Travel for good is a broad tourism concept that is seeing increased awareness around the globe. It can include eco-tourism which carefully considers your environmental footprint whether you are traveling domestically or abroad, as well as humane tourism which is based on a respect for local people, cultures and religions. Both come under the banner of “responsible tourism” or “sustainable tourism” which have never been more important than in the present day and age.
For some people a vacation is a chance to escape the reality of everyday life, kick back at an idyllic resort and wile away the days poolside with a good book in hand. For others, it means adventure and the chance to explore new landscapes and cultures while giving something back at the same time.
When you consider that tourism is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries, the strain on environmental resources and indigenous cultures is immense. Mass tourism often seeks to see as much as possible in the shortest amount of time and with the biggest “wow” factor – a recipe for disaster when it comes to sustainability. Those who opt to travel for good understand the dangers that tourism presents and how their choice of behavior can easily transform into positive impacts.
Travel for good aims to maximize the positive contribution that tourism can have on the environment, biodiversity conservation and society. It seeks to generate income and employment in communities that need it most, as well as help fund the conservation of local ecosystems. Sustainable tourism can be a powerful tool in the reduction of poverty and achievement of conservation goals, helping to improve lives around the globe.
What is Sustainable Tourism
Sustainable tourism can include numerous different travel practices, covering everything from eco-tourism to humane tourism values. It aims to retain the economic and social benefits of tourism development across the globe while reducing its detrimental impacts on the environment and communities. It requires a careful balancing of the needs of tourists with those of the destination’s biodiversity and people, and encompasses tourism activity that can be maintained over the long-term as economically, socioculturally and environmentally sustainable.
Sustainable tourism can provide important economic incentives for habitat protection in areas that may otherwise be destroyed for their resources. The implementation of eco-tourism projects can help generate long-term economic gains that are equal or greater to the short-term exploitation of resources. It can also help provide much-needed employment in communities where it is lacking and help local people value the importance of biodiversity conservation and the far-reaching benefits of protecting it well into the future.
While sustainable tourism can mean booking a holiday with an eco-tourism operator who claims (or has been certified) to be creating positive impacts in their local environment or community, it can also be achieved as an independent traveler. Each decision you make when you travel – where you stay, where you eat, who you shop with and the activities you choose to do – can either help or hinder sustainable tourism practices.
Opting to do your scuba diving course with a dive school that implements sustainable marine practices shows your support for our underwater ecosystems. Overnighting with local communities in a homestay initiative helps generate income directly for those people. And dining at local restaurants (rather than international fast food chains) is getting money to where it is really needed.
How to Travel for Good
Traveling with social, cultural and environmental considerations in mind is not just a matter of finding the most appealing hotel and booking your flights, but takes a little more time and consideration. But when researching your travel adventures is all part of the fun, why not put it to a good cause.
Find out a little about the cultural, political and economic history of your destination and how that has influenced the situation there today. This will give you an idea of the root cause of social problems or the challenges being experienced by local communities.
Learn about cultural traditions, rites and rituals and some of the expectations you may experience so you don’t cause disrespect when staying in communities. As much as possible, you should also try and support businesses which help to conserve cultural heritage and traditional values, rather than just showcasing them to tourists for economic gain.
Try and buy goods locally from small businesses, rather than supporting large, internationally-owned corporations, and stay in locally-owned hotels and guesthouses whenever possible. Also look for businesses that are environmentally conscious and are embracing all available options to cut down their reliance on non-renewable resources. This can send a strong message to businesses who aren’t using environmentally sustainable practices as they will see clients going elsewhere.
Rather than just taking a vacation, you can also opt for a volunteer abroad experience for your holiday, giving something back directly to local communities. Whether it be helping protect turtle eggs during the breeding season in Costa Rica, building schools for local communities in Thailand or working at a scientific research station in the Amazon, the world is your oyster when it comes to sustainable volunteer abroad programs.
You can either plan and book it while at home, with the organization securing visas, accommodation and in-country transport, or you can find projects on the ground after you arrive. There’s nothing to say you can’t have a couple of days poolside or kicking back on the beach afterward, knowing that you’ve given something back in the simple choice of how to spend your vacation.
Sustainable tourism needs to be a collaborative effort between governments, business operators, community-based organizations, NGOs and tourists for it to have far-reaching benefits. There is no point in communities implementing sustainable practices and locally-run operations if tourists still opt for the all-inclusive, internationally-owned resort which has a significant environmental footprint.
Travel for good ultimately comes down to everyone taking responsibility for their own tourism actions to make the world a better place. You can’t expect others to make positive changes in their travel behavior to improve economic development, social justice and environmental problems if you aren’t prepared to.
Where to Start
In this digital age, there is so much information available online to help you travel for good. From the blogs of other travelers to websites which showcase eco-tourism businesses, there is no reason why you can’t plan an incredible and inspiring sustainable holiday. Volunteer abroad websites are also a wealth of information about the extent of the possibilities around the globe, and even if you opt not to travel with them, it will give you an insight into some of the pressing issues in communities around the globe and how you can make a positive impact.
Head to “The Travel Word” (http://www.thetravelword.com/) for inspiring stories and recommendations about how to get off the beaten track while making responsible and sustainable travel decisions. Or visit “Ethical Traveller” (http://www.ethicaltraveller.co.uk/) to hear about the wanderings of National Geographic Traveller columnist and award-winning responsible tourism travel writer Catherine Mack.