The turn of the millennium saw 674 million travellers traversing across the globe. This statistic grew to 1.2 billion by 2015, and in the next 15 years (by 2030) it is expected to rise to 1.8 billion international travellers, according to the United Nations. While increased travel is serving life sunny side up to all us wanderlust seekers, it also harbours a proportional dark side — which may not be apparent in our daily being, but adds up to harmful impact over the years nonetheless.
That grab-n-go snack wrapped in single-use plastic, the water bottles bought with abandon, that quick flight instead of a road journey between two holiday destinations…countless such actions form a part of tourism all over the world, every day. While the tiny acts seem inconsequential when viewed as isolated incidents, multiply with these with the statistics above and you’ll be able to see the aforementioned dark side better. With phenomenons such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch aka Pacific Trash Vortex, and aircrafts emitting 24 kg of carbon dioxide per mile, amongst other damaging gases, it’s not just the individual paying the price for the trip, but also our ecosystem. Yet, it’s not solely the environmental issues that constitute the side effects of mass tourism, which extend to the local economies and cultures too — staying at that international hotel chain? Buying local crafts with a ‘Made in China’ stamp because those are a tad cheaper? Yep, all that adds up to creating a gaping hole in the local economies and discouragement to pursue indigenous arts and crafts by the people.
It was then only fitting that the UN proclaimed 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, recognising the tourism industry’s potential for not only limiting the adverse effects on our environment, but also fostering economic and intercultural wellbeing. As the world moves towards responsible travel, the onus lies on each one of us packing our bags to explore the world, and do so whilst giving back to nature and society just as we take from them. To leave a positive environmental, social, and economic footprint, here’s a blueprint to follow during travels which ensures TLC not just for your mind, body, and soul, but also your conscience.
Slow travel: Next time you go wanderlust-ing, take it slow. Take trains wherever you can, when traversing within a city go for walks or cycles instead of hailing cabs ever so often. Public transport such as buses and metros are also a good alternative for keeping your carbon footprint in check.
Say no to plastic: The hazardous effects of plastic are known to one and all, and it’s for us to take stock of the situation and put that awareness into action. Replace buying water bottles through your trip with carrying a bottle with an inbuilt filter — this allows you to refill without stressing about hygiene. If possible, carry a bag along for shopping, to avoid using single-use bags at the stores; similarly, travel with foldable lunch boxes with snacks such as granola or trail mix to resist purchase of foods wrapped in plastic. Go the extra mile by asking servers to let you take your order away in your own box, thus letting go of the extra packaging waste.
Stay local: Pick a local homestay or bread & breakfast over your favourite intercontinental hotel the next time you’re on a trip. Not only will you get a more personalised and warm service, you will be aiding the host city’s economy and helping their people sustain and continue business in tourism — a major economy driver in developing countries. As you sift through the options of local stays, try to pick ones that propagate the three point rule of environmental, social, and economic concerns. Such as solar paneling for energy, an in house water plant, employing indigenous persons, promote local arts and crafts through their gift shops, offer native cuisines using ingredients grown there itself, and so on.
Immerse yourself in the native culture: Take care to collect your souvenirs and shop from stores run by the inhabitants of your destination. This ensures that the money flows within their economy, rather than go to international enterprises — not only supporting them financially at present, but providing incentive to continue their cultural crafts in the future too. Another way to help preserve their heritage is to sign up for activities that further the cause, like wildlife safaris, folk dance, music, and theatre presented by local communities, historical walks, etc.
If going through a trip organiser, you can seek ones that channel responsible tourism and help your visit pander to the three pillars: social inclusion, environmental protection and economic equality. Go on, tread that path that leads to widening the horizons of your exploration, without closing the doors on that of nature and society.