French woman who has been living in Frankfurt since the 1990s, has gone through a phase where people are no longer sure what her place in the company is and what her skills are. Nevertheless, one wish was firmly anchored in her mind: to create her own company.
A training course designed to upgrade and redirect university graduates gave her an initial food for thought: why not tourism? Thrilled by this idea but aware of her lack of knowledge about the sector, she set out to find professionals who could advise her.
Relying on mutual aid networks between ecotourism professionals
Tourism, yes, but not mass tourism. This conviction led her at the beginning of the 2000s to the very young professional organisation of responsible tourism players “forum anders reisen”. This association welcomed with open arms this motivated but inexperienced Frenchwoman and accompanied her in the early days of the creation of France Ecotours.
Thanks to the benevolence of her colleagues, Yasmine was able to refine her societal vision, understand the expectations of the German public and give substance to a meaningful project: to make Germans and interested party discover France “differently”.
An active member of this network, where she was a member of the Board of Directors until 2008, Yasmine also immediately adopted the TourCert certification, inspired in 2009 by the specifications of the Anders Journeys forum. At the beginning of the 2000s, the German ecotourism world became structured but still remains confidential.
In addition to self-conscious German tourists, she has also long been interested in bringing English interest on board, especially via the historic links between France and England. Sustainability has been kicking off in England as of late, and this is where she hopes to create inroads in a network.
Become in turn a support and activist force for the organic community in Europe.
Following a divorce and a move, Yasmine put all her energy into her company, which in 2012 became a GmbH. THe company is currently located in the “Ökohaus premises” with the support of her network. The following year, Yasmine launched the European eco-accommodation portal myecostay and offering a wide range of eco-friendly tourist experience through both businesses: vegan stays, thematic trips on organic products, well-being stays, etc.
At the present moment, Yasmine's goals consist of supporting ecological proprietors and sustainable leisure-related activities in Europe; she encourages soft mobility that has been fostered by TourCert. In short, she is trying to decrease the European carbon footprint.