Tourism industry is flourishing now more than ever. With industries and brands expanding worldwide, and the aviation industry making it possible for us to travel around the world in the blink of an eye, the world almost seems to fit into our palms. Thanks to the increased buying powers and falling travel costs, vacationing has become something that everyone likes to indulge in. Sometimes, it is not just the need for a break from our mundane lives that takes us to places. Nowadays even business meetings involve travel. After all, we all just need a reason to get packing.
Tourism has come to be seen as an significant economic contributor that several countries rely on for revenues. It is the world’s biggest employer, providing jobs for one out of 11 workers. However, the increase in demand for tourism has also has caused it share of problems such as social dislocation, loss of cultural heritage, economic dependence and ecological degradation. Often tourists tend to forget that the right to travel comes with a degree of responsibility. Those who have already had this awakening are now promoting a concept called ‘sustainable tourism’.
‘Tourism that respects the locals, travellers, the cultural heritage and environment’ is sustainable tourism. Of course, this would be a whole lot more feasible if the government took steps to enrich local community and protecting their ecosystem while promoing tourism. Unfortunately, there are very few governments that have made this effort. However, when you are planning your next vacation, remember that it is futile to wait for the world to change and plan your holiday accordingly.
Ecotourism Vs Sustainable Toursim
Ecotourism simply means responsible travel that conserves the environment, preserves the well-being of the local people and also gives ground for learning and education. On the other hand, sustainable tourism is tourism development with a balance between environment, economic and socio-cultural aspects. You could say that ecotourism is a part of sustainable tourism.
To sum up the difference between the two; sustainable tourism does not end with geothermal-powered hotels, conservation efforts, and companies concerned with their carbon footprints. It is rather much more than the need to be ‘eco-friendly’, but to be responsible to the local people and the community.
The choice we make while traveling and the steps we take to ensure the need to be responsible not only to our bank balances but to the local surroundings of the area is essential.
Why should we care?
We need a world, a healthy world at that, for us and the generations to follow. There’s sustainable and unsustainable tourism. The former is when everyone involved is benefited while the latter is when only the traveller is, leaving the host community with no gains.
The tourism industry is booming and there seems to be no stopping it. If we need a destination to go to tomorrow, we need to be more responsible today. Remember that your actions would destroy the place you love so much. The need to preserve the local community not only benefits the community but also gives the tourists an authentic local experience.
How to achieve sustainable tourism
It is not as tough as it sounds. It mostly only requires you to make more conscious decisions while planning your travel, and holding yourself accountable while you are at your destination. To be sustainable, you need to always remember that your actions have consequences for the environment. Fear not. Sustainable tourism won’t suck the fun out of your holiday. In fact, it will only enrich your experience. Here are a couple of tips to consider to contribute to be more sustainable:
1. Big chain hotels vs local rentals
Luxury hotels are without a doubt the must-have for the lavish holiday we need. Since it is important for you to be pampered, make it a point to check up on the hotels and their ways of functioning. Most high end hotels don’t take necessary measures to be more sustainably committed. However, there are many eco-friendly hotels coming up and its always easy to find their practices on their websites.
Places that are hosted on Airbnb and other home stays are always a great option to check out. Also, many of them provide the in-house pampering you crave for, while making environmentally sound choices. These stay options will also help you get a local experience. Many provide you with the best options (read: low-key, underrated, authentic experiences) to check out rather than just the popular spots. Uou will get to know the local residents, meet new neighbours and experience the authentic life of the place.
2. New people, new relationships
When we travel to a new place we meet new people. When we make an effort to learn about the local culture and their way of life we build a relationship with them. Its always good to take a look at the place from a local point of view. Guides may help, but the real stories come from the people themselves. Some may shy away, but you would surprised with the number of people who would love to tell their stories and show you around. With great pride and happiness they will give you a whole new meaning to your holiday. Who knows, these relationships maybe the ones you cherish for a lifetime.
3. Getting involved in the local communities
While planning your trip and jotting down the sites to see, the things to do, its always good to check out the local community. Every place will have volunteering programs that you could join. This would be a great way to gather knowledge, but also share what you have to give. In many areas local schools have volunteering programs or you could help with the community events.
This could help burst the little bubble we live in back home. We learn more than what we’ve been told. We see that a place is more than its stereotypes and hot spots. There are different causes to get involved in while travelling that would encourage many others to follow. By involving ourselves in the community its not only helps them, but also gives us a new perspective.
4. Eat and shop local
Local cuisines are an attraction. It is always best to eat at a restaurant that sources locally rather than the popular tourist hotel. You will be able to enjoy the authentic flavours of the place. There will be farmers markets, street food stands, and cafes that will give you the best experience. Eating from places that source food locally will help local business survive. Its a great road to take to eat green and go green.
Shopping is a part of everyone’s travel. Rather than the malls and the markets that are geared to tourists, theres always an option to find local flea markets and local vendors. This will give you legitimate products and make your spending worthwhile.
5. Eco-friendly commute
Taxis are always a lazy option for us. Its an easy way through the unfamiliar city. But what’s a holiday with no adventure? The local trains, the buses, cycles and even walking are great ways to experience the place. Not only are we helping save fuel and emissions of poisonous gases, we are experiencing the place in a slow pace. Walk through a big city- we see the big buildings, the hustle and bustle, the rush to work, the happy faces after work, the musician on the street, the sunset, the tiny cafe that would have been invisible if you had to drive by. We may find a new story if we just go out to walk.
6. Pack light
We often tend to pack a large suitcase for a short stay. After all, we need to bring out the best dresses, shoes, accessories and the list can be endless. However, packing light is always better for you and the environment. Firstly, you wouldn’t have the burden of lugging around your heavy suitcase. Secondly, heavy luggage is stressful to the environment as well, as it requires more fuel to be pushed around. Carry items that can be easily washed, suitable for your trip and you are good to go. And of course, this is a great excise for you to shop more, guilt free.
7. The right excursion companies
Just like checking in on the hotel’s sustainable practices, it is necessary to look through the practices of the excursion companies. These companies are often cost a good amount, but don’t always provide the full experience. It is your right (and duty) to be aware of the services they provide. The beaches, the wildlife and the beautiful landscapes that they take us to should be maintained, so do not be afraid to ask about their eco-friendly practices.
8. Making conscious choices
We need to appreciate the natural resources and the landscapes of the places we visit. Being apart of the world leaves you with the responsibility to care for a place like your own. Avoid plastic as much as possible or take measures to ensure that they are recyclable. Don’t litter your room or your surroundings. It might mean that sometimes you have to carry around an empty bottle for a while, but ensure that your garbage is dumped in its appropriate place. Take along environmentally friendly products- sun creams, soaps deodorants. The initiate to go green is necessary to save our mother nature.
From Alaska to see the American bear, to Azores to witness the whales and dolphins, the great barrier reefs, the beautiful temple of Angkor Wat of Cambodia, or even to Kenya’s Maasai Mara, there are so many places to see and experiences to have. The world has so much to offer and it would be a shame if it all got destroyed because we couldn’t care less. These places need to be there for many more people to visit, so that they can recognize the wonders of the world and experience different cultures and communities. As the people of today we need to make it our duty to be responsible, to care for others and to save each others communities for centuries to come.