Guide To A Sustainable Tourism
Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. But what if a sustainable tourism could benefit also the places and communities we visit?
At least according to IG bio’s, wallpapers, Chinese fortune cookies…even resumes.
And although it has become a big cliché, it is still true.
Visiting places, meeting different cultures and tasting new food, if done with the right attitude, can truly open both mind and heart.
But while for us it finishes once we get back home, unpack the luggage in the washing machine and see our beloved tan slowly fading away, it has a deeper and long-term impact on the country we leave.
According to WTTC, Tourism supports one in 10 jobs worldwide, generating over 10% of the global GDP.
International tourist arrivals have increased from 25 million globally in 1950 to 1.32 billion in 2017, resulting in some areas in ‘overtourism’, damaging the local environment and negatively affecting residents quality of life.
The social, economic and environmental impact of tourism is so profound that the UN mentions it in three of the 17 listed Sustainable Development Goals (‘Life under Water, ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’, ‘Decent Work and Employment’).
All in all, a true star.
But, as our dear Peter Parker would say, with great power comes great responsibility.
The UN World Tourism Organization has published a pretty clear list of what sustainable tourism should be about.
More or less it looks like this:
- Preserve the environmental resources
- Respect the cultural authenticity of communities and their traditional values
- Ensure long-term economic operations, providing fairly distributed socio-economic benefits
Overtourism is when too many people choose the same destination, exceeding the ability of that place to support that amount of visitors.
Is a quite new phenomenon as our increasing interconnectivity, social media above all, has speed up the process making some places extremely popular and desirable.
This can put a lot of pressure on an area, to the point where the environment cannot keep up with it anymore.
The abuse of natural resources (water over all), coral reef depletion, increased pollution, soil erosion and improper waste disposal are just a few of the most common consequences of overtourism.
In 2018 Maya Bay, Thailand, made famous by the movie “The Beach” starring Leo (Da Vinci? Di Caprio), was closed to allow it to recover from the severe damage caused by thousands of tourists daily and millions over the years.
Similarly, Mt Everest has seen an increase in tourism too, with over 5000 people having climbed to the peak to date.
And while it’s obvious that a trip like this requires you to go fully equipped with everything you might need, as you won’t find hot dog stands or a Decathlon store along the route, it’s not equally obvious for people to bring back down what they brought up.
Although volunteers have been working hard in trying to clean up, there are still an estimate of over 30 tons litter that literally indicate you the road to the peak .
Remember how little thumb left breadcrumbs behind him to trace the path? They say you can now reach the peak of the mountain just by following the amount of poo and waste.
And by the way this littering, among others, is also polluting the water sources of the populations living nearby.
When we talk about sustainability we immediately think about the environment.
While it is for sure a priority and something to closely monitor, it’s definitely not the only field that calls for a more responsible and long-term vision.
There is a fundamental human side to sustainability.
Social sustainability is about making sure that the impact businesses have on people and communities is sustainable. And fair.
Failure to do so can result in poverty, inequality or even progressive loss of socio-cultural traditions.
Loss of identity
But this is not only on employers. When we travel, we have a huge social impact on the culture we are visiting. How we dress, speak, eat, look and overall behave, influences over time these countries. Even more so, if we come from the shiny and rich western world visiting less developed countries.
Cultures have shaped over time in order to please the tourist and attract more people to come.
Food can be an example. I once visited Thailand and remember speaking to a local chef. He explained me how food in local restaurants has been modified over time, in order to adapt flavors to an ‘easier’ taste. Less sour, bitter or spicy.
Standard food like pizza, sandwiches and burgers are by now to find everywhere, from Africa to Japan.
We can see a similar trend with international Hotel chains spread around the world, which most tourists often prefer over a typical local accommodation reflecting more their idea of comfort.
This standardization is inevitably leading to a progressive loss of identity of countries and cultures.
Being open to new experiences and choose local ones, might benefit your journey and preserve the countries traditions.
Another social issue that can emerge is the clash of cultures. Behaviors which are normal for us, are not necessarily perceived the same by other cultures. Excessive show off of pricy items in developing countries, or a micro bikini worn in conservatives, might be something you want to reconsider.
Businesses love tourism, so do locals. It brings jobs, money, international appeal and much more.
It definitely is a fundamental source of income for both developed and developing countries, although its influence has been vital for developing ones.
Tourism alone can be the main driver of the economic growth of a country, to the point where it can even raise its development status.
Maldives, for instance, has switched from being classified as least developed country to medium development status thanks to tourism alone.
But in order to control all of this, governments need a solid structure and strong regulations on tourism development.
If not, your system will have a glitch, allowing money to spill out like beer from a broken keg.
This is when economic leakage happens. The money spent does not actually stay in the country but ends up somewhere else.
It can happen through importation of goods, multinational or internationally owned corporations, all-inclusive formulas etc….
Needless to say it’s a phenomenon that hits harder the less developed areas, simply because their governmental structure is often weaker. In such countries, the economic leakage can be higher than 55%. Meaning more than half of what a tourist spends, goes in the pocket of another one (usually richer) country.
Promoting local business
Through a sustainable economic model, tourism can bring greater value to its locals.
There are some interesting initiatives that have worked towards promoting such tourism.
The tourism development board of Uttarakhand (India), has been promoting village treks and running homestays in order to support local homeowners. Tourists can stay in eco-lodges gaining an authentic cultural experience, while being surrounded by nature. All this by investing their money entirely in the local communities.
In 2015 Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana has launched the Green Supply Chains project, which successfully linked the tourism sector with local agriculture, endorsing sustainable economic growth and creating new opportunities for local farmers.
How? Hotels and restaurants can easily access locally produced food and drinks in a centralized system managed by a Rural Development Cooperative.
It’s true that travel makes you richer. But what if it could enrich also cultures, countries and the nature around us? Would you share this wealth?