Every April, Earth Day reminds us to be more sustainable; Every May, Mother's Day reminds us of mother’s warmth and love, but have you ever thought about the impact travel has on our beloved Mother Earth? Travellers need to be aware that unmanaged tourism can damage our Mother Earth deeply, and by travelling responsibly, everyone can make a difference. The following are five simple guidelines to take a more ecological approach to your travels.
You have probably heard the phrase "carbon footprint" at some point, but you might also be scratching your head figuring out what it is. A carbon footprint is the number of greenhouse gases — primarily carbon dioxide — released into the atmosphere by a particular human activity. In short, it is a way to measure how damaging is your activity towards the environment. If you are like many people, flying may be a large portion of your carbon footprint as flying adds a significant amount of planet-warming gases to the atmosphere — there’s no way around it. But there are some ways to make your air travel just a little bit greener.
First, you could consider which airlines you fly with and what they are doing to help. For example, ANA, KLM, Air France, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, etc., use cleaner fuels and take measures to reduce fuel consumption, such as using newer planes. Also, some airlines — Emirates, Qantas, Virgin Australia, Delta Airlines, British Airways, Jetstar, Air New Zealand, United Airlines, Air Canada, JetBlue, Gulf Air, etc. — offer carbon offset programs where you can buy carbon offsets to take planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in exchange for the greenhouse gases you put in. You should also consider choosing the most direct flight route and packing your bags as lightly as possible. For local destinations or for trips you are taking with at least one friend, you can opt for public transportation, or explore destinations by foot or bicycle. If you need to use a car, try to rent a biodiesel, hybrid-electric, or fuel-efficient model to lessen your carbon footprint.
A destination that values sustainability involves working to take care of nature, culture and the environment, strengthening the social values and being financially viable. Tourism impacts the environment, climate, nature, culture and local communities. Consequently, a responsibility rests with the tourism industry to develop and practice its activities in a manner that generates the least possible negative impact, while at the same time increasing the positive impact.
So, a sustainable traveller should always choose a destination that has already proven sustainability to be a feasible option. For example, European nations Switzerland, France, and Denmark take the top slots as the world’s most sustainable nations according to 2018 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) with Malta and Sweden following close behind. Also, avoid destinations that are being marred by too many visitors, like Venice, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Teotihuacan, etc...so as not to contribute further to its degradation.
As more and more travellers sensitized to the urgent need to safeguard the earth, increasing numbers of hotels hold themselves to high environmental standards. More and more accommodation operators developing award-winning environmental, economic, and socio-cultural programs that preserve both the culture and support the local economy.
An eco-conscious accommodation does not mean the property skimps on luxuries. Many travellers still have a wrong idea that sustainable accommodation is somewhat spartan and uncomfortable, but instead, they are wonderful accommodations investing in clean energy, offering local and organic food, using the latest construction techniques. Sustainable travellers can research online by finding organizations that rate hotels on how ‘green’ they are and how their actions will affect the area around them. You could also consider alternative forms of accommodation, such as house swapping, couch surfing, or camping.
We usually only think about the environment when it comes to sustainability, but it also includes your impact on people, animals, and cultures. Travellers should be mindful of what and where they are spending their money. Most of the time, only a small portion of the amount spent at the destination benefits the locals, means there’s a tremendous missed opportunity for travel to support local economies. Therefore, travellers should patronize businesses that employ locals, you can do this by dining in restaurants that use local ingredients or operates by locals — that way the money boosts the local economies and helps preserve heritage. You may also purchase souvenirs from local artisans as it will encourage the preservation of their cultural heritage.
Many travellers are animal lovers, but not all animal-focused experiences are created with the potential to support conservation and promote good wildlife management; in fact, these itineraries could encourage hidden animal abuse and wildlife snatching. Before you embark on an animal-focused experience, do your research thoroughly and only choose ethical experiences that will not cause any suffering to animals or activities that allow travellers to interact with animals in abusive ways. Avoid common culprits such as elephant rides, lion petting, cuddles with lion cubs, walks with cheetahs, tiger selfies, or monkey circuses. Make sure the attractions do not capture animals from the wild and provide adequate living conditions. Some of the more sustainable activities are safaris, whale watching, and snorkelling, where you encounter the animals in the wild.
Small steps can go a long way. If all travellers practice these simple ways to offset your environmental impact, we will ultimately make a difference.