Sustainable tourism is a holistic approach to travel that works to lessen the impact that travelers have on the destinations they visit as it pertains to the environment, the culture and local resources. Sustainable tourists are conscientious travelers who have a strong desire to see the world and its people but are careful not to disrupt the places they visit.
At its heart, sustainable tourism aims to preserve destinations across the world so that future generations can enjoy these places as well. This includes preserving the location’s natural landmarks and historic architecture as well as the active culture of the people who live there. The latter often erodes as a destination gains popularity in the tourism trade.
Some compare the sustainable tourism ethic to the Hippocratic Oath: ‘Do no harm.’ This is an increasingly important tourist pledge these days as more than 800 million travelers set out for another country in 2007. This figure is expected to double by 2020. An army of tourists this size is in a position to have a massive impact (positive or otherwise) on travel destinations around the world.
Sustainable tourists don’t have a problem with international travel, but they’re careful where they go and how they act once there. International tourism accounts for one out of 10 jobs in the world, and the task of the sustainable tourist is to find ways to enjoy the destination and everything it has to offer without participating in programs that destroy habitat, displace indigenous people at risk or otherwise erode the destination’s staying power.
While tourism can never be 100 percent sustainable, there are some positive steps you as a traveler can take to help the destination you visit remain a viable place to visit for generations to come.
Here are a few tips for more sustainable travel:
- Conserve resources when you travel. This means more than just recycling. Research local businesses that are using renewable energy and minimizing pollution and waste, then give your business to them.
- Respect the boundaries in national forests and parks. By staying on the trail and keeping off fragile features, you’ll be part of the campaign to preserve the region’s natural beauty.
- Learn a few phrases in the local language. By doing your best to meet locals in the middle, you’ll encourage a healthier cultural exchange while demonstrating an interest in the indigenous culture.
- Do a little reading before you leave to learn about the local etiquette. Respecting the expectations in a foreign country strengthens the bonds between your respective cultures.
- Research businesses and foundations that are working to promote sustainable tourist practices in the place you’re planning to visit. These organizations can offer tips specific to the locale as well as put you in touch with the most sustainable companies onsite.
Here are a few links to sites with more information about sustainable tourism:
- National Geographic sustainable tourism project: www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/sustainable/about_geotourism.html
- Tour Operator Initiative for sustainable development: www.toinitiative.org
- This site lists 21 examples of sustainable tourism: www.uneptie.org/pc/tourism/library/local-agenda21.htm
- www.sustainabletourism.net is a comprehensive website on sustainable tourism.
- Advice on distinguishing sustainable tourism from the less-conscientious variety at: www.connectedtraveler.com/sustainable.html.