Tourism is a tremendously beneficial thing for so many people, generating exponential numbers of jobs and a large proportion of the worlds GDP. But the harmful implications of tourism can have massive consequences on culture, destination longevity and the environment.
To paint a picture of the numbers destinations are catering to, in 2017, destinations worldwide welcomed 1,323 million international tourist arrivals, an 85-million-person increase from 2016. In 2011 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had estimated that 4.8 million tonnes of worldwide solid waste were generated from international tourists. The incredible increase in numbers means an incredible increase in waste, and that’s not all. Not only has the environment suffered, but cultures and residents. The commercialisation of cultures and creation of tourism hubs has manifested in congestion in once peaceful residential areas and has created outrage and resentment towards tourists by the locals, whilst also contributing to the deterioration of once unique and fruitful culture and heritage.
What is sustainable tourism?
‘Sustainable tourism is the effort to minimise harmful impacts on the environment and local culture so that it is available for future generations’.
From a tourist’s perspective, what are some of the things we can act on to minimise our negative impact and live for today, but let others enjoy their tomorrow?
Step 1. Research
Research your destination, tour guides, travel agents and accommodation to ensure they are doing what they can to minimise their negative impact on the environment. Check if they are supporting the local community, by sourcing local products and staff and supporting associated charities or projects.
In depth research is a must! It is important, when researching, to consider the issues of green washing and false promises. If you aren’t aware, green washing is when companies make misleading statements about their environmental practices to make them seem more environmentally friendly. DON’T BUY INTO IT! Make sure that the companies can give real life examples of how they have modified their business to be more beneficial and sustainable and query whether this out-weighs the negative implications.
Step 2. Take the road less travelled
Mass tourism is a large problem in today’s world. Residents are beginning to resent tourists as they flock to their home towns, leaving behind rubbish, pollution, congestion and the commercialisation of culture. Although it is impossible to avoid some of the astounding wonders of the world and the many people who come to view them, reconsider where it is you are travelling. There are plenty of undiscovered wonders that might not be on the top 10 list created by some die hard blogger but will give you the same amount of satisfaction and adventure your traveller’s heart desires. In the words of Robert Frost ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference’.
Step 3. Packing
Re-useable bottled toiletries are a must. Using travel sized bottles on more than one adventure is a great way to minimise your waste and recycle your plastic. Eco-friendly toiletries or bio-degradable bottles are now in abundance in stores and are easily accessible and perfect for travel. Re-useable tote bags for shopping, souvenirs etc. and refillable water bottles are great on any conscious trip. Just make sure the water is safe to drink if you are refilling at a tap! Other great items to pack include handkerchiefs and rechargeable batteries.
Step 4. Purchasing abroad
Read labels and buy local! Just because you buy a souvenir in a location, doesn’t mean it was made there. Support the local community and ensure it is made where it is bought. Another thing to be mindful of, is the buying of souvenirs such as objects wrongfully taken from the environment i.e. shells, or illegal practices i.e. endangered animal products.
One area that people forget to consider is where their food is coming from. Ask the restaurants or grocery markets you visit if their food is locally sourced. Local food stalls and markets are a great way to source local produce and enhance cultural and over all experience as a traveller.
Sustainability is a popular topic of conversation within the tourism industry and it is important to action initiatives to allow the environment and worldly cultures to thrive and reap the benefiting aspects tourism has to offer whilst allow generation after generation to enjoy what this beautiful planet has produced.
If nothing else, take this with you on your next journey: ‘I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.’ – Edward Everett Hale.