By Ngachung Lai.
There is crossover in definition between sustainable travel, responsible travel, eco tourism and green travel. Ultimately, these terms encompass the idea of being more conscious of how we travel. In simple words you should aim to REDUCE YOUR IMPACT ON THE PLANET, SUPPORT LOCAL ECONOMIES, AND PROTECT WILDLIFE. Below we have listed simple ways to achieve this and travel sustainably in 2021.
Stay in locally-owned accommodation
- Support local business owners by opting to stay in locally-owned accommodation instead of franchised or foreign-owned hotels and resorts.
- Read the ‘about; pages on hotel websites and check out the host’s profile on Airbnb to get a better sense of who owns and runs the accommodation.
- Look for accommodation with a commitment to sustainability initiatives. For example, solar power, energy efficient lighting, recycling etc.
- Check whether a hotel employs local staff, source their food locally, and use locally sources building materials and decor.
- Greenwashing is rife in the travel industry, so be sure to watch out for ‘green washing’: disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.”. For example, a lodge made from wood may claim to be environmentally friendly, even if the wood isn’t local, or if sourcing it resulted in the destruction of virgin habitat.
- Large resorts negatively impact the local environment due to water and energy consumption, via daily towel washing and changing bed sheets etc.
- Many resorts concrete over large areas of natural habitat to build guest rooms and swimming pools, and other tourism activities.
- These kinds of packages causes little incentives for tourists to go elsewhere: local restaurants, hire of local tour guides, or participating in cultural activities.
- All-inclusive resort accommodation tend to be foreign-owned, meaning that tourism money will not benefit the local economy.
Consider camping as a accommodation option
For those who love to be immersed in nature and the outdoors, camping is a great alternative accommodation. It also allows you to unplug from technology.
- Luggage adds up to your carbon emissions, as a planes fuel consumption is greater if the weight it’s carrying is heavier.
- Decant from bigger bottles you already have into small ones that can be reused.
Pack eco-friendly essentials
- Packing a reusable water bottle, bag, and metal lunch box will reduce plastic waste.
- Opt for toiletries that come in paper packaging rather than plastic. Or decant from bigger bottles you already have into small ones that can be reused.
Tours, Activities & ‘Voluntourism’
Use sustainable tour operators with green accreditations
- Look for accreditations such as, GSTC, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance, EarthCheck, Green Tourism Business Scheme (UK) and other regulatory bodies.
- Read reviews (positive, but mostly negative) on third-party websites: Google, TripAdvisor and TrustPilot reviews.
- Read reviews and blog posts from travel bloggers.
- Get in touch with the tour company, ask them about their policies if their website is unclear.
- Ask tour operators questions like: What are some of your tour company’s environmentally friendly practices? Can you give me an example of how your trips help to protect and support wildlife or cultural heritage? Do you employ local guides on your trips?
Watch out for ‘green washing’ by tour operators
- ‘Green washing’ is when a company makes unsubstantiated claims about their green credentials to appear more environmentally friendly than in reality.
Eytan Elterman (Chief Impact Officer at Local Travel) advises:
- “Use external resources to help vet sustainable businesses and destinations”
- “Research whether the country has a certification process”. For example, Costa Rica has a sustainable business rating system, from 1 to 5 leaves.
Only participate in responsible wildlife tourism
- Avoid any wildlife tours that promise up-close encounters with animals, as they are likely to be unethical. If you are allowed to touch, cuddle, or ride the animals, it is a bad sign. Many studies show that animals too closely exposed to humans experience high levels of stress.
- Look for tours that do not disturb wildlife
Snorkel and scuba dive responsibly
- Be careful not to tread on the coral as this can damage the fragile ecosystem. In fact, only 25% of coral reefs worldwide are not damaged beyond repair.
- If you are choosing to snorkel or scuba dive, make sure you: go with smaller groups to avoid overcrowding, do not try to touch or feed the fish or animals, and wear reef-friendly sunscreen instead of standard sunscreens, which contains titanium dioxide: a mineral that does not biodegrade and reacts in warm seawater forming hydrogen peroxide that harms all sea life.
- Always research volunteering opportunities and the organisers behind them to ensure that your money and time will be positively contributing to the place and/or people you are visiting.
Eat-in restaurants and cafes owned by local people
- Avoid International food chains, like McDonald’s, where your tourism money does not enter the local economy. Besides, authentic home-cooking is always the best. This is usually found in restaurants and cafes run by locals.
- Use applications, like EatWith, where you can have dinner with a real local family.
Eat local cuisine
- By eating local cuisines, they are usually made from locally sourced ingredients. Actively find out whether it is organic and/or comes from small farmers.
- Avoid buffets which generate large amounts of food waste and eat as locally and seasonally as possible.
Consider eating local street food
- Street food vendors are often local people cooking up their own homage dishes. Warning: be sure to avoid anywhere that looks unsanitary that may lead to food poisoning.
- Avoid imported foods and international food chains.
- Shop for local fruits, vegetables and other produce at local farmer markets.
ShoppingBuy gifts made by local artisans
- Avoid imported souvenirs.
- Buy locally made gifts and crafts by local artisans to take home as souvenirs. Although they are not always cheaper, purchasing them ensures that your contribution to the economy will have a more direct and positive impact. For example, in Cancun, some gift shops sell “traditional” Mexican sombreros that are imported from China because they cost less, while village artisans who make the hats by hand charge more. The difference is not just in the price. Buying the real sombreros supports authentic cultural heritage and provides needed jobs for the locals who make them.
- Avoid buying wildlife products, as it inadvertently helps to support a growing marketplace for trafficking rare and endangered wildlife products as souvenirs.
‘One-in, one-out’ rule for buying clothing
- Avoid buying unnecessary clothing or participating in the fast fashion industry.
- Source clothing made on an ethical production line, where workers are safe and paid a fair wage.
- Natural is usually better than synthetic, it’s always worth asking questions about the origin of the material to ensure it has been grown or harvested responsibly. Bamboo, for example, is often touted as eco-friendly, but requires energy and chemicals to be turned into a usable product.
- In the UK, around 300,000 tonnes of clothing is sent to landfill each year despite growing awareness about the negative impacts of throwaway fashion. Many of these items are holiday wear, bought on a whim and discarded, sometimes unworn, after the holiday is over.
Speak up for sustainable travel
- Ask for more sustainable travel: speak up and let businesses know that you are interested in sustainable travel and want to know their sustainability initiatives and goals. This will spark conversation in their future business plans.
- Share your sustainable travel experiences: the more we talk about the way we travel, the more we reinforce how important it is to travel green.
- Diversifying your social feeds and following travel influencers who really care or who are contributing to the conversation with integrity is intellectually enlightening as well positively impactful. Perspectives provided by @thecatchmeifyoucan, @hownottotravellikeabasicbitch, The North Face ambassador @vasu_sojitra and @theamarlatif, are good examples.
- Consider how communities want their own cultures to be experienced or communicated. It is a crucial element of conscious travel and should lead us to think more carefully about whose perspective we are really taking when we travel, whose voices are heard when we learn about destinations and who is welcome at hotels and in certain destinations.
Most people want to support sustainable tourism, even though the concept remains unclear. Lots of sustainability issues are more complex than they first appear and it’s important to continue to learn, change our behaviour and ask questions. Researching is fun and knowledge is power. There is huge joy to be gained in becoming a well-intentioned traveller: knowing we are travelling with less harm and more positivity.