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Through embracing this new and (fortunately) increasingly popular type of travel, we can make a real difference to tourism worldwide and its impact. As people that enjoy travel, we are the ideal ambassadors to promote the benefits that travel and tourism can bring: through education, understanding, bringing revenue to in-need parts of the world, and through personal growth too. Read more about how your travels can make a difference and how to book an Eco Tour or Sustainable trip.
Eco Tourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education" by the International Eco Tourism Society (2015). Nature is often at the centre of Eco Tourism, which for a long time was perhaps best summarized by the tag line “take only photos, leave only footprints”. Eco Tourism today is about a lot more than doing the least harm possible on our travels. Many tour operators are taking steps to actively and positively contribute towards offsetting carbon emissions through forestation and clean energy projects; protecting endangered wildlife species and setting up tourism projects that include local communities around the world and allow them to benefit from tourism.
Sustainable and Responsible Tourism are often used interchangeably (along with Eco Tourism) and while there are some similarities, there are also some points that set them apart. Sustainable Tourism is the idea of visiting a place and creating only a positive impact on the environment, economy and local society.
Responsible Tourism on the other hand focuses more on making the best choices that we can in each travel moment, to help promote best practices while traveling, to always show respect for the places that we visit and people that we meet along the way, and to protect places so that future generations can still enjoy them too.
However we choose to define or call it, there are many points in common between the definitions. The point is to not cause harm, but also to create a positive impact. Through embracing this new and (fortunately) increasingly popular type of travel, we can make a real difference to tourism worldwide and its impact. As people that enjoy travel, we are the ideal ambassadors to promote the benefits that travel and tourism can bring: through education, understanding, bringing revenue to in-need parts of the world, and through personal growth too.
Choose tours that take you off the beaten path. One of the challenges with tourism can be the impact caused by tourists concentrated in high volumes in specific hot spots only. It means that the benefits of impact are then only seen in those areas and not spread out further to those that perhaps could benefit more. By venturing further afield, you’ll be spreading the benefits of tourism to those who need it more.
Think Local. Locally owned accommodation, local (public) transport, locally owned restaurants. The more interaction you have with people living in the country you visit, the more memorable and ‘genuine’ your experience is likely to be, as opposed to being driven around in a minibus for 2 weeks. It can be harder to organize this, but some operators include high levels of public transportation and owned accommodation in their itineraries, thus reducing your research load!
Avoid Plastic. Take your own aluminum water bottle with you and refill it on the road. It’s amazing how the piles of used plastic water bottles stack up. Many islands and developing countries lack the infrastructure for proper recycling or waste disposal, and the plastic just ends up sitting there, or being washed into the ocean for marine life to ingest. With your own water bottle you’ll be pleasantly surprised how many places are happy to refill your water bottle with filtered water (where tap water is not suitable for drinking) at a discount of the price for normal bottled water, or even for free.
Check the dress code. Seek advice from your trip notes or tour information on what clothing to pack for your trip. Apart from weather, different countries have very different ideas about what is respectful and appropriate clothing to wear, and visiting religious sites in most parts of the world will require covering up to some degree. Although many people would not say anything, showing shoulders or legs may cause offense without us realizing.
Stay open. Asking questions and being curious to discover new cultures and countries is a life-enriching experience, and one of the advantages of having a guide at hand is that they can be your gateway to learning about a new part of the world.