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Whole Travel launches good site at bad time

If you can still afford to travel, this new service will help you find a nice, green oasis.

I'm not sure if this is a service I would choose to launch this week: Whole Travel is a new site, launching Tuesday, that's focused on "sustainable" or "green" travel. Given that most of us are likely to have a lot less green in the coming months, I worry about the concept.

Still, CEO Matthew Davie says the time is right to "shift the paradigm of travel search." He says that his audience is "not price sensitive," nor date or location sensitive. Apparently, his 29- to 35-year-old demographic with $100k+ incomes can come and go when they please, but these folks do want to be eco-friendly when they're traipsing around the globe without a care in the world.

I'm being harsh. There is something to this service. It doesn't constrain searching by region or by date, unless you want that. So if you're not sure where or when to go, Whole Travel will show you a lot of good options at once. Whole Travel rates destinations (hotels and the like) on economic sensitivity, social progressiveness, and customer focus. For example, a small hotel that hires only local staff and feeds its guests in accordance to their naturopaths' diets, from vegetables grown on its own land (watered by runoff from the roof), will rate highly on Whole Travel. It's similar to what GoodGuide (review) does for consumer products.

Travel responsibly.

Davie says the 4,000 global destinations in his database are mostly unique, that only 10 percent to 20 percent are the mainstream locations you'll find on other travel sites. You'd have to jump through pages of Google results, he says, to find the locations his system has. Whole Travel surveys each of its sites to determine their ratings; on-site visits and spot-checks from users are coming later.

The site will partner with Kayak to get you to your idyllic green hideaway far from the financial meltdown capital of the world, and with Terrapass so you can buy the offsets to make up for the carbon compounds your flight dumps into the atmosphere.

It's a good thing to promote responsible tourism, and Whole Travel may be onto something even if its launch timing is not optimal. Whole Travel's business model is based on referral fees, so if he's right, he'll be able to pay rent. He also points out that Westin's new Element group of hotels caters to green travelers, and that someone has got to send those new eco-friendly destinations some customers.