Sustainability is a bit of a buzzword that we often hear in discussions on the environment and climate change, so what does it have to do with the tourism industry?
Responsible tourism (AKA sustainable tourism) is a travel trend that’s grown hugely popular in the past years as travellers become more conscious of the environmental consequences of tourism and start looking for alternative ways to explore the world.
It’s difficult to talk about sustainable tourism without mentioning the role that the tour agencies and operators (could) actively play.
For today’s article, I’ll dive deeper into sustainable travel and how tour agencies can contribute to making travel safe not only for tourists but also for the environment.
Let’s start with the importance of sustainable tourism!
Why does sustainable tourism matter?
The best part of travelling is the chance to explore unfamiliar places, interact with different cultures, and meet new people.
Without a doubt, the experience we get from travelling is priceless, but it almost always comes at the cost of the environment, even if that’s far from our intention!
For example, riding a plane alone emits high levels of carbon. Imagine the total amount of carbon emissions when there are millions of commercial flights every year!
Another is the fact that the entire tourism industry relies not only on tourists but on the environment, local communities, and the local economy too. As a result, tourist-popular destinations often become victims of unfair tourism practices to keep tourists satisfied and keep up with the demand.
Through sustainable travel, we’re acknowledging that this is the reality for many tourist spots all over the world. It means no longer turning a blind eye to the negative impact of certain tourism practices so as not to ruin our fantasy as outsiders.
Because if we don’t make changes to the way we travel, our cities will become more populated, our waters and forests destroyed, and our wildlife extinct.
What can tour operators do?
It’s not surprising that the pressure to travel sustainably is often pinned on the travellers, but it’s the tour operators who can make a huge impact on the progress of sustainable travel.
Yes, travellers may be the ones interacting with the environment and wildlife, but aren’t the tour operators the ones who make this and more possible in the first place?
It’s the tour operators who determine where tourists will go, the local businesses used in the tour, and the type of information passed on to the tourists.
From wildlife extinction to high carbon emissions, the environmental implications of the tourism industry are hard to deny.
Animals are put in danger by taking them out of their natural habitats for tourists to interact and take pictures with, which leads to their extinction.
Even our mode of transportation when travelling affects the environment. In 2019, worldwide flights generated 915 million tonnes of CO2, making the airline industry one of the top producers of carbon.
What can tour agencies do to combat the environmental impacts of the tourism industry?
It can be as simple as encouraging tourists to dispose of their trash properly, an act that can go a long way if everyone’s doing it!
As tour operators, we have the power to minimise wildlife disruption by not allowing tourists to come close to wildlife animals! The proper way to interact with wildlife is to observe from afar.
When it comes to transportation, tour agencies can promote eco-friendly transportation. We can start by organising group tours that limit the use of cars and incorporate more walking!
Whenever tourists visit a community, they should treat it and its people with love and respect and always remember that they’re merely an outsider.
Tourists come for a day to explore, take pictures, and then leave it behind, but for the locals, it’s their home and source of livelihood.
As tour agencies, we should be mindful of how we may be encouraging tourists to commodify these local communities, especially indigenous communities.
Support is what these local communities need the most, which tour agencies can give by including local workers in the supply chain management. It helps the local culture stay alive and gives locals an extra source of income to keep the land beautiful for tourists.
The tourism industry is capable of boosting a country’s economic growth, but more often than not, local communities rarely benefit from it.
When there’s an influx of tourists, local infrastructures need to be upgraded and maintained to attract more visitors. The problem with this is the money that could’ve gone to the welfare of the locals will go to fixing airports, roads, and bridges instead.
So tourists aren’t only exploiting the natural resources but giving them higher taxes to pay as well.
To sum this up, tourism contributes more to the national and global economy than it does to the local economy.
Tour agencies can help by encouraging clients to stay at local hotels, eat at local restaurants, and shop at local stores. It allows tourists to not only have a more unique experience by immersing themselves in the local culture and local businesses directly earn the profit as well.
Another way is to offer promotions and discounts to bring tourists in during off-peak travel seasons! It gives them the chance to see a new side of the community without the smarm of other tourists around.
Creating sustainable and responsible tours
As a tour operator (or tourist) yourself, how do you think tour agencies contribute to the development of sustainable tourism? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!
By the way, if you’re thinking of travelling this year, don’t hesitate to send me a message! I’d be more than happy to help you prepare everything to give you a smooth and hassle-free trip.