This post is going to be a bit different from my other once, but for good reason. I want to make people aware of how we as tourists have an impact on the places, communities and environments we visit and what we can do to protect, help and enhance them.
I recently watched an episode on Netflix of the documentary “Our Planet II” and it had a huge impact on me. It made me so sad seeing animals die because of us.
I was shocked by what I saw and it made me want to remind people that we as tourists have a responsibility when we travel abroad and that we need to behave, be aware off and remember certain things. Also, we can contribute to a better future, often without knowing it.
The effects of our actions can be seen and felt worldwide. And this does not just involve the environment, but also people.
Therefore, we as tourists need to take action when we go on holiday. There are certain ways we can contribute to sustainable tourism, but first we must understand what sustainable tourism actually is as so many people talk about sustainability, but most of the times misuse the term or only refer to the environment, which is only part of it.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?
Sustainability is about preserving the world for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.
It means that we should give future generations the opportunity to experience the world how we experience it right now.
This involves safeguarding cultural artefacts, keeping languages alive, protecting wildlife and the oceans, but also giving local communities the chance to prosper.
The official definition of Sustainable Development by the WCED (1987) is:
“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of those of future generations” (p.8).
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE TOURISM?
Sustainable tourism is a form of tourism which has the least possible impact on the host community and the environment, while maintaining economic viability (Smith et al, 2010).
Sustainable tourism allows for economic growth and development within the parameters of resource conservation. Page and Connell (2009) define sustainable tourism as:
”An approach to tourism informed by the principles of sustainable development, which aims to safeguard natural resources and respect host communities, while encouraging more sensitive forms of tourism that minimise negative effects and maximise positive ones” (p.648).
According to the UN-WTO (2004) sustainable tourism should:
- Make optimal use of environmental resources while maintaining the essential ecological processes while helping to conserve the natural heritage and biodiversity
- Respect the sociocultural authenticity of host communities (helping to conserve the cultural heritage and traditional values as well as seeking to engender intercultural understanding and tolerance
- Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders
All in all there are three dimensions of sustainable tourism according to Swarbrooke (1999) and those are economic, environmental and socio-cultural. Only if these three dimensions are supported can we truly speak of sustainable tourism.
Overall, people tend to focus more on the environmental dimension and there is technically nothing wrong with that. However, we cannot speak of sustainable tourism if we do not take the other dimensions into account.
So, how can we make sure we do our part?
What can we do to be sustainable tourists?
HOW TO BE A BETTER TOURIST
1. Respect Culture
When we go abroad, we often get in contact with people from all over the world and the locals of course. If you go to a Muslim country for instance, you are expected to cover your shoulders and wear skirts, dresses or trousers that cover your knees when you enter a mosque. Or in India and Thailand you need to remove your shoes when you enter a temple.
This is their religion and culture and it needs to be respected. This also contributes to respect and understanding between different nationalities and cultures.
Do a bit of research into the practices and culture of a country and do not be ignorant.
2. Buy Locally
When you are on holiday it is very good to contribute to the local economy. If you have booked an all inclusive holiday, go on a cruise etc make sure to go and explore the area you visit.
Try to avoid booking excursions through a cruise line for example (only if this is feasible of course) and try to buy it through a local company.
Also, try to eat out in local restaurants instead of hotels. This money will go directly to the owners and not big corporations. Plus, you will taste authentic cuisine.
Memberships are great to support organisations. I am a National Trust member in the UK and this means that every time I visit a site, that particular site gets extra funding when they scan my membership card.
Often, you will also spend a bit extra money if you buy gifts, ice cream or have lunch in the cafe. Most likely you will also bring a friend at some point or family members and they of course will pay the entrance fee and they might sign up to become a member, too.
Hence, there is money coming in, but you and the organisation will profit from it. It is a win- win situation.
The National Trust is an organisation in the UK that looks after old properties such as castles, stately homes, but also landscapes. The money they make goes into restoring and preserving those cultural, historical properties and stunning landmarks and landscapes.
I love haggling and getting a good deal, but sometimes we get carried away and haggle too much that it only benefits us.
I visited my friend in Bangkok and we went to the night market. I haggled a lot and got really good deals. I was so proud of myself for getting great bargains and not spending too much money.
But then my friend told me that I ripped of the local trader more or less. She said that I spend around £0.80 for a hair clip I bought and that the trader after expenses and so on made a tiny profit of around £0,20. Furthermore, she told me that they do not earn a lot. In the end I felt really bad .
Be mindful of things like this. We all hate overspending, getting ripped of etc, but in the Western World we have a really good life overall, we earn a reasonable amount of money to have a good quality of life and other people in poorer countries are not always as fortunate.
5. Collecting Rubbish
I am sure all of you do this anyways, but this is for me the most simple and basic thing to do. I am always carrying a small rubbish plastic bag with me or at least some tissues in case there are no rubbish bins where I am going. This way I can collect the rubbish I am producing eg. banana skin, without my bag getting dirty and throw it away later when I see a rubbish bin.
6. Do Not Touch
People often want to get closer to history, literally. They step over lines, ignore signs and touch stuff. I clinch when I see this and it makes me angry.
Those signs are there for a reason.
Historical artefacts are fragile and touching them is damaging them.
When you go somewhere and it says no flash, then please respect this and turn the flash off. This is again to protect artefacts as they are sensible to light.
I know the lighting will not be the best and often the picture will not turn out how we want it to, but we will keep the sight, a picture and memory in our mind and hearts.
I just went to Svalbard two weeks ago on an Expedition Cruise. Svalbard is a protected area, part of AECO, and the expedition team marked paths with cones for all of us during landings.
We were informed that staying on the paths is important as this way we would have the least impact on the environment, meaning that the least plants would be stamped to the ground. and destroyed.
The correct footwear is often essential when you have long sightseeing days ahead of you or a long hike.
But did you know that footwear is also important for the environment and historic cultural sights?
Again, going back to the National Trust example, these sights are sometimes hundreds of years old. Some of the floors are made out of wood, some out of marble. High heels are damaging those floors and can make holes into them. It is better to wear trainers or something similar to protect them.
These are only a few examples, there are a lot more of course.
But I want to get you thinking with this post.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO BE A BETTER TOURIST? DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER TIPS?
Cooper, C., Fletcher, J., Fyall, A., Gilbert, D. & Wanhill, S. (2008) Tourism Principles and Practice. Fourth Edition. Harlow: FT Prentice Hall.
Harris, R., Griffin, T., Williams, P. (2002) Sustainable Tourism: A global perspective. Second Edition. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Holloway, C., Humphreys, C., Davidson, R. (2009) The Business of Tourism. Eighth Edition. Harlow: FT Prentice Hall.
Page, S. J. and Connell, J. (2009) Tourism: A Modern Synthesis. Third Edition. Andover: Cengage Learning.
Smith, M.K., Robertson, M.H., MacLeod, N.E. (2010) Key concepts in tourist studies. London: SAGE.
United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (2011) The History of Sustainable Development in the United Nations. Available at: http://www.uncsd2012.org/history.html
WTTC, WTO, and The Earth Council (1996) Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry:Towards Environmentally Sustainable Development, WTTC, London.