As so many parts of the world become increasingly accessible, the importance of sustainable tourism has justifiably been elevated in the mindset of responsible global nomads. The goal of finding ways to visit a place in a method that not only respects local cultures and environments but also actively helps in protecting its unique qualities is taking centre stage now more than ever before.
In fact, sustainable tourism has become such an important priority that the United Nations has designated the year 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
According to the United Nations World Trade Organization, sustainable tourism has three focal guiding principles which we should all be mindful of. These include encouraging the active and consistent use of environmentally friendly practices, protecting natural and cultural heritage sites and, last but certainly not least, supporting local communities by employing local staff, purchasing local produce and engaging in charity work for local causes.
These are exemplary guiding lights which are important to everyone involved in the tourism industry, from hotels and tour operators, to airlines and cruise operators, and most crucially, the fuel which connects all of us – The responsible tourist.
Maintaining Environmentally Friendly Practices Everyday
It is easy to want to be more eco-friendly, but certainly difficult to put the intention into action, especially when travelling in locations with limited access to necessary basics like clean air and water, or which faces fundamental infrastructural challenges.
A good start would be to pay more attention to preventable pollution caused by everyday wastage, an issue that is crucial to the maintenance and growth of most developing countries.
Simple initiatives like the mindful consideration of changing the ways of travel, including how to arrive at a destination to planning the essential list of items to pack may sound like baby steps, but carrying less logically means using less fuel, whether travelling on the road, through the water or in the air.
The usage of reusable bags or containers also significantly contributes to the reduction of the demand for flimsy plastic bags and ultimately leads to the decrease of eyesore litter on streets, in parks, on beaches and in lakes. When available, support the use of plant and animal fibers of the indigenous people, where hand woven textiles are usually beautifully decorative, practical and that are certainly also long-lasting.
The part of a handful of mindful and responsible tourists may pale in comparison to the positive impact that titans of hotels and industries can make, but with studies estimating that by the year 2020, more than 1.5 billion people will be travelling annually, it’s not complicated to understand that each one of us needs to consider the impact of our personal contributions that could sustain the natural and cultural gifts of our planet so that future generations can enjoy the same life-changing adventures we have shared.
Protecting Natural and Cultural Heritage Sites
Whether you’re visiting the stunning Atlantic coast of Ireland, exploring historical imperial cities of Marrakesh, hiking in the vast wilderness of Alaska, or camel trekking among the sand dunes of the Sahara, the protection of cultural and natural heritage sites should undeniably be a universal responsibility we all share.
The core principles of World Heritage Sites include the fundamental belief that these sites rightfully belong to everyone and should be preserved for future generations to come. It can be a monumental task to maintain and protect these majestic locations, and the direction and co-operation between governments, site managers and visitors towards sustainable tourism practices is one of the most effective ways to ensure the safekeeping of our world’s natural and cultural heritage.
While tourism undeniably offers the advantages of providing funds through visitor fees, concessions and donations for restoration and protection efforts, the management of rapid tourist growth patterns means that visitor management is a balancing act which constantly needs to be monitored.
Supporting the Locals
One of the biggest criticisms of local travel is that a tourist can never truly “live like a local”, and this is true to a great effect. Tourists certainly aren’t affected by the same local issues, and do not fret about everyday worries which have been formed by specific upbringing and cultural differences.
It is therefore so important to note that local travelling is fundamentally not about emulating the ways that a local would live. Sustainable global travelling is truly about learning to appreciate and respect local cultures and making intimate connections with the country, ultimately finding personal ways to leave the country in a better state than your first encounter.
Buy Local. It is natural and certainly justifiable for travellers to want to bring something home that will remind them of their life changing trips, but unfortunately, most tourists gravitate towards buying cheap knickknacks from local tourist traps.
From India to Bangkok, and Turkey to California, the same cheap, mass-produced souvenirs and plastic trinkets inevitably keep turning up. To avoid an impulse purchase that will only be thrown away eventually, it is so important to develop the habit of insisting on seeking out and learning to identify unique, authentic and locally-produced goods, from handicrafts and textiles, to clothes and accessories.
A hand embroidered scarf from India, or a unique pashmina from Nepal will not only become highly cherished items in a growing travelling collection, they are also items which would most likely be accompanied by fond memories of the visit. Learning more about the dedication of fine craftsmanship which has been enhanced through knowledge collected over the generations, and appreciating the intense labour it takes to create something hand made will ultimately be a global traveller’s active way of helping to keep local traditions alive.
Eat Local. Choosing to dine in locally run family establishments or buying regionally grown produce from a farmer’s market is an easy and trusted way of making sure that your tourism dollars are going directly to the local people.
Wherever the next vacation may be, by changing our travel habits and being more mindful about how, where and why we travel, we can travel in good conscience, in the knowledge that we will be doing right by the local people, animals and environment.