In a world where our future becomes more precarious with each new climate report, more and more travellers are choosing travel businesses that support local environments, economies and communities in a sustainable way.
But what is sustainable – or eco – tourism, really? How can you be sure you’re choosing a business that has actual, impactful practices over one that has a clever marketing department?
Sustainable tourism is an attitude as well as a practice. While the term eco tourism tends to be applied specifically to natural surroundings, sustainable tourism is a blanket term that considers the impact on the environment as well as the people and animals who live in it. A sustainable traveller – or eco traveller – learns about and consequently helps to protect the environments that they visit. So it’s not only about picking up your rubbish after a picnic, for example; it also refers to how your travel choices impact the local communities. Here are some quick tips for being an eco-friendly traveller.
- Reduce your impact on the environment. Carry a glass water bottle instead of buying multiple plastic bottles, don’t leave the tap running when you brush your teeth, reuse your hotel towels and clean up your own rubbish as well as litter left by careless people (it’s a great idea to always carry a trash bag while on outings). Take a train instead of a plane if you can, and choose ‘green’ accommodation where possible – more on this later.
- Be mindful of animal welfare. Educate yourself on the ethics of animal interactions and the connection to abuse and exploitation. Companies know that stroking elephants or playing with lion cubs is big money and they will often spin feelgood tales around safe words like ‘sanctuary’ or ‘conservation’ to put you at ease. In reality, many of these animals endure unimaginable suffering as they are trained to be submissive for tourists. In the case of predators, cubs usually grow up to be sold to canned hunting farms. Even eating local wildlife delicacies often contributes to the destruction of species or their habitats.
- Support local businesses and communities. Buy food from local farm markets instead of supermarkets, eat at local eateries instead of global franchises and buy your souvenirs from local arts and craftspeople instead of at the airport. If you’re a bargain hunter, haggle happily at markets but be mindful of the livelihoods that your purchases support.
- Learn about the locals. When you’re travelling to a new country, research the people you’ll encounter and read up on their customs and culture. Learn how to say a few words in the local language and be mindful of social customs that might cause offence. Responsible travel includes making connections with the people you encounter so that you can help to foster an attitude of acceptance and understanding.
- Leave only footprints and take only photos. Leave things the way you find them. If you’re hiking or camping in the bush, stick to the trails as forcing your way through vegetation can damage fragile eco systems. Take your rubbish with you/dispose of it as instructed and use biodegradable toiletries. Recycle where possible, don’t remove fauna or flora and make sure you have either no impact at all or a positive one.
Being a sustainable traveller is something that you can control, but in a landscape of eco-friendly this and off grid that, how do you ensure that a travel business actually has responsible policies in place instead of merely appearing to be environmentally friendly? The answer is, ask. Do your homework, ask questions and then ask some more if you’re not getting the answers you want. Our consultants will do all the work for you by fully vetting each place on your itinerary. If you’re not happy with their efforts, we’ll find you something else. Here are some of the things to look out for when choosing a tour or accommodation.
- A recognised eco tourism accreditation within that country
- Community initiatives including education and entrepreneurship programmes as well as the creation of jobs for locals
- Contribution to or management of local conservation efforts
- Using natural resources for heating and electricity
- Sustainable food practices such as vegetable gardens or ingredients sourced from local communities
You know what they say – every bit helps. And we have never had more need of those ‘bits’ than we do today.
Ready to be an eco-warrrior? Grab your trash bag and head over to our itineraries page to see what tickles your fancy. Our consultants will work closely with you to find ethical, green accommodation and activities on whichever tour you’d like to book.