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Travel Industry Lingo Every Traveler Should Know - Part 1

Travel, tourism and hospitality professionals use a wide variety of words and phrases when speaking with other folks working in the field. However, what's familiar for industry can also be helpful for savvy, conscious travelers to add to their repertoire! We offer a few of them for you here!


Definition: This is when companies use marketing or make misleading (sometimes false) claims that tout their green initiatives which are in fact disingenuous. Businesses do this because real environmental change requires an investment, and often a culture shift within the organization, and rather than pursuing the long-term, systematic changes to be more environmentally conscious, they opt for appearance only. This happens across all industries, not just travel.


  • Fake eco-labels or pay-to-play certifications - Don’t get us started on this topic! It’s a huge problem with the nearly 200 certifications and seals that exist in the travel industry. Even B-Corp certifications, once highly respected, have lost credibility. It’s a challenge to know what is truly trustworthy. Plus, most small businesses can’t afford the investment that is required to obtain the certifications that are legit.

  • Claiming legal requirements as their own – Like a beach resort proudly advertising “We’ve eliminated all plastic straws”, when it was legally mandated and not their eco-consciousness driving that change.

  • Using images to tell a story that is not authentic - This might look like an image of hotel workers cleaning up a nearby public space, when that is not an effort they undertake. Images can be the best storytellers, but we still need to look with a critical eye at what story is being told, and by whom.

  • Placing all the action steps on visitors and not within the business - We’ve all seen the little sign in a hotel bathroom asking to please reuse towels. When this guest action is claimed by the hotel it might sound like “We’ve saved 10,000 gallon of water this year”. While the property ignores other areas they can reduce water usage such as gardens, pools, kitchens, and so on.

  • Charitable contributions are not the same as a sustainable mission - A business might make a donation to a community organization, or non-profit, which is great, however if they aren’t paying ethical wages to their employees, they are missing the larger opportunity to create positive impact in that community

Why this is a problem: The travel industry lacks overarching, transparent guidelines or certifications to help travelers discern what is real from what is fluff. This means that Conscious travelers, seeking to align their values with travel choices, don’t have the tools they need to easily identify the good players from the bad. Additionally, Greenwashing hurts the businesses that really are working toward reducing harm and increasing positive impacts and can make it harder for them to stay in business! Let’s be honest, if a business is actually taking an action, like ethical wages, they are likely earning a lower profit margin than a company who is not interested in paying fair wages. Plus, misleading claims can hinder the important environmental/ social / cultural work from getting done, perpetuating the harmful, yet avoidable, impacts.

How to spot it: Transparency. If what a company shares about it actions on matters of environmental, economic or social impact is super vague, this could be a red-flag. Additionally, when claims are disclosed, it’s important to read the fine print.

Take for example a recent episode from Couchfish, a fresh take on a blog born in COIVD lockdown, that recounts living and traveling in Asia. Couchfish Founder and Author Stuart McDonald points out that travel company G Adventures “claims that 100% of their spend on “local expenses” … goes to “local businesses”. Yet, when McDonald examined the fine print, he found it read “to qualify as a local business or service, 50% or more must be owned by a legal resident or national citizen of the country where it operates.” As McDonald writes, “This means a business could have a resident foreigner and a foreign partner as the two owners and yet qualify as local. To my mind, this doesn’t, in any way shape or form, equate to local-owned.”

Going back to the lack of oversight in travel, businesses are writing their own rules, so its important to look for evidence to support their claims.

Group of people collecting trash on a beach
Stock photos like these can be used to give the illusion of environmental consciousness

Shoulder Season

What is it: As far as travel is concerned, there are three seasons; High (or peak), Low (or off season), and Shoulder. High season is going to be the busiest time for tourism, think Cape Cod in July and August. While low season means very little tourism, think Ibiza in February.

For destinations best suited for walking around, visiting parks or beaches, the high season often overlaps with the warmest months. But that doesn’t mean summer is always peak season. For example, Vail Colorado or the French Alps will experience peak season along with peak snowfall and dates that fall on national holidays. Off season can mean big savings in hotel room rates, however, it can also result in limited services. An example - if you happen to visit the Croatian island of Korcula in February, you’ll find most shops and cafes closed, limited ferry service and tour operators gone for the season (If you need them, it’ll have to wait, they’re off enjoying the Alps).

As the name implies, Shoulder Season is between high and low. Here’s an example - If Hawaii’s peak season is July and August, lining up with the American school calendar definition of “summer”, then it’s shoulder season could be April, May and September, October.

Another consideration when timing a holiday is peak periods. These are periods that can occur any time of year but result in a mini period of peak travel. Let’s again take Hawaii for an example - the weeks over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s will also be peak, even though not within an entire peak season. Peak periods will often be the busiest time for a destination of the entire year due to the concentration of people coming in such a short timeframe.

Special events also effect the number of travelers. An example - Loy Krathong (ลอยกระทง), also named Festival of Lights, is a famous floating lantern festival in Thailand in late November and draws huge crowds. Or Pasadena California, while typically not a tourism hot spot it fills up with folks hoping to watch the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. Sporting events, art festivals and international conventions are some of the things that can affect the number of visitors in a place at the same time.

How to spot it: If you are familiar with the climate and main attractions in a destination you can probably make an educated guess about the general high and low seasons. But since the travel seasons are unique to the exact place, not just the region, its best to do a little research before selecting when to travel.

Why every conscious traveler should know this term: First of all, Shoulder Seasons can be an ideal time to travel! Think of this time as the sweet spot where things are open, but not crowded, prices are midrange and weather tends to be mild.

  • The place is better able to welcome and accommodate visitors since it is not facing a crush of too many folks in the same place at once.

  • Your money will go further! As mentioned, hotel prices are usually midrange, and you can probably avoid any pesky minimum stay requirements.

  • You get to spend more time with locals. We’ve found that in the places we visit, the locals love where they live. Their deep love for their culture and community is something they are happy to share with guests – when they're not overworked, and depleted (makes perfect sense)

  • You'll avoid crowds! Most of us don’t particularly love the mobs of people encircling a sight we’ve gone to great lengths to get a peek at. Or the oversold planes, overflowing metros, or lines that wrap the block. You can avoid all this by traveling when everyone else is not!

"Don’t let the prospect of unfavorable weather stop you from traveling in shoulder season! I spent April in France when the forecast called for rain, but we had nothing but sunshine the entire two weeks. And bonus, spring means cool evenings so I got the benefit of sun-drenched days at the beach and countryside followed by nights sleeping in a perfectly chilly room, rather than one warmed by summer high temps that made me wish I packed my a/c.”

Tara – founder of CTC

Host & Guest

The words host and guest have a fascinating history!

Guest (noun):

1a: a person entertained in one's house

1b: a person to whom hospitality is extended

1c: a person who pays for the services of an establishment (such as a hotel or restaurant)

2: a usually prominent person not a regular member of a cast or organization who appears in a program or performance

In the Proto-Indo-European word, gho-ti, the root of guest, the meaning contains "stranger” “guest” and “host”. The word holds not only the meaning of mutual exchange, but with stranger as meaning potential enemy.

“A guest-friendship was a bond of trust between two people that was accompanied by ritualized gift-giving and created an obligation of mutual hospitality and friendship that, once established, could continue in perpetuity and be renewed years later by the same parties or their descendants.”

Host (noun):

a person who receives or entertains guests socially, commercially, or officially

This word host has a long history in Indo-European languages, we wont be getting into it long and varied history in full here. However, it’s interesting to note that both host and guest had been used as one, in the Latin word hospes. Merriam-Webster notes, “hospes and its progeny are due to customs of reciprocity: a person serving as guest on one occasion would act—and be expected to act—as host on another occasion to a visiting former host. source

Why all the linguistic background? In today’s tourism we often consider hosts to be in the role of serving their guests. Add to this a capitalist lense, and the host is also seen in a subservient position. The understanding of the two existing within a reciprocal relationship has been lost when money is exchanged. But we believe this understanding needs rethinking.

A reception sign sits on a wood counter in front of a gold service bell

Consider another context. When viewing host and guest in the situation a such as visiting a friend’s home. We are likely to understand this as reciprocal. As guests we appreciate and honor our hosts, we offer assistance and bring gifts. Its common to declare “I’ll host next time”, to acknowledge the labor behind the endeavor.

Not to suggest that paying a host for a stay or service is equivalent to being hosted by friends for dinner, however, we’d argue that both can be viewed as a privilege. After all when traveling, it's not just your lodging that plays host, it’s the entire community. A little humility in acknowledging our being there presents us with a special opportunity of experiencing a new culture and connecting with people. If we step away from common capitalist notions of what we are entitled to in exchange for currency, and step into an understanding that appreciates the privilege, while also asking how we can better a kind and considerate guest.

For more on how to fully embrace your role as guests and why its important, check out this blog.

Two women embrace standing behind a table set for a dinner party

How to be a respectful guest: If your curious on this topic, chances are you are well are your way! Mindset and attitude will take you far in your efforts to be a courteous guest. If you are visiting a place and you might hold some conscious or unconscious bias, use your time to explore this within yourself and see if you can work to unlearn some of this programing. This is even more likely to be at play if you are coming from a developed nation, and visit a developing country. These unconsciously held beliefs might show up in thoughts like, “this service is so slow, these people are lazy”, or “it’s unacceptable that the Wi-Fi isn’t working, they’d never get away with that in the US”. We might show judgement when it comes to food or customs, and without considering the cultural context place labels like “gross”, rude”, or disgusting. For example, in the US eating hamburgers is super common, but in the vast majority of Indian states to kill a cow is illegal. It’s common in many nations to place toilet paper in a waste basket not the toilet, so an American traveler, unfamiliar with the local etiquette, might make a judgement about cleanliness when really it’s just to protect the plumbing.

Guest tips

  • Learn the local etiquette

  • Be polite

  • Examine your privilege & unconscious beliefs

  • Try to learn common phrases in the local language. This short list will go a long way to indicating you are trying to be respectful.

    • Please

    • Thank you

    • My name is

    • What is your name

    • Nice to meet you

    • May I please have

    • (Our #1 favorite) I’m sorry, I don’t speak ______, do you speak English?

And just for fun! Check out Samantha Browns video on Tips for Hosts & Houseguests! https://samantha-brown.com/tips/tips-for-hosts-and-house-guests/ 

The Bilbao Effect

Definition: This term came into being after the 1997 construction of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in northern Spain. The extraordinary architecture of the museum made a huge statement, drawing a ton of international attention. The result was a revival for Bilbao. The city had been an industrial shipping hub but with the launch of the Guggenheim Bilbao was suddenly a cultural center.

“Visitors’ spending in Bilbao in the first three years after the museum opened raised over €100m ($110m) in taxes for the regional government, enough to recoup the construction costs and leave something over". source

This led economists and city planners to take note! Suddenly investors and politicians were curious, could an imaginatively designed museum or attraction energize a city, or even reverse its decline?

Now with two decades of data and several other examples, the answer seems to be – possibly, but not by itself. Governments and cities need stable, long-term planning, and it can be a huge challenge to garner consensus. These kinds of projects require vision and patience, as well as valuing the quality-of-life for local residents.

However, what tourism and city planning experts mostly agree on is that a thriving cultural scene is part of what draws in visitors, and makes life enjoyable for locals. Professor Christopher Gaffney of NYU recently shared an idea that is gaining more support among tourism professionals, “strong communities make strong destinations for tourism, not the other way around.


Let’s talk global economics for a moment. Travel and tourism make up 10% of the world’s economy. Hundreds of millions of people across the planet rely on tourism in one form or another for their livelihood. Sadly, mass tourism and short-term thinking have created a lot of harm by reinforcing colonial structures, exploiting vulnerable people and devastating natural environments. Irresponsible practices that extract and exploit without reinvestment in the community they are promoting have woefully been the norm in the tourism industry for decades.

But there’s good news!

We live in a time of great social and environmental consciousness. Contemplative people across our planet are looking within and without to be a part of the changes they desire in the world. Humanity as a collective is coming together in small, but dedicated movements to craft a better future.

There is a place for travel in this better future. When intentionally crafted as a force for good, travel is a source of economic empowerment to communities by supporting jobs that pay living wages while preserving cultural and natural heritage at risk of being lost.

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) launched their Sustainable Development Goals as a call to action. They identify 17 goals which together form a blueprint for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all. These goals address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, hunger, education, peace and justice.

Remarkably, travel can play a role in advancing all of these!

In fact, “sustainable tourism” is often cited by the UN as a powerful tool toward this mission. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) declared 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. In recognizing the importance of tourism, the UNWTO noted tourism’s role in several major areas, including sustainable economic growth, the reduction of unemployment and poverty, and the preservation of cultural values and the environment.

This is powerful! Not only for the tourism industry, but also for travelers, as each are positioned with the power to propel or hinder these objectivities.

The author of this blog is Tara Busch, the Founder of Conscious Travel Collective.

Hey there! I’m Tara, the founder of Conscious Travel Collective. After years in the travel industry and loving the opportunity to connect travelers with the world, I was struggling. Part of what troubled me was the absence of a critical element, one that makes travel so special - which is genuine, reciprocal, authentic connection! Connection with places, through the people that live there. So, with much intention, I started Conscious Travel Collective to offer folks travel that connects. We design luxury experiences at a reasonable price, with sustainable, ethical travel practices leading the way.

For more on our approach to private travel head over to our homepage. We are so happy to welcome you!



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