“Travel is the answer. No matter what the question is”

For the vast majority, this quote is a mantra of life, a way of living. Travel is synonymous with happiness, discovering new places, getting to know new cultures, approaching different ways of understanding the world. Moreover, in an increasingly globalized society, travel is a pleasure that (almost) everyone can afford.

Despite the fact that right now tourism is marked by the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 around the world, we know that we’ll get back on a plane, we’ll feel that unique sensation when you arrive at your destination and that melancholy that invades you when you return home. But will tourism remain as we know it? 

For many experts, the answer is a resounding no. The future of this sector depends on sustainable tourism. We love to travel, but we are rarely fully aware of the environmental impact it entails. The footprint that tourism leaves year after year is terrible and measures must be taken to reverse the situation and bet on ecological and sustainable tourism.

Sustainable tourism: what it is

According to the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization), sustainable tourism is “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities”

And the data of tourism in the world reflect the great impact that this sector has on the environment. According to the UNWTO, in 2018, more than 1.3 billion people traveled the world; in 2019, this number increased to 1.5 billion and it is estimated that in 2030 it will be 1.8 billion. And if we add to this that a ship pollutes like 14,000 cars and that airplanes generate 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions, the effect on the planet is brutal.

Yes, traveling pollutes, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop doing it. In this fight is this new trend, sustainable tourism, which is committed to continue traveling but in a much more responsible way and with new habits that help to reduce our footprint in the destination.

How to be a good sustainable traveler

Obviously, the first change towards sustainable tourism must come from those who travel. Tourists must show a change of attitude when facing a trip, from planning to the moment they set foot in the desired destination.

In this sense, these are the keys to be the perfect traveler in a context of sustainable tourism:

Don’t travel when everyone else does. When it comes to deciding when to travel we are, generally speaking, unoriginal. When everyone decides to visit a destination like the Abu Simbel sanctuary in Egypt or the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, it is devastating for that particular site because of the overload of people. It’s about spreading the impact throughout the year. 

The destination choice. Not all evil in tourism comes from taking a plane or any other means of transport, but the destination itself is also involved. In this sense, some places are more concerned about preserving their environment than others. For example, Green Destinations collects the list of the 100 most sustainable destinations in the world.

– The choice of transportation. One of the most controversial issues is transportation. Realistically, however, it is practically impossible to travel long distances without an airplane. For this reason, the industry is already working on improving its engines to reduce pollution. In addition, in flight search engines you can already select those with a lower carbon footprint. What is advisable, once you arrive at your destination, is to be as responsible as possible and opt for public transportation, cycling or discovering the destination on foot.

Choose an accommodation that cares about sustainable tourism. There are several certifications (Travel Life, Biosphere or Rainforest Alliance) that certify that the establishment respects the natural environment, social rights and promotes the local economy. Sustainability in this case also implies responsible energy consumption, optimal resource management and the use of environmentally friendly products.

Go local. Once at your destination, use everything that is local: eat in restaurants that offer local food and products that follow the FLOSS rule (Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal, Sustainable), hire local guides, take care of the heritage, make sure that souvenirs are locally made, etc.

Rural is trendy. With COVID-19, rural tourism has become a trend and has risen as one of the best alternatives for this year 2021. It is also a way of betting on sustainable travel, as it is closely related to a way of understanding the world that is much more respectful of the environment.

Benefits of sustainable tourism

The benefits of sustainable tourism can be grouped into 4 different levels:

1. Environmental benefits

Minimal environmental impact, promotes responsible consumption, achieves a balanced development of the environment, generates economic benefits in flora and fauna resources for the local community and is able to monitor, evaluate and manage the impact of tourism on the territory.

2. Cultural benefits

It respects the authenticity of local communities, promotes the restoration, conservation and use of cultural heritage (archaeological, architectural and any other work), promotes local cultural manifestations and fosters intercultural tolerance.

3. Social benefits

It integrates local cultures in tourism activity, for tourists it is an enriching practice and promotes sustainable tourism in their own cities, reactivates rural areas, improves the quality of local people’s life and promotes the improvement of infrastructures.

4. Economic benefits

It generates employment and stimulates the development of local tourism businesses, contributes to poverty reduction and boosts the consumption of local and natural products.

To sum up, from 2021 onwards (and when the global pandemic allows) we will travel more, but we will also travel better. Our suitcases are filling up with social environment responsibility and we are increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable tourism. We will prioritize quality over quantity on airplanes, we will want to visit destinations that are firmly committed to sustainability and tourism, and we will look for less crowded and wilder places.