For the last couple years of my life I’ve spent more time on the road than I have at home. Travel to me has become the ultimate teacher. I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot about the world – a world that really doesn’t seem that big anymore – but with this accessibility comes responsibility.
So what is sustainable tourism?
The simple answer: A way of travelling to and exploring a destination while respecting its culture, environment, and people.
I’ll be the first to admit that when I started travelling, the impact my ‘trip’ had on my destination wasn’t something I really thought about. It wasn’t even something I thought I should be thinking about (there’s a sentence). But the more I travel, the more I’ve come to understand just how serious and lasting our choices as tourists and travellers are.
In 2018 the UN’s World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) reported international tourist arrivals hit 1.4 billion. That is 1.4 billion people on the planet travelled by some means of transportation to a destination where they spent foreign currency, enjoyed local (or not so local) experiences, stayed in a resort, rented a car, indulged in heightened luxury, over ate, over slept, escaped “real life” for a period of time.
This article isn’t about shaming that experience – I mean, I love getting black-out on a beach while attempting to reach a shade of mahogany never before seen by mankind (kidding Mum, I wear SPF50…ish)
This is about responsibly seeking that experience in a way that minimizes negative impact on the environment and that maximizes the social and economic benefits for the local community. In other words, getting black-out on locally purchased tequila whilst sunbaking on a beach accessible to travellers and locals alike.
But aside from tequila choice, there’s a large list of things we can do as travelers to help protect travel as we know it.
Here are some of the biggest (not to mention easiest) ones:
Skip the Plane, Take the Train: When possible (say during your European summer) look into training between countries as opposed to cashing in on the old €14 Ryanair special. When it comes to air emissions from planes, cruising requires much less fuel than taking off and landing, so the longer the flight the more efficient it becomes.
I know what you’re probably thinking – “Lor, you’re on planes all the time”. True, and I will write a separate blog post on this discussing carbon offsets and efforts that can be made to help balance out time in the sky.
If you have the option to bike or walk instead of Uber-ing around your destination, thats an obvious one as well.
Research Your Accommodation: There are an increasing number of resorts making sustainable efforts which largely centre around their active role in the local community and eco-friendly practices i.e.
- Buying locally (farm-to-table is a big one for resort restaurants)
- Employing locally
- Providing equal and fair work opportunities
- Providing education to both guests and employees on local conservation projects
- Using renewable energy sources like solar or wind
- Linen reuse programs
- Drought resistant local plants for landscaping
- Energy efficient lighting
(to name a few)
So check to see if the resort/hotel (locally owned hostels are always a good option as well) is participating in the above.
If they’re not ticking any of the above boxes, reconsider your booking. Even if you the cost goes up, isn’t it more important that your grandkids be able to experience the same trip one day?
Act Like A Local: This is a big one for me. Respecting the local community is everything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched some ignorant tourist make a scene over a minor inconvenience, or because of a sense of entitlement. Like, “I’m sorry Bret but YOUR AIRMILES DON’T WORK HERE.” Pull your head in, open your eyes and respect the people and culture around you by becoming a part of it. You’re missing out on a big part of the experience if you don’t.
Eat Like A Local: This is the best part of travelling if you ask me. You can eat all the hamburgers you like at home, so branch out and get involved in the local cuisine. Shop the local markets (make sure they’re actually local though) and seek out farm to table options.
Mind The Plastics: This one is SO easy, guys! The amount of plastic water bottles one encounters between the airport and resort alone is obnoxious. Just bring your own and fill it up with filtered water from the resort. If you’re out exploring ask for a top up from a restaurant. It’s really not hard.
Buy Locally: When it comes to souvenirs, clothing, food (as mentioned above) etc. avoid the tourist crap and large conglomerates and look for local vendors selling locally made/grown goods. They’re going to be better quality most of the time as well.
Research Your Tour Operator: A big part of travelling is touring your destination – diving tours, wild life tours, city tours etc. Check to see the company you choose is environmentally responsible and if possible choose a locally owned and operated company that employs it’s own local people. Most importantly here NEVER take part in tours that participate in animal cruelty i.e. Don’t ride the elephants!!
As I said, there are so many sustainable choices we can make as travellers, and the above names just a few. I know it can seem overwhelming and maybe you think, I am just one person and there is no way I can do all of these things all the time.
The important message here is that it’s ok if you can’t do ALL of them, but you can do SOME. We need to make an effort; we need to make a change and we need to make better choices.
Something I heard once that has stuck with me is that, “not everything depends on tourism, but tourism depends on almost everything.”
Tourism depends on us.