Let’s Talk Sustainable Tourism

The summer months always signal the arrival of peak tourism in many destinations around the world. From classic summer road trips to extensive backpacking to international jet setting, these are popular months for travelers. While traveling is meant to be enjoyable, there are times when that enjoyment comes at the expense of harming the environment or communities;examples include tourists disrespecting/disrupting cultural spots or landmarks, hotels cutting corners in regulations, and the carbon footprint that comes from flying.

According to the UN, there were 1.2 billion international travelers in 2015 and that number is expected to grow to 1.8 billion people by 2030. Thus, the idea of sustainable tourism/travel is integral to combating this issue. The UN designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, which is a great opportunity to spread more awareness about the principles of sustainable travel and why it’s pertinent to the future of tourism. The core goals for tourism, as listed on the official UN website, are :

(1)        Inclusive and sustainable economic growth

(2)        Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction

(3)        Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change

(4)        Cultural values, diversity and heritage

(5)        Mutual understanding, peace and security

The industry has been slow in implementing sustainable methods over the years but because of an increase in research and movements, like the UN’s or Sustainable Travel International, progress is being made. Airlines are moving towards more eco-friendly fuel sources like bio fuel, hotels are assisted in employing locals and exploring options like a solar generation system, etc.

spring summer 2014 843
my family and I with our guide who showed us around a local shantyton in Cape Town, SA. The disparity of wealth in the city was enormous and the visit was eye opening. All of the money he earns through his tours goes straight back into his community. 

spring summer 2014 832

spring summer 2014 445
Krugar National Park in SA. An important preserve for African Animals. 
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Hiking the Inca Trail with a hiking company that fosters education in local Peruvian communities as well as employs locals in the region. 

Of course, as a tourist, you can’t actually control what the industry ultimately does, but you can control what you do when traveling. Here are a few ways, partly gathered from the internet and partly from my travel experiences, to take part in mindful and sustainable tourism:

  • If you are in a walk-able or bike-able city and are capable of extensive walking/biking, take advantage of that. Plus, it’s good exercise and great way to get to know your destination.
  • Stay longer in fewer destinations, rather than hitting a bunch in a short period of time, and take trains if possible. You will cut back on your carbon footprint that comes from flying and constant transportation, and getting to know the area means an opportunity to support the locals by getting out of the touristy areas.
  • Buy from local vendors and eat at local places when you can. You will be supporting the community and gain more of an authentic experience. Being open-minded to new cultures and straying away from the beaten path, is key to meaningful travel.
  • Do not vandalize or fool around sites that are of cultural or environmental importance. Read up on where you’re going beforehand so you are aware.
  • Do extensive research on any place that claims to be an animal sanctuary before going. Many, such as elephant sanctuaries, do not provide adequate care for their animals and are in violation of basic animal rights laws.

Although I am here, preaching about sustainable tourism, I am also not blind to a very critical issue with the travel culture in general. Travel takes money and time that many Americans don’t have. It is a great privilege to be able to travel and it’s easy for some to say “stay at this ultra eco-friendly hotel run by solar power” or “use this sustainable tour company.” However, often times, these companies are pricey, luxury brands. So I will not be the type of person in the travel community who degrades others because they don’t travel or don’t aim for those expensive options. What I want is for people to make the best decisions possible while traveling, which means seeking out information about sustainability and safe travel. Use the privilege of travel wisely; make whatever difference you can. Happy Travels!

Here are some excellent sources for more information:

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/lists/sustainable-travel-tips/

http://www.tourism4development2017.org/

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