Sustainable Tourism: Traveling smarter and why it matters
There are many beautiful places in this world. So many in fact,
it’s hard to believe places as remote as the rock ledge of Trolltunga (Norway) and the Torres del Paine (Patagonia), have become Instagram stock footage amidst the background noise of the “been there, done that” travel crowd.
While it’s good that small economies in both industrialized and developing countries see income related to tourism, having lived the past 8 years in a tiny resort economy on a Caribbean island has given me a new appreciation for the long range impact of large scale tourism.
Here are a few points to consider when booking your next trip and more importantly, how you can help offset your footprint as a traveler.
1. The Boomerang Effect:
Jobs created by tourism in the short term can leave more people unemployed down the road
I know what you’re thinking;
“But tourism is all some of these places have! They’d have nothing without it.”
The problem with that argument is you’re absolutely right.
There are many small economies (my island home included) where tourism is literally all they have. They have no exports, no resources, no economic growth strategies, literally nothing but sandy beaches to make up a non-existent GDP and no plan to attract future investors. So they embrace tourism.
Unmitigated. For decades.
They pack as many people as possible onto a landing strip of sand until the area becomes crowded, run down, ill kept and the tourism dynamic begins to shift elsewhere. The hallmark of this gradual change in an economy is an increase in unemployment. Former big buck tourist jobs see wages cut and become just seasonal gigs.
Or in some cases, cease to exist entirely.
And with jobs cut you see an increase in crime. With increased crime comes exodus. And lastly with exodus, comes economic collapse.
Since governments in resort economies tend to grab eggs from the proverbial “golden goose” of mass tourism for as long as possible, they often don’t plan for the future. A future that now includes higher unemployment, crime and the squandering of their one and only resource:
2. Tourists Leave Baggage And By Baggage, I Mean Garbage
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a beach, an uninhabited Cay or hiking up a rock face and found garbage. Bottles, plastic, clothing….
We’re going to have the garbage conversation.
We’re going to have that same old conversation about picking up after yourself because even in today’s hyper sensitive media culture that plasters pictures of sea turtles choking to death on a plastic bag and 24/7 coverage of the Texas sized “garbage island” floating in the Pacific….people really don’t give a crap about their crap when they’re on holiday.
I’d like to say that’s limited to a specific area or type of tourist, but I’ve covered 5 continents and dozens of countries and I’ve seen it everywhere. I’ve personally seen people leave their garbage on beaches and chased them down and made them throw it away. It’s completely absurd.
Bottom line is we’re all pretty sensitive to people dumping crap in our own backyard, but when “vacation brain” sets in, it seems to alter human brain chemistry.
So just remember:
- NO, you don’t get to leave your trash somewhere.
- NO, it doesn’t matter if your daypack is full or you’re drunk or having fun.
Pick it up.
If your response is that someone should be handing the cleaning up, well, you’re right again.
3. Give Your Money To The Right People: Be Part of the Solution
When bringing your business to small communities as a tourist, you can help offset your footprint by making sure your time and money is spent in the best possible place.
Support tour operators that give back to the local community and/or focus on environmental protection. When buying gifts to bring back for those few people lucky enough to warrant a spot on your shopping list, try to buy from local artisans, a cooperative or something that benefits the community. (i.e. not factory produced junk made in a country you’re not even visiting). And if you visit a place you love and want to see it again someday unspoiled by tourism run amok, you can help spread awareness of places supporting delicate ecosystems that are actually at risk from too many people visiting. (i.e. Iceland, Amazonia, The Bay Islands, Antarctica)
At the end of the day, people should absolutely travel and see all the amazing places they possibly can in our world. Being mindful of HOW you visit those places can make a difference that I hope you’ll get to see when you return to that favorite far flung spot 20 years from now and find it still wild and beautiful.
Until next time, keep wandering.
(a.k.a. The Traveling Amazon)