Tourism is making a comeback after the COVID-19 pandemic. As our life has gotten a shake-up we are experiencing significant changes around us. These changes affect the whole of the tourism industry and the way we travel.
This is a perfect time to ask ourselves, what should tourism look like in the future.
Most people’s behaviors change when they go traveling. This is an unfortunate fact. We might think we are on our well-deserved holiday, we can do anything, anywhere without much of a consequence.
This, however, is not true. Actually, we need to be more mindful of our surroundings than in our everyday life, especially when traveling internationally.
A common misconception of sustainable travel is that it is only concerned with the natural environment. We have all heard how we need to keep lowering our Co2 levels when we travel.
Yet, there is so much more we need to be conscious of when it comes to sustainable travel. Safeguarding nature is a crucial component when visiting destinations. But so are celebrating and respecting the people of the country we are visiting, their cultures, and livelihoods.
The travel industry is waking up to the realization that they need to do more to protect destinations for future generations to come. But for now, it is on the traveler to make the sustainable choices, signaling to the providers that there is demand for sustainable options.
Why Sustainable Travel?
Over the past three decades, the number of overseas tourists has grown immensely. While this growth has brought economic advancements and improved the livelihoods of many, it is also a burden on the environment and local communities.
The increased numbers of tourists come with pollution, crowded places, damage to the wildlife, and gentrification. The strains of tourism have already caused serious damage to some destinations.
For example, in Thailand, it was necessary to close off areas from tourists and implement a strict ocean and coral conservation program to save the ecosystem from destruction.
In some places, it is critical to implement measures to limit visitor numbers, such as in Venice, Italy, where cruise ships are also not allowed to dock up by the city anymore.
Measures are part of the solution but there is more to be done to conserve and protect natural, cultural, and historical treasures for the next generations.
This is exactly what the broader sense of sustainable travel means. To achieve a balance between economic gains, community well-being, visitor experience, and environmental health.
Some companies are no strangers to greenwashing though. They are trying to sell themselves as a sustainable brand, appealing to conscious travelers. Be aware of this mischief and vigorously examine their online profiles to make sure they are a real contributor to sustainable measures.
By taking one long trip instead of many short ones, will bring you an authentic experience. You will have the time to fully immerse yourself in the wonders of your destination and build meaningful connections with the culture and local people.
Instead of a packed itinerary, rushing from one place to another, settle in one area and take the time to get to know the charms of your destination.
By slowing down your trip, you reduce the pressure on yourself, the city and its infrastructure, and the communities you visit. This indirectly lowers your Co2 emissions too.
You can also choose a slower or alternative mode of transport to flying or driving. Explore your options for train and coach travel to get to your destination and you will have the freedom of admiring the scenery from the comfort of your seat.
Once you are there, consider opting for the local public transport system or hop on a bike. If it is not possible to get around your destination without a car, see if you can rent one locally and choose an electric, hybrid, or smaller model.
It is best to check in advance what transportation modes are available and which ones are the most sustainable from those. The availability of energy-efficient transport varies from destination to destination and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Flexibility is key to getting the experience you are after while consciously choosing to reduce your emissions footprint.
People and Culture
Supporting the people and communities you visit is important. The livelihoods of local people can depend on the tourist influxes. By choosing local over chains when it comes to accommodation, food shopping, or eating out, your support goes further.
Celebrate and support cultural authenticity and the positives of diversity, respect others’ traditions and heritage. You can achieve this by shopping for groceries at a local farmers market, having your dinner in small eateries, and buying your souvenirs from local suppliers.
When you book local tours make sure it is a native business using local guides. Venture out of your comfort zone and sign up for a workshop run by local experts to learn new skills. Finding local tours and tourist spots is made easier if you go this page.
Whenever you visit heritage, cultural, or religious sites, be open-minded, embrace the differences, and be ready to expand your horizons.
Remember that you are in someone else’s home in a foreign country where some gestures, way of clothing, or words might be offensive.
Prepare a little research on habits and unwritten rules. These usually include covering your head and/or shoulders, taking your shoes off, keeping your voice low, and not taking photos.
When you feel charitable, instead of giving money to beggars, look up the local charities and make a contribution to them. When making your choice for a charity, pay attention to their profile.
Give preference to the ones that focus their work around supporting people in need. Their support could be providing for developing skills, education, small business grants, or better access to health and social services.
National Parks and Protected Areas
Protecting native species of the local wildlife is a major aim in many countries. In national parks, wildlife and marine sanctuaries people work around the clock to safeguard their natural treasures and heritage.
Only go to the areas that welcome tourists and keep yourself to their rules and safety precautions.
You are supporting a good cause by visiting protected areas as the entrance fees and donations help fund any restoration and safeguarding activities.
When visiting natural beauty areas, make sure you are behaving responsibly. Pick up any litter, walk on designated routes to avoid degrading sensitive flowers and plants, don’t disturb the wildlife, and comply with visitor guidelines.
Photo Credit: Rolands Varsbergs
Photo Credit: Timo Stern