Sustainable tourism is all the rage at the moment. However, when I ask fellow travelers what it means, many couldn’t give me an answer. Wikipedia tells us, "Sustainable tourism is the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying to make only a positive impact on the environment, society and economy."
But, once again, what does this really mean to you and me? What steps should we as explorers take to ensure we are making our trips better for the local community?
Here are a few quick tips for making your trip more sustainable:
Work With A Local Tour Company
Tours are the easiest way to see a country when you have limited time. You’re able to move from place to place quickly, you know you’re seeing some of the ‘must-hit’ destinations, and there are often hundreds of companies to choose from.
You could just pick a company on price, or go with the tour that looks the most luxurious, but I urge you to spend just an extra few minutes researching to check out what these tour companies give back.
There are a few companies who still ship in guides from home, which denies a local person a job. This is not sustainable tourism. To help the country you’re visiting, don’t pay a CEO sitting behind a desk in your home country; choose a tour that helps a local person feed their family! Besides, no matter how many guidebooks they read, they are never going to be as knowledgeable as the person who has been there all their life.
Choose Accommodation That Helps Locals
Finding a nice place to stay is another example of a situation where a huge amount of choice can be your enemy. You know your favorite hotelier chain brands, but where does this money go? Straight back to the company who owns these hotels or into the country you’re exploring?
There are many luxury hotel brands and independent boutique hotels that are owned by local people and/or run by and for the benefit of local people. Additionally, they’re good at directing you to other small, local businesses that provide amazing travel experiences like day excursions, cooking classes, or city tours.
Once again, you may to need to do a little more research, but trust me—it’s very much worth it!
Respect Local Traditions
Traditional life in many countries is slowly dissolving in the face of our technology-driven world. The “Western” way of life is taking over countries that have been run by strict traditions for thousands of years.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to leave a positive impact is to simply respect these traditions and take part, if allowed. I personally will seek out elders in ancient tribes or village groups to learn about their history and ancestral roots.
Too often locals believe Western tourists don’t care about their traditions, and the younger generation—raised with influences of the Western world like social media—question how much they should care too. By making an effort to participate, we reinforce the importance of these traditions and participate in preserving them for future generations.
Respect Religious Sites
Places of worship should be respected by all. From temples in Asia to The Vatican in Rome, there are rules to be followed.
Following the dress code is really important to start. As it can be very hot in some locations, I would recommend women carry a sarong or scarf to cover up. These items can be wrapped around the waist or shoulders, and then removed immediately after leaving for comfort.
Unlike in The Vatican, many Asian temples do not have people to enforce a dress code at the site entrance, so read up ahead of time on how to dress and respectfully visit these sites to avoid offending locals.
It is always great to support or to contribute to the place of worship you visit. While I may not follow the religion, I do try to make a small donation during my visit or buy and light a candle or incense. This helps the locals keep up with the burden of upkeep costs and protect their traditional values.
These are just a few of the steps you can take to ensure you make a better impact on the country you are exploring next! If you’re happy to endure a little discomfort for one night, I would highly recommend a village homestay. You can arrange this with your tour company so you know it’s safe, but all your money goes straight to the village and you learn a lot about the local culture!
Also note, many travel agents now list their sustainable suppliers, so it’s even easier for you to book your holiday worry-free. Emerging travel planning sites like Tripeasel are making it easier to hook up with local suppliers, and to ensure that your money is going into their own economy.
At age 19, Millie decided to ditch the heels and don the hiking boots to explore this planet we call Earth. While she will still be frequently found drinking a glass or two of champagne, it will be between adventures around the world. Now, three years later, she’s reached 37 countries and that number is climbing fast!