From e-sleds to silent safaris: Electric transport is the future of low-impact travel

At Cheetah Plains in South Africa, safari tours are conducted in Toyota EV Land Cruisers powered by Telsa batteries.
At Cheetah Plains in South Africa, safari tours are conducted in Toyota EV Land Cruisers powered by Telsa batteries.   -   Copyright  Cheetah Plains
By Nick Dauk

Electric transport is transforming the world of travel - and it’s poised for a boom.

With fuel prices soaring, electric buses, cars and scooters provide a pocket-friendly alternative to their gas-guzzling counterparts.

Low emission electric vehicles, or EVs, also fulfil the growing desire for sustainable travel.

The electric travel trend is already taking shape: in France’s Languedoc region, visitors can take an off-road electric scooter tour through the vineyards along the Canal du Midi. In Iceland, tourists can whale-watch in silence on an electric boat.

From Cuba to Copenhagen and countless destinations in between, e-bikes have become a ubiquitous part of the travel landscape over the past five years. Their appeal is all the more pronounced in places like the Yorkshire Dales and French Alps, where hilly terrain deters most tourists from attempting such a rigorous pedal.

So, how will the e-travel trend blossom in 2023?

Electrified travel is set to get more accessible in 2023

Travel on two wheels is no novel idea, though the rise of e-bikes and e-scooters has certainly made this mode of transport much more accessible. Names like TIER, Lime and Bolt have brought pay-per-minute hire schemes to cities across Europe - and cities across the world are catching up

One organisation that promotes micromobility - the use of e-scooters and e-bikes to travel short distances in urban areas - is NUMO, the New Urban Mobility alliance. Partnering with nearly 150 governments and businesses across the globe, its goal is to assist the shift towards shared, electric and active modes of transportation.

“Visitors traditionally travel in a city using the most intuitive and accessible mode of transportation,” says Carlos Pardo, a senior advisor at NUMO. Electric vehicles tick the intuitive box by expanding the area that tourists can visit easily, independently and flexibly, without being too exhausting. Now, they’re becoming accessible too.

Carlos is based in Bogota, Colombia, where South America’s leading bicycle-sharing system, Tembici, recently debuted. In a city that hosts a weekly Sunday Ciclovia, when many streets are closed to encourage active exploration by bike or foot, the scheme is likely to be well received.

Tembici will soon introduce e-bikes as part of its 3,500-fleet in Bogota. “It will be fantastic for travellers to rent per day, as happens in many cities around the world,” says Carlos.

E-sleds and e-safaris will offer intimate, low-impact nature experiences

Beyond e-bikes, destinations are seeking new ways to leverage EVs. Noise pollution and carbon emissions are both key factors in the push for electric transport options. By using carbon-neutral, near-silent transport, visitors can enjoy an enhanced experience while reducing disturbances and environmental concerns for local communities and wildlife.

For example, in Finnish Lapland electric snowmobiles, or e-sleds, offer a quiet, clean and sustainable way to encounter snowy landscapes and resident reindeer without the need for huskies or carbon-spewing motor sleds.

EVs are gradually making their way into the safari industry for similar reasons - countries want to welcome tourists without damaging their delicate ecosystems or disturbing the wildlife. Although the trend is nascent, lodges like Lewa Wilderness in Kenya and Cheetah Plains in South Africa are driving the change.

Cheetah Plains
Electric vehicles make easier to to encounter wildlife without disturbing the animals.Cheetah Plains

At Cheetah Plains, safari tours are conducted in Toyota EV Land Cruisers powered by Telsa batteries that are recharged via their private solar plant. The benefits are many.

“[Electric vehicles] leave less CO2 emissions, have no risk of diesel spill leaks at the lodges, and eliminate the high cost of getting gas to the lodges, including the impact on roads and infrastructure from diesel distribution traversing remote areas,” says Peter Dros, head of sales and marketing at Cheetah Plains.

As well as supporting low-impact travel, EVs improve the experience for safari goers.

“[Electric vehicles] make it far easier to edge small distances for photographers to avoid a blade of grass or leaf without impacting the animals,” says Peter. “Also, guests can better hear animal calls, which often indicate predators in the vicinity.”

In Tanzania, the company E-Motion has an ambitious plan to pave the way for more sustainable tourism. Retrofitting safari vehicles and buses with electric engines, rolling out charging points between Arusha and Serengeti National Parks, and introducing e-moto bikes to the country are their main initiatives. They hope that they'll have improved charging point technology by July 2023 to ensure EV batteries can be fully replenished within 30 minutes.

EV rentals will become more common in 2023

EVs face a few key challenges in the holiday market: the availability of charging stations, high costs, driving range, and availability of rental vehicles. In 2023, vehicle costs are expected to fall, range-per-charge will increase, and many countries will invest in more charging points.

Demand for EVs is huge, outstripping the speed at which manufacturers can deliver new cars and creating wait times over a year for buyers in the wake of COVID and the war in Ukraine. However, EVs are becoming easier to find for travel car hire where demand is high, despite broader market constraints.

Rental giant Hertz has been working with manufacturers to expand its EV fleet since 2019.

“In the context of our European fleet, our proportion of electric vehicles vs ICE [standard engine] vehicles will overtake the broader market and, depending on supply, could reach 5 percent of our total fleet by the end of 2022,” says Alan Melady, head of strategy at Hertz Europe.

The rental company concentrates its EV fleet in countries where demand is highest and the charging infrastructure is there to support it. Europe is a leader, thanks to the EU’s goal to phase out the sale of new combustion engine cars and vans by 2035. Hertz’s European EV fleet is spread across 80 cities, concentrated in countries including the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany and Italy.

To remove the need for multiple charging station apps, Hertz provides renters with a Shell Recharge key fob, which allows quick and simple access to 300,000 charge points across Europe.

Meanwhile, in compact and ecologically delicate destinations like Bermuda, electric vehicles are the only rental option available to tourists. This helps the island reduce pollution and limit the environmental impact of visitors.

Despite lingering anxiety about electric vehicle charger availability, e-car rentals will become a more realistic option for travellers next year - particularly across Europe and the US.

The electrified escapes trend is explored in more detail in Expedia and Euronews Travel's Trend Report.