Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- How to Travel Sustainably
- Tourism Activities Can Support Local Culture
- Keys to Sustainable Tourism
- Seeing Sustainable Tourism Up Close
- Create A Positive Circle Of Impact
- Giving Back to the Kids
- Reducing Our Footprints Traveling With The Kids
- Hunting Up The Right Label for Sustainable Tourism
- Certification Means Putting Change In Place
- Sustainable Tourism Questions To Ask
- Simple But Effective Points To Ponder
Doing the math for carbon footprint formulas feels more daunting than figuring out how to be kind to local people all over the world. But it’s important to understand the impacts of tourism and how to travel sustainably. Read on for some simple and cheerful tips, ready to be embraced by travelers of all ages.
How to Travel Sustainably
Sure, I could quit flying to alleviate climate change. Or at least believe I was doing my part. But then how would I meet the women worshiping in a town square in Nepal? Or the children attending school in India? Or the healers preserving ancient traditions in Peru’s Amazon?
Could sustainable tourism allow me those experiences?
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Thank goodness, the answer for world tourism is yes. Organizations digging much deeper into responsible tourism than I am capable of are certifying trips and destinations with sustainable development goals. They’re researching the impact of hikes on natural resources. They examine shopping jaunts and culinary experiences for environmental impacts and influence on the local economy.
Tourism Activities Can Support Local Culture
Local communities mean everything in sustainable tourism.
“Who gets the money?” is a great question. Is the economic growth local?
Paying a proper price to the artisan selling handcrafted textiles – that’s sustainable tourism. When I respect the people of local communities, I support socio-cultural heritage. Confessing my old style of feeling clever just trying to get a bargain might help me change my habits.
Keys to Sustainable Tourism
“Sustainable travel” might seem a little stuffy, but the organizations and institutes passionate about people and places create friendly resources.
For instance, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council offers these straightforward guides:
At the core: Never harm or overlook the essence of a place.
Just paying a little attention, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council says, can make a big difference. They share broad brushstrokes such as:
- Sustainable management
- Socioeconomic impacts
- Cultural impacts
- Environmental impacts
An added bonus to admiring ancient sites in India – meeting local school children. Photo courtesy Christine Tibbetts
Seeing Sustainable Tourism Up Close
Visitors are a important source of income for many communities located in biodiverse and fragile areas.
In India, my guide on a hike was a former poacher. Thanks to sustainable tourism practices, he could now support his family without poaching. Tourism to the forest supports the local economy.
In the Yucatan, near the ancient Mayan site called Coba, I met a pottery teacher. He was helping a little community that had been clear-cutting their forests to sell the wood and earn a meager living. Instead, they were becoming artisans, selling lovely works to tourists. The forests can grow again. Sustainable development can be supported.
In Nepal, I spent the afternoon with multigenerational families, each age with a painting specialty to create ancient-tradition thangkas. Mine calls me daily to stare and contemplate the many Buddhas created with the tiniest of brushes by an abundance of relatives.
Create A Positive Circle Of Impact
Over-tourism gets a lot of negative buzz – too many visitors to the famous places. Impact Tourism is getting a new buzz throughout the tourism industry.
The World Tourism Day conference in Washington, D.C. in 2019 focused on volunteerism and impact on local communities. CREST is the resource to watch. That’s the Center for Responsible Travel. Their strong suit is thoughtful scrutiny based on case study practices. Key takeaways from the conference include:
- keep travel missions in line with community values
- rather than cater to demand for volunteerism, create programs that are really impactful locally
- prevent negative unintended consequences of volunteerism
- look to countless examples of local communities seeing what tourists would like to do, and focus on how those activities positively impact the community
Policy wonks who understand that visionary policies can affect families and communities directly through travel belong in my trip-planning circle of influencers.
TravelingMom Tip: Keep an eye out for impact becoming a good thing in sustainable tourism. Giving back to host communities is one concept.
Giving Back to the Kids
I love the idea of giving back to the kids whose lands I am fortunate enough to visit. But it’s hard to figure out how.
Buy A Trip, Give A Trip, is the grand idea of Elevate Destinations, a luxury travel company that acts locally. They go places to support local conservation initiatives that rely on tourism funds. And then Elevate Destinations puts together trips for local kids who can’t afford such a thing. My sustainable travel will help underwrite travel for children in their own country.
Reducing Our Footprints Traveling With The Kids
Seems like a good match to me when families can make travel decisions with family-owned businesses.
That’s where Journeys International comes in. Robin Weber Pollak is chief adventure officer; her parents founded the company four decades ago. Their goal was and is to interact directly and respectfully with local people and natural environments.
Today, the Earth Preservation Fund shares the Journeys vision as their non-profit arm supporting small-scale, community-initiated travel experiences. Sustainability means everything and Executive Director (and husband) Joe Pollak shares simple tips as well as big pictures.
Struggling to limit single-use plastic? Pollak says eat ice cream in a cone. No plastic cups or spoons in his world. Easy sell for kids.
“In developing countries with questionable water sources, we take along a travel water purifier. I think our kids stay better hydrated when they use their familiar, take-to-school refillable water bottles.”
Those kids are age two and five, and Joe and Robin Pollak show them how to consider public transportation as an event, just like choosing a museum. They pick up litter, too, and stay on trails when they hike.
“All kids can understand that different plants and animals live in different places,” says Joe Pollak. “I think developing an appreciation for different places and cultures helps them understand the potential impacts of the choices they make at home.”
Hunting Up The Right Label for Sustainable Tourism
Labels I know and trust help me with shopping decisions. Is that true for tourism activities too, especially sustainable tourism? Here’s what I learned from the Guatemala communications specialist for NEPCon, a sustainable tourism certification body validating responsible practices and their implementation.
“Unless you are an expert in sustainability, you’d better look out for certifications,” declares Karla Noemi Lopez. She’s part of a team in 100 countries, helping human choices ensure a sustainable future. Among her key recommended resources to know more about certification and find certified options that signify a sustainable destination:
- Global Sustainable Tourism Council
- Green Your Vacations (hotels and tour operators vetted with NEPCon standards)
- Rainforest Alliance
What does NEPCon mean? Nature Economy and People Connected. Here’s their view of why certification matters:
“Certified companies are responsible for demonstrating that they implement responsible operational processes.”
Read More: How to Do Voluntourism Right with Kids
Certification Means Putting Change In Place
Responsible travel operations receiving certification hone in on details like these:
- reduce negative impacts on the environment
- calculate carbon emissions and find ways to compensate
- rationally use water and energy
- promote local ways of life
- prevent situations of damage like child labor, prostitution, sexual exploitation
- respect human and labor rights
- protect and respect natural resources
Sustainable Tourism Questions To Ask
Do you have a sustainable tourism policy?
Lopez says you could get a yes answer but if it’s really true, expect details and leads to resources and websites.
“Even if the answer is not solid, your question could make them think about the importance of it.”
Do you have a special project supporting local communities and economic benefits?
Lopez says to ask directly how you could support that project if it interests you.
“Connections with reception, websites or promotional materials could help you support community development.”
Simple But Effective Points To Ponder
So what’s a traveling family to ask? Rainforest Alliance embraces The Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s criteria and offers this list of ideas:
At the hotel: Ask about environmental policies and practices. Is the hotel enthusiastic and specific about sustainable tourism development? Does the hotel support community development or conservation projects?
Language: Learn some local language and use it. Developing countries offer opportunities to experiences dialects outside of most traveler’s language studies.
Dress: Learn local manners and dress appropriately. Modest dress may be important. Local culture is a fashion experience.
Behavior: Be respectful of the locals’ privacy. Ask permission before entering sacred places, homes, or private lands. Social responsibility involves noticing how people do things in their places.
Photographs: Be sensitive to when and where you take photos/video of people. Always ask first. Local culture might have very different concepts about photography.
Environment: Never touch or harass wildlife. Always follow designated trails. Support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites or making a donation.
Wildlife or forest products: Never purchase anything derived from protected or endangered wildlife or plant species. Think about the indigenous peoples living in or near that land.
Pay a fair price: Don’t engage in overly aggressive bargaining for souvenirs. Don’t short-change on tips for services. Consider the well-being of those selling. You can affect their quality of life.
Buy local: Choose locally-owned lodges and hotels. Use local buses, car rental agencies, and airlines. Eat in local restaurants, shop in local markets, and attend local events. Notice the social impacts.
Hire local guides: Enrich your experience and support the local economy. Ask guides and tour operators if they are licensed and live nearby. Are they recommended by tour operators?