The concept of sustainable tourism has become increasingly common in the travel industry over the past few years. It seems you can’t flip through an article of Travel + Leisure without finding a spread on a sustainable tour company or a new eco-hotel. And that should be a good thing right?
It’s no doubt that our planet is in pretty dire straights. Climate change, endangered and exploited animals and inequality across the world, just to name a few: now more than ever we need to prioritize sustainable tourism!
But just because the phrase has become trendier in the travel industry doesn’t mean we’re making real progress on the issue. Are brands and consumers taking these ideas from mere words and putting them into action? And if not, how can we, as collective travel-lovers, actually make a meaningful difference to ensure that future generations can enjoy this beautiful world as much as we do? It’s crucial now, more than ever, to ask ourselves these questions and examine our travel habits and their impact on the world.
That’s why we’ve partnered with the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) on their Tourism for Tomorrow campaign to continue the conversation on how we can ensure a healthy and prosperous planet we can continue to travel.
Why Sustainable Tourism Matters
Although it may not seem like a negative activity, tourism does have a huge impact on the planet. Every year, humans take a total of 32 million flights, producing 781 million tons of carbon! Then, when we actually get to our destinations, travelers use double the amount of water we do at home.
In the vacation mindset we tend to indulge by overusing resources. Whether it’s that extra long bath in your hotel room or going back for seconds (or thirds) at the buffet. We love the feeling of treating ourselves when we travel. Unfortunately that often means we’re using much more natural resources than we normally would.
Since most people only travel once or twice a year, it seems okay to pamper ourselves. The only problem is that we’re not just one person. Collectively across the globe, 1.2 billion people traveled in 2015. That’s 1.2 billion people leaving a carbon footprint with planes, cruises and other types of travel.
Travel Impact on Local Communities and Animals
And it’s not just the environment we need to worry about. Travel has massive impacts on fragile communities all over the world. Local populations can really feel the impact of “un-responsible tourism.” Native communities can be exploited and made to feel like a human zoo with tourists flashing cameras in their faces.
Then there are animal populations. You’ve probably heard by now how abusive elephant riding attractions are, but many types of animals suffer a similar fate in exploitative tourist attractions. With all these negative impacts that travel has on the environment, local communities and animal populations, it can be pretty discouraging. It’s almost enough to make us shut the curtains and just stay home.
But travel has a lot of positive impacts as well. It allows us to connect with people of all walks of life, to understand and respect each other as human beings. It gives us a greater sense of what’s happening in the world and connects us so we can work together to solve global issues. That’s why it’s so important that ensure that we can continue to travel in the future.
“Responsible travel shouldn’t be reserved for tree hugging hippie travelers or science nerds obsessed with saving the endangered Bumblebee Bat.”
Why is Sustainable Tourism Our Responsibility?
You may be thinking, why do I have to take on this monumental burden? I’m just one insignificant person out of 1.2 billion that travels. That may be true, but it’s all the more reason to take it upon ourselves to have a positive impact when we travel. Collectively we have the choice to change our travel habits to make sure that this planet and all of its inhabitants are around for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to visit.
And when I say all, I mean ALL. Responsible travel shouldn’t be reserved for tree hugging hippie travelers or science nerds obsessed with saving the endangered Bumblebee Bat. And it should definitely not be reserved for the uber rich who can afford to always eat organic and stay in eco-luxury resorts.
Responsible and sustainable travel needs to include all types of travel and budgets. So we can continue traveling, not just for our future generations, but for ourselves as well. Even in our own lifetime we may not have access to the same places as we do now. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, for example, has suffered from irreparable damage to delicate coral colonies by snorkelers and divers. These fragile destinations may not be accessible in the near future, let alone the future of our children.
What We Can Do
Before we get too discouraged by the frustrations of tourism around the world, it is important to note that we’re not powerless in this fight. In fact, travelers have a lot of influence on the places they visit. By 2030 the number of travelers will rise to 2 billion and they will collectively spend $2 trillion on the tourism industry. Ever heard the phrase “vote with your dollar?” Well $2 trillion gives us a whole lot of voting power!
As consumers we have the choice to support sustainable travel. Whether that’s taking more sustainable modes of transportation like ride-sharing, or choosing responsible tour companies that respect the local populations instead of exploiting them. Here are some more simple steps we can take to make sure our travels are as responsible as possible.
Sustainable Tourism Tips
- Research which destinations are working to be more sustainable. Check out the winners of the annual World Responsible Tourism Awards to get ideas for where you should plan your next vacation.
- Seek out eco-hotels that minimize water usage and limit pollution.
- Do your research ahead of time to ensure the activities you choose to do are environmentally friendly and respectful of local populations. It may be disappointing to tell your children that they can’t swim with dolphins at the marine park, but it’s a perfect opportunity to educate them on the importance of animal-friendly tourism.
- Eat local food whenever possible. It usually tastes better anyway!
- Ask questions. Even if you learn that a tour is unsustainable, the company will begin in to get the hint that sustainability is important to their customers.
Benefits of Sustainable Tourism
It may seem like a hassle to do extra research and forgo unsustainable activities, but responsible tourism often opens doors to new destinations and attractions you wouldn’t have thought to visit before. Sustainable tourism is a growing sector and there are really exciting new travel opportunities developing, including cultural exchanges and ethical volunteer opportunities. Most importantly, you’ll leave your trip feeling good about the positive impact you’ve had on the world and knowing that you’ve protected these destinations for future travelers.
For more information about Tourism for Tomorrow please watch WTTC’s video on sustainable travel. We’d love to hear what you think about sustainable tourism and how we can all travel while protecting our planet.