With the surge in the number of international tourists over the past two decades or so, tourism might have boomed, promoting economic growth and personal fulfilment, it often came at the expense of the environment and local communities. As tourism surged, it came hand in hand with gentrification, crowded streets, pollution, and habitat loss.
Sustainable tourism is about achieving a balance between economic growth, human well-being, and environmental health. It focuses on reducing tourism’s negative impacts and on maximizing its positive benefits for communities, cultures, ecosystems, and the planet. Sustainable tourism accounts for both the immediate impacts felt today as well as those longer-term impacts that would be experienced by future generations.
As a traveller, we all can be part of the solution. As tourism recovers from the pandemic, we have an unprecedented opportunity to start things fresh and choose a more sustainable path forward. There would never be a better time to rethink past habits and reshape the way we travel.
It is one thing to understand what sustainable travel means, but it is another to actually put it into practice. We have rounded up our top seven tips for sustainable travel to help you be a more eco-friendly and socially conscious traveller.
- Off the beaten path
Many destinations were literally being loved to death prior to the pandemic as they became victims of their own popularity. Historic cities, beaches, and other tourist hotspots were being overrun by hordes of visitors, a phenomenon that is now known as “over-tourism.”
As a traveller, one can help prevent a resurgence of over-tourism by skipping such tourist traps and getting off the beaten path. It surely is tempting to go to the same bucket list destinations that everyone is visiting yet it can be even more rewarding to explore less traversed places. It allows travellers to have a more unique and authentic experience while avoiding crowds.
Use efficient modes of transportation
Approximately 8% of the world’s carbon emissions are caused by travel and tourism. The travel industry is a significant contributor to climate change thus making it one of the gravest threats to the future of tourism, people, and the world.
Air travel, driving, and other forms of transportation make up the largest part of tourism’s carbon footprint. Though all modes of transportation require energy, some are more efficient and cleaner than others. One must select his mode of transport wisely to make a difference.
Conserve water and energy
Tourism relies on energy for heating, lighting, and electricity apart from transportation. This, along with intensive use of water by tourists can put great strain on local water supplies and energy infrastructure. Tourists often consume significantly more water and energy than local residents. Many destinations struggle to keep up with the demand. As global temperatures rise and the population grows, this problem grows even further.
Thus while vacationing, one must try his best to conserve local water and energy resources – simple steps like turning off the lights, TV, and any other electronics when not in use, switching off the AC or setting the thermostat a few degrees higher while leaving the hotel, opting for a shower instead of a bath and keeping it as short as possible, hand washing own clothes and hanging up the “Do Not Disturb Sign” to prevent unnecessary laundering helps in conserving water and energy.
One can also reduce the environmental footprint by staying in a low-impact accommodation. This could either be a smaller, more basic accommodation or a higher-end property that utilizes renewable energy and water/energy efficient technologies.
- Offset carbon footprint – Carbon emissions remain unavoidable even when someone tries and conserves energy. Thus one can compensate for these inevitable greenhouse gas emissions through a process known as “carbon offsetting.” Carbon offsetting allows to balance out the carbon footprint of a trip, by reducing emissions somewhere else in the world. One can calculate the carbon footprint using an online carbon calculator, and then purchase offsets equivalent to the amount of CO2 produced. The money from the offset purchase will be invested in projects that reduce carbon and other greenhouse gases.
Carbon offset projects can also create benefits that go beyond emissions reductions, such as creating local jobs, improving sanitation, or conserving endangered species. When offsetting one’s footprint, one must be sure to go through a reputable provider to ensure that he is creating the greatest impact.
- Slow down and stay awhile – Though a packed itinerary may seem ideal on paper, it is actually very tiring rushing from one place to another. While many bucket list sights might be covered, one would miss out on actually getting to know the destination. Also, this fast-paced “hit and run” style of tourism is a surefire recipe for stress.
One must learn to slow down and devote more time to exploring the destination. Instead of taking multiple shorter trips each year, he can opt for just one long vacation. Slowing things down will allow one to really experience the place that he is visiting. He can take time to immerse himself in the culture, build deeper connections with local people, and get to know the destination’s unique charms.
Spending more time in a destination makes for more authentic, memorable, and meaningful travel experiences. Also, it reduces pressure on the cities and communities one visits while creating greater benefits for the local businesses he supports. Slow travel is also better for the environment since it reduces the amount of carbon emissions generated by flying or driving between destinations.
- Respect local communities – One of the incredible things about travel is that it offers a glimpse into other traditions, beliefs, and ways of life. One must learn to seize this opportunity to expand the horizons by embracing the differences and soaking up the local culture. Immersing oneself in other cultures by reading up on the local history, traditions, and etiquette before visiting, learning a few phrases in the local language, and being aware that certain gestures, clothing, or words are considered offensive in some destinations. Being mindful when visiting religious or spiritual sites – following such steps would bring one closer to the local community. It should always be remembered that the destination is someone else’s home. We, as travellers, must leave places like they were found so that future generations of travellers and residents can enjoy them too. A little bit of respect goes a long way – being considerate of local people and treating them with dignity.
- Avoid single-use plastics – In recent years, a growing number of consumers, companies, and governments started rejecting single-use plastics. But single-use plastics made a comeback as the pandemic led to an increased reliance on plastic gloves, takeout containers, packing bubbles, and grocery bags. With tourism recovering, many hotels and tour operators are reinstituting disposable plastics as an added hygiene precaution. But many countries lack sufficient waste management infrastructure to keep up with the amount of plastic trash that is produced by tourists and locals. As a result, plastics end up in overflowing landfills or dumped in the environment where they can remain for hundreds of years. With the increased reliance on plastics due to COVID, it is all the more important to cut down the consumption when one travels.
Carrying one’s own reusable water bottle on a trip or carrying a water bottle with a built-in purifier can go a long way in reducing the use of plastic. Refillable toiletry bottles are another eco-friendly item to add to your packing list.
Also by changing eating habits, when going to a restaurant, one can dine in rather than getting takeout which typically comes with plastic bags, containers, cups, and utensils. Some travellers also choose to bring their own reusable containers and utensils. It is always best to eat fresh, local foods or drinks instead of imported ones which tend to use more packaging. Even something as simple as asking the bartender to skip the straw can help trigger larger operational changes.
The best way one can influence the tourism industry is by seeking out businesses that are lessening their environmental impact and contributing to the well-being of local communities.
While many companies have embraced sustainable travel, there are still plenty of businesses that do not see the value yet. We must make them aware that sustainability matters the most.
It should also be kept in mind that just because a company markets itself as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ does not mean they necessarily are. Look for information about the specific practices and policies that they have implemented, and ask questions to show that you as a traveller are factoring sustainability into your purchase decisions – What energy and water conservation practices do they have in place, have they eliminated single-use plastics, how do they promote diversity and inclusion, do they hire local people for management roles, do they prioritize local suppliers and producers, do they promote responsible interactions with wildlife, and so on and so forth.
In conclusion, sustainable travel is not just a buzzword; it is a responsible approach to exploring the world that benefits both people and the planet. As travelers, we have the power to make a positive impact by adopting sustainable practices. By choosing off-the-beaten-path destinations, using efficient modes of transportation, conserving water and energy, offsetting our carbon footprint, slowing down and staying longer in one place, respecting local communities, and avoiding single-use plastics, we can contribute to the well-being of local communities and protect the environment. It is essential to support businesses that prioritize sustainability and hold them accountable for their practices. By embracing sustainable travel, we can create a future where tourism thrives without compromising the world we love to explore. Let us be mindful travelers and leave a positive footprint wherever we go.
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