Sustainable tourism - it’s not a type of tourism (like cruise or camping), nor does it have specific destination features (like city, beach or ski). In actual fact, any type of tourism, from the very basic to the ultra-luxurious, can be more sustainable.
Because sustainable tourism is all about how an organisation makes its decisions on a triple bottom line basis, i.e. not just for maximum profit (the economic bottom line). Rather, the organisation considers on balance people (social) and planet (environmental) impacts too, whether design, construction, energy, water, waste, staff employment, procurement, partnerships etc.
But what’s in it for you?
A More Sustainable Life
You don’t need to be a tree hugger or ecowarrior to be conscious of sustainability. If you’re someone who already considers sustainability for your other lifestyle and purchase decisions, whether for your food, clothing, beauty, interiors, energy, transport options… perhaps already cutting out single use plastics, shopping locally, buying organic or growing your own vegetables… then you’ll probably be thinking about the sustainability of your travel and holidays too.
Getting your facts right first will help you make sustainable decisions.
The carbon footprint of tourism is around 8% of global emissions (Lenzen et. al, 2018): three quarters from transport, of which 40% (3.2% total) from aviation and 32% (2.5% total) from cars; 21% (1.7% total) from accommodation, and the rest from activities (UNWTO-UNEP-WMO, 2008).
NB. The majority (4.8/8%) of carbon impacts created in tourism are without flying, so staycations don’t mean no carbon emissions.
What’s in it for you? Peace of mind of low carbon: Travel organisations with better energy efficiency save money and the planet. Look for low carbon and alternative-energy accommodations, leg-power where you can, take public transport, and if you must fly choose less flights, more modern, efficient planes and economy over higher classes.
2. Travel with Purpose
For many countries, especially developing, tourism is a top earning export. Reaching into all corners of a country, it has the potential to spread the benefits, bring foreign exchange and investment. So key is the sector that when the Sustainable Development Goals were launched, the UN also named 2017 the ‘Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development’.
So as much as aviation does cause a (3.2%) impact currently, the bigger picture is that without tourist flight arrivals and income, global goals for communities, such as No Poverty, Good Health and Education, and conservation of our favourite species like elephants, rhino and lions for Life on Land, or Sea Turtles for Life Under Water could be seriously compromised in the many destinations around the world that rely on tourism.
Non-sustainable tourism does not support destinations. Historically, most tourism has been exploitative – using up, abusing and damaging destinations’ natural capital and cultural resources.
What’s in it for you? Feel good: Prioritise destinations’ and hosts’ needs. It’s so much more satisfying knowing your money is going to good cause rather than a fat cat’s bank!
3. Nothing to lose?
You can have an incredible time in an amazing place yet tourism need not be frivolous. What may be just a wonderful holiday on the surface, can be super sustainable behind the scenes and you wouldn’t necessarily even know it!
If you could choose an extraordinary experience trip for you, which benefits people, places and purpose, versus one which doesn’t, with everything else equal, which would you choose?
What’s in it for you? It’s great for you, and better for the destination – so why not?
4. Better Connection with Local People
What do you remember most about your trips?
You might have enjoyed the infinity pool you made sure your facilities search included, but usually it’s the people that really make your stay: the driver, the housekeeping, the waiting staff, the guide…
Sustainable tourism employs, integrates, supports, and champions local people. It pays fair wages and treats the local community with equality, fostering mutual respect. It assists local cultural preservation and social development, for example in heritage, health and education, nurturing great pride in their environment and dignity in their community.
What’s in it for you? Great staff & connection: Sustainable tourism creates a sustainable and supportive workforce: happy, healthy and helpful, who you appreciate, value, remember, positively review and even return for. They make your stay.
5. Better Places
Sustainable tourism isn’t just intangible, you can see it too.
Recent over-tourism worldwide shows a volume-based tourism industry isn’t sustainable. Responsible travel suppliers carefully manage visitor numbers, focusing on the quality of visits rather than a quantity of visitors purely for-profit approach.
What’s in it for you? Space to truly see, breathe and experience the sense of place: Vacations are more pleasurable and relaxed enjoyment!
6. Better Experience
Accommodations created with the local sense of place in mind don’t just contribute to local economy but integrate local culture, one of the main experience motivations for our trips.
They are more harmonious with the environment, so more relaxing. They choose local procurement and produce, supporting local industry and arts. Food is transported less, more fresh; natural, organic, colourful cuisine is provided, which is more tasty, and ‘instagrammable’.
Outside, they support conservation of local flora and fauna, and where applicable, marine life too. You may see endemic wildlife and biodiversity that you may not be able to experience elsewhere in the world.
What’s in it for you? Unique local quality: Ownership, management and supply chains bring local culture; local culture brings more care and connection with heritage and environment.
7. Better Value
Sustainable tourism makes business sense. Places don’t make decisions based only on maximum short-term gains but on long term sustainability for people, planet and profit. It sometimes takes a bit of investment upfront, but it lasts longer so it’s more cost effective in the long run, like replacing all lightbulbs to LED, all energy to solar or other alternatives.
This holistic focus translates to a better-quality product which can be lower cost. Better quality at lower cost means better value, plus, you receive all the bundle of benefits above which offer a unique and authentic experience. Often invaluable and priceless!
What’s in it for you? Better value. Your time is precious, make the best of it.
8. Better Travel in the Future
It might be stating the obvious to some but if you love travel, you love the world, which you would love to continue to experience. If we choose to make our travel choices sustainable, we can do that. If we don’t, we won’t be able to. It really is as simple as that.
Imagine the reverse of the 7 points above. Without considering sustainability, mass tourism will destroy the very destinations, nature and cultures we want to experience. Places will only cater to tourist demands, homogenise, lose wildlife and beautiful environments, people won’t then stay or return as places lose their cultural identity and differentiation, the reason we visit them in the first place. Staff will be unhappy, there will be a high turnover, which will impact the guests and the atmosphere, and destinations will become more difficult to manage. They will not be ‘better places to live in and visit’.
If you don’t know about the impact of your holidays, and you’re not curious to find out, you may well be contributing to this.
If travel organisations can’t tell you the impact of the holidays they are selling to you, they are likely contributing to this too, unintentionally or otherwise.
If we don’t care about and make a point of choosing more sustainable travel, we won’t have the positive experiences in these places to see, touch, smell, taste, meet, listen and interact with what’s ‘local’.
None of us would like that (would we?) so why would we continue to fund that?
YOU have the power to #bethechange by choosing better sustainability for better trips.