It’s true, a trend for responsible travel has been gaining traction for the past few years, accelerated by climate change campaigners like Greta Thunberg and scenes of horrifying environmental destruction, undoubtedly caused by human activity.
But now the topic has even greater urgency: there are more of us on the planet and we have a growing lust for travel, so how can we make it work?
While the pandemic has wreaked havoc with holiday plans, it’s also provided us with an opportunity to stop and consider how we might explore and appreciate our world in the future, while keeping it pristine for generations to come.
Experts suggest there will be a shift to travel in a more sustainable way, reducing carbon footprints, protecting the environment and ensuring host communities are rewarded economically.
According to tourism charity The Travel Foundation: “The aim of sustainable tourism is to increase the benefits and to reduce the negative impacts caused by tourism for destinations.”
5 ways to be a more sustainable traveller
But what does that really mean? Here are five ways to put the thinking into practice.
1. Select a destination carefully
Some countries thrive on tourism to boost their economies: without visitors, many businesses face collapse, and travel bans as a result of coronavirus have already resulted in a loss of jobs worldwide. Safari holidays are a fine example of travel as a positive force, where employment of local people in camps and related activities provides an incentive to protect both the environment and wildlife.
Other destinations, however, have suffered from overtourism in the past. Fragile locations like the Galapagos and Antarctica can only handle a limited number of visitors – making small ship cruises a good option, while once-crowded cities are welcoming the temporary breathing space provided by Covid-19.
2. Stay in locally-owned accommodation
One way to ensure communities benefit from tourism is to stay in independent eco lodges and family-run B&Bs. Avoid internationally-owned hotel chains and resorts, unless they operate ‘giving back’ programmes, channelling funds into a destination. The TUI Care Foundation does excellent work in Cape Verde, for example, while the Sandals Foundation works alongside communities in the Caribbean.
Many group tour companies, such as Explore, Exodus and Intrepid, employ guides from the places they visit. G Adventures goes one step further with its Planeterra Foundation, by supporting local entrepreneurs to set up businesses, which in turn benefit from tourism footfall generated by their tours.
Spending money by visiting restaurants and cafes also helps boost a country’s economy, so steer clear of all-inclusive resorts if you can. Or make a compromise: some properties, such as Ikos Oceania in Greece, have an agreement with local restaurants, offering meals at no extra cost as part of a Dine Out plan included in their stay.
3. Don’t visit exploitative attractions
Travel provides an opportunity to witness new wonders and meet extraordinary people, but sometimes it’s hard to strike a balance between authenticity and exploitation. Tribal tourism is a case in point: photographs of Ethiopia’s exotic Omo Valley people were so intoxicating, they generated an industry of paying for pictures, diverting indigenous people from their typical way of life.
Wildlife attractions should also be considered with caution. Fortunately, big companies such as Virgin Holidays have banned dolphin swims and activities involving creatures kept cruelly in captivity. Any attraction involving animal petting is also a no go – watch Tiger King on Netflix and you’ll know why.
4. Limit your flights
We all know air travel has a detrimental impact on the environment; up until last year, aviation accounted for 2% of global CO2 emissions, according to a paper published by the Nature Journal. But sometimes, planes are the only means available to reach a destination. A hiatus in flight schedules due to coronavirus will likely end an era of binge-flying – one positive to emerge from the crisis – but we still have the power to make greater changes through choice.
Set a personal limit for the number of flights you plan to take in a year and choose direct routes where possible (most fuel is burned in take off and landing). Swoop Adventures is one of several operators who will offset the emissions of all travel booked by their customers. Alternatively, choose a project certified by Gold Standard (goldstandard.org).
5. If you can, go by train
Public transport might be a source of covid-related concern in the short term, but longer, spacious, comfortable train journeys could shape a future of slow and meaningful travel.
Raileurope.co.uk is an efficient and simple train booking tool for planning journeys across the continent. If you want to go further afield, the seat61.com blog has excellent, up-to-date advice on different routes.
And sometimes the journey is the destination, with epic rail routes accounting for standalone holidays. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express from London to Italy’s famous floating city is a classic, and you only need to factor in an airfare one way.