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JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - While on honeymoon in Indonesia, Australian newlyweds Richard and Clair Webb decided to go somewhere truly exotic: not a luxury resort on an idyllic beach, but an eco-friendly lodge surrounded by wild orangutans.
The couple found the remote Rimba Orangutan Eco Lodge, bordering Tanjung Puting National Park in south Kalimantan and a refuge of the endangered orangutan, one of four such places in Indonesia that try to educate guests about the environment and wildlife conservation.
"Watching these animals that are so rare, it was a really beautiful experience. It was the highlight of our honeymoon," Clair Webb told Reuters by telephone from her home in Canberra.
"I'm a bit conscious of my environmental impact. It was good to be able to stay at a place that was eco and animal friendly."
Using rainwater and compost systems, the small hotel sponsors conservation projects and enlists local guides to take visitors for encounters with orangutans in the wild.
Alan Wilson, co-owner of the lodge, said the wow factor of seeing wildlife is the drawcard for guests at her establishment and three others in Bali, Komodo National Park and Sumatra also run by Eco Lodges Indonesia, a small company with local as well as international shareholders including environmentalists.
"I think the word "eco" is used far too flippantly," said Wilson, a former veterinarian.
Profits of the four establishments are used to protect the parks they border, and fend off illegal logging, poaching or harmful agricultural practices.
Indonesia has been criticized for rampant deforestation for palm oil, timber and other development, leading to rising greenhouse gas emissions and loss of habitat for wildlife.
But eco-tourism is becoming a buzzword in Indonesia, with many hotels and tour operators touting their sustainable bent in a bid to attract a share of a growing global market.
The government is trying to boost tourism, and just extended the length of tourist visas to allow two-month stays. It hopes for seven million tourists this year, still well below the level seen by nearby Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Raka Dalem of Udayana University, Bali, said the number of hotels and tourism operators in Indonesia obtaining eco-certification is still negligible, with multinational hotel chains making up the majority of members.
But with so many resorts globally now claiming to be eco-friendly, consumers and travel agents are putting the pressure on tour operators to prove their green credentials.
Travel websites such as U.S.-based Expedia.com now list operators' level of eco-certification to give consumers more confidence in the sustainable practices they employ and to avoid "green wash."
A coalition of international organizations, many U.N.-backed, will merge this year to create the Tourism Sustainability Council, a project to promote a universal minimum standard of sustainable tourism criteria.
Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Miral Fahmy