Unfortunately, the growth of mass tourism has created short term economic benefits without much care for the long term effects. Short term economic prosperity has been celebrated by everyone as the success of globalization, without caring too much how these benefits were distributed and at which price they came. For example, the construction of massive infrastructures to welcome a large number of tourists, had a great impact on the natural environment and wildlife habitats that, suddenly, had to make space for resorts and restaurants. Sustainable tourism addresses these issues, encouraging travellers and tourism enterprises to take a different route and putting less pressure on local resources, such as water, energy, and food.
Too often local systems are not able to cope with the additional demand of busy high seasons, causing overexploitation of resources that lead to unsustainable pressure on the local population and fast deterioration of the environment. An example is the high share of water usage of tourists compared to local usage in areas that suffer from water scarcity. The rise in tourism in such areas has caused an increase in water usage for construction of water-intensive infrastructures, such as golf courts, hotels and swimming pools (Global Water Forum). The same happens to food and energy usage, as hotels and resorts tend to require high levels of food and power consumption.
This is very visible in areas of natural interest, where landscapes are re-organized and natural habitats either gradually destroyed or overpopulated. Furthermore, the negative impact of construction is immense, as it causes deforestation and poses a threat to biodiversity.
The larger waste production comes from hotels, which usually produce more waste than what the system can handle. This leads to improper disposal that is one of the main problems of waste management in tourism. Littering along hiking trails or on popular beaches has a devastating impact as it not only degrades the natural beauties but it has long term effects on wildlife too. Moreover, if not properly regulated, activities like hiking, scuba diving, skiing, yachting, snowmobiles, safaris, bus tours, trekking, cruises and jet-skiing can, in different ways, put further pressure on the local ecosystem.
And even if it only accounts for 2% of global Greenhouse Gases emissions, it is quickly becoming one of the major contributors to environmental issues like global warming, acid rains and air pollution. GHGs linked to tourism are rising and it is predicted that they will increase up to 5,3% by 2030, accounting for 1,998 million tonnes of CO2 (UNWTO).
Luckily, despite the many factors that make tourism a threat to local ecosystems there is a way in which we can explore the wonders of the world in an environmentally responsible way.
Thus, striking a balance between environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development.
According to UNWTO, there are 3 main aspects that characterize sustainable tourism:
It strives to maintain ecological processes and conserve natural heritage and biodiversity;
Takes care of host communities, keeping their cultural heritage and values as well as contributing to intercultural development;
Contributes to the local economy of host-communities, fostering quality employment opportunities for people working in tourism, and making sure socio-economic benefits are fairly distributed, maintaining and developing long-term economic operations.
The objective of sustainable tourism is not to keep people from travelling, but to offer alternative ways of travel that are beneficial for the local ecosystem, while maintaining quality. It should also inform tourists about sustainable practices and raise awareness about the local communities.
Sustainable tourism focuses on transportation to and from your destination, waste control during your stay and on the activities you can participate in. Sustainable or Green tour operators offer tours that have locals educate tourists and have tourists participate in sustainable projects that help preserve the environment. Eco hotels and resorts offer tourists the opportunity to stay in a place that serves locally grown food, minimizing its impact on the local ecosystem and raising awareness about its water and waste programs.
Besides using these sustainable solutions, there are many things we can do as individuals to make our future trips more environmentally responsible.
The first thing we can do to contribute to sustainable development in tourism is to plan our trip wisely. Sometimes it is hard to avoid taking an aeroplane to your destination but in other cases, it is possible to go by train instead. By using the railroads instead of the airways you can save a substantial amount of GHGs emissions. If you have no option but to fly you can always decide to offset your GHGs emissions. Carbon offsetting compensates for your emissions by paying for an equivalent carbon emission saving elsewhere. Read our blog post on Carbon Offsetting if you would like to know more about it. Here the link
The simplest way to enjoy a sustainable holiday is to book eco-friendly accommodation. Studies have shown that choosing an accommodation that takes responsibility for its carbon footprint can make your trip save 50% on energy, 70% on water and reduce food waste by 35%. Sustainably minded businesses are becoming more common; there are plenty of hotels, bed & breakfasts, resorts and campings around the world that have already embraced sustainable practices reducing the waste of resources.
Another way to minimize our impact on the environment is to take some reusable essentials when travelling. Think of a reusable cup, a towel, a water bottle... This way you won’t have to trash these items locally
However, to travel according to sustainable tourism practices, it is important to make sure we support the local economy by buying locally produced food and drinks. This doesn’t only make your trip more authentic and memorable but will also boost the local culture and business. While visiting your destination, try to avoid renting a car and use public transportation, bikes or other environmentally friendly ways of transportation as much as you can.
One of the ways sustainable tourism operators put an eco spin on their programs is by offering tourists the opportunity to do some volunteer work to support the local ecosystem during their holidays. Playing a small role in preservation will not only make your trip more meaningful - it will also make sure others will be able to enjoy the beautiful landscape later on.
Sustainable tourism can shift the negative impacts of current tourism trends. If travellers and enterprises adopt strategies that have less impact on the environment, tourism can remain one of the best ways for intercultural exchange and knowledge acquisition at no further cost to the planet.
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