According to a study by Booking.com, 87 % of travelers state that they would like to travel sustainably. But, can tourism really be sustainable? Are your concerns about the environment compatible with your wanderlust?
The answer is yes. But we do have to travel differently in order to address these concerns. So how can you limit your carbon footprint when you are travelling?
Trying to travel while being conscious about our impact on the environment starts with proper planning, so take the time to choose the right destination.
You might remember the movie “The Beach”, starring Leonardo Di Caprio. After the movie was released in 2000, millions of tourists flocked to Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh Island in Thailand. In recent years, more than 5000 tourists would crowd on the island in a single day! The resultant litter and pollution has reportedly damaged more than 80% of the coral around Maya Bay.
Eventually, the Thai government had no choice but to close the beach down until the environment recovers, which could take years. The same problem arose in many other places, where tourism has been rising too much and too rapidly.
The problem is that even if you are a conscious traveler, some destinations have simply reached their limits. Thoroughly research each destination on your wishlist and intentionally avoid those suffering from overtourism. Focus on countries or cities which are betting on sustainable tourism to attract visitors. Namibia and Ecuador are both great examples of destinations that advocate conservation as a basic principle of ecotourism.
Transportation accounts for a lot of the carbon emissions from your trip. Ideally, you would choose a carbon neutral mode of transportation such as walking or cycling. If you have to settle for a less green option, consider trains, which are one of the cleanest modes of public transportation. If you are driving, try to share the ride to limit your impact. And if you must fly, then there are a few things to take into consideration.
First: the lighter the plane, the less fuel it uses, so pack light!
Secondly, the worst thing about flying are take-offs and landings. Whenever you can, look for direct flights and avoid stopovers. You might also want to consider avoiding first class, because all that extra space is really just wasted space.
Still feel guilty about flying? Before cancelling your plans, you might want to research offsetting your CO2 emissions. Some organizations (such as WWF UK’s carbon footprint calculator) will help you calculate the carbon emissions from your flight. Once you know the monetary value of those flights, you can donate to an organization working on reducing carbon emissions to compensate for the impact of your trip.
Next on your list: choosing where to sleep.
Several countries have some sort of certification procedure to let tourists know if specific companies have high standards for environmental protection. For example, if you decide to visit Costa Rica, you can check for the “Certificado para la Sostenibilidad Turística” i.e. Certification for Sustainable Tourism Stamp. Similarly, hotels in the U.S. may have LEED Certification, which judges properties on parameters such as sustainable site development, materials used, design innovation and energy efficiency.
Once again, the way to make your trip greener is to do the research! Finally, once you get there, if you see something that could be improved, say something. The more clients speak up, the more hotels will realize how important those things are. If they don’t do it by conviction, at least they will do it to get more business!
Just because you are on holiday, it doesn’t mean that you should forget your good habits! So keep following the usual rules : recycle your trash, prefer showers to baths and turn off the lights when you leave a room. You should also think about packing a few extra things like reusable shopping bags and a water bottle to limit your use of disposable plastic.
Remember to also follow the local rules, which might be different. If you’re not sure, never hesitate to ask. If you need to move around, try to use public transportation, and if you need to drive, try to share the ride. Finally, when you shop, buy local!
All these recommendations are probably nothing new for you. The point is to be conscious of these habits, even when travelling. Have high standards, wherever you are!
Becoming a conscious traveller boils down to doing more research and looking for trustworthy businesses. But there is an inherent problem with that: should you take their word for it? Our advice is: remain sceptical of any claims.
Hotels, tour operators, airlines and cruises advertise how specific products or services are eco-friendly and benefit the local communities. Amidst tall claims of sustainability, it is quite hard for travelers to judge if an organisation is cashing in on consumer guilt, or is genuinely concerned about the planet.
To avoid falling for so-called “green initiatives,” ask your travel agent or hotelier lots of questions. Extensive research for a responsible trip may sound like a daunting task, but it’s a worthy price to pay for a guilt-free experience!
You might think that your own personal efforts are just a drop in the ocean, and you probably have a point. However, by joining the growing number of clients demanding efforts from their service providers, you could participate in influencing the entire travel industry.
If enough people stopped flying for very short trips, maybe some alternative offers would develop. If we all asked hotels to stop washing linens every day, maybe they would stop even offering. If most of us asked to eat local food, not only would we support local farmers and allow them to make a decent living, but importing food would become increasingly unnecessary.
In short, consumer demand can force the entire industry to undergo a paradigm shift, so keep asking for more! In fact, many believe it has already started, but the more we are involved, the bigger and faster the change.
Eventually, these “alternative ways of travelling” will simply become the norm.