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Sustainable tourism definitions and ideas
Sustainable tourism can come in many guises. It goes beyond the act of physically traveling sustainably to encompass all aspects of the travel experience, from where tourists visit the type of accommodation and activities they engage in.
The definition of sustainable tourism, according to the UNWTO, 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.”
But what does this actually mean? What is sustainable tourism when you’re booking trips for clients, and how can you help travelers engage in green travel? Here we’ve broken down sustainable tourism into the various categories that are out there today.
You can find more insight into why sustainable tourism is an essential part of a travel advisor’s business strategy with our latest eBook: Sustainable tourism: everything travel agents need to know about green travel.
1. Low-carbon travel
Decarbonising travel is a key pillar of sustainable tourism. With 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from tourism, cutting down on flights and unsustainable transport is important for the industry. But it’s not an easy feat, and it’s unrealistic to expect travelers to stop flying to far-flung destinations straight away.
Slow progress is being made, though. Aviation giants like British Airways have started carbon offsetting hundreds of domestic and some European routes, and the world’s first all-electric commercial seaplane took off in 2019 just outside of Vancouver.
"Electric car charging points are becoming more common on major highways and at service stations across the world too, and some car hire companies even provide electric or hybrid vehicles."
To find more ways of helping your clients lower their carbon emissions, download our eBook on sustainable travel for travel agents.
2. Community and rural tourism
It’s not immediately obvious, but traveling to rural places and engaging with local communities is a really important part of sustainable tourism. Not only does traveling in rural areas often come with lower environmental impact – off-the-beaten-track communities tend to live lower-impact lifestyles – but it also helps support small economies and local businesses. In some places, villages and communities would have no other source of income if tourism didn’t exist, so participating in rural tourism can create and maintain jobs where there would otherwise be little opportunity.
In destinations like Australia, rural tourism might mean staying on farms and even engaging in farm work, in the United States it could be ranch tourism, or in adventure hubs like Peru, it could be trekking from mountain village to mountain village.
"This kind of travel is great both environmentally and economically, and often provides visitors with even more insight, understanding, and unforgettable experiences."
Ecotourism is a fairly general term, but it ultimately encompasses any responsible travel to natural landscapes that helps conserve the environment and local way of life. This could mean visiting eco-lodges in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, where money spent gets put back into the conservation of the natural habitats, or taking safaris in places like South Africa or Kenya, where the national park entrance fees support anti-poaching networks and protection of the animals.
"A key pillar of ecotourism is having a low impact, so staying in environmentally-friendly accommodation that perhaps makes use of solar power or filtered rainwater for showers is essential."
4. Plastic-free travel
Related to ecotourism, plastic-free travel is becoming ever more popular. With eight million pieces of plastic finding their way into our oceans every day, reducing plastic waste should be a huge priority for travelers and travel companies. But this type of tourism is less about where or how a tourist travels and more about their day-to-day actions.
Traveling plastic-free might mean carrying a reusable water bottle – possibly with purification functionality – to avoid buying mineral water in plastic containers, or carrying canvas bags for any shopping so visitors don’t have to accept plastic bags when buying souvenirs or snacks. To take this concept even further, lots of travelers might even take part in beach clean-ups or litter picks, collecting trash found in natural environments and ensuring it’s recycled properly.
Learn more about sustainable travel and why it’s an essential part of any travel advisor’s business strategy with our latest eBook: Sustainable tourism: everything travel agents need to know about green travel.
Low-carbon travel guide; Responsible Travel
What is ecotourism?; The International Ecotourism Society
Plastic pollution facts and figures; Surfers Against Sewage
Tourism is four-times worse for the climate than we thought; New Scientist