Tourism and sustainability - historically two terms that have been somewhat juxtaposed. Yet is this fair? An ever increasing green footprint, over population of cities, even loss of wildlife and habitats - these are all issues attributed to the tourist trade.
But what about the positives? Can you list these? What about the way in which tourism increases economic growth, quality of living, and actually works to preserve local cultures and communities?
The UN have identified 2017 as the International Year for Sustainable Tourism, seeking to start conversations and shine a light on the positive impact tourism can have on the wider world. So with this in mind, we're celebrating the plethora of ways in which, either directly or indirectly, your travels are making a huge difference to the wider world...
Your money is going straight into the local economy
Maybe the most obvious and probably the most important positive impact of tourism is the sheer number of jobs it provides for local communities. According to a report released by the World Travel and Tourism Council, the travel and tourism industry added 7.2 million jobs and contributed $7.2 trillion to the gross domestic product in 2015. Increased demand for the likes of local food and crafts, hospitality, transport, tour guides, and shops are all thanks to tourists, resulting in economic growth and drastic improvements of people’s livelihoods.
Handy tip – Exploring as a sustainable tourist by opting for locally owned and operated businesses instead of large hotel chains, means your money goes directly back into the local economy, bringing in $$$ that will help the local community stay profitable long after you have left.
You're helping to spread tolerance and understanding
Now more than ever false perceptions and stereotypes are having a negative effect on the way we see each other. Viewing other countries, cultures or religions through second party and often biased influences, like the media, often results in false information and misconstrued perceptions.
But travel, now this creates the ability for us to see things through our own eyes and make up our own minds, so we can make an informed, well rounded opinion. We get to see the way people really live, what they really believe in, what their daily lives look like, and ultimately realise we’re not all so different after all.
You're learning...and teaching
When it comes to education and tourism it’s a win win. Both locals and tourists are exposed to different cultures, religions and backgrounds, giving a first-hand look and greater understanding of the wider world. This is especially true when going off the beaten track, with locally guided tours and business a great way to get an insight into local’s cultures and environments. I mean, who better to learn from then the people that live there? Visit.org, NYC Tours & Photo Safaris, and Grassroots Volunteering are all awesome go-to’s if you’re looking for a more authentic experience.
And for the locals? Well, more tourists means being pushed to learn new languages, understand different cultures and have more of an incentive to be educated. Be it working in hospitality, transport or even being a tour guide. This all requires expertise they would not need or maybe want if it wasn’t for tourists.
You're helping to preserve local traditions
One of the main reasons for the growth of tourism is the ever increasing desire to experience different cultures, with people wanting ever more authentic travel experiences. It’s therefore imperative for local communities to ensure they keep their local traditions intact, which in turn creates jobs for local artisans and specialists. Buying these local wares also directly puts money back into the hands of those who made the produce.
You're actually helping to conserve habitats and wildlife
In a similar way to tourists wanting to experience local traditions, we also travel to explore various wildlife and scenery, and accordingly it is more important than ever to conserve them. Tourism can contribute directly to the conservation of sensitive areas and habitats. Revenue from park-entrance fees and similar sources can be allocated specifically to pay for the protection and management of environmentally sensitive areas. Some governments collect money in more indirect ways e.g. tax, which also ultimately provides the funds needed to manage natural resources. If it wasn’t for the demand to conserve this may be a very different story.
You have the potential to give back
Always wanted to dip your toe in the charity work world? You’re not alone – according to Booking.com, 36% of travellers said they wanted to travel sustainably in 2017. And the good news is travel brands are sitting up and listening to this seismic shift in desire, often partnering up with organisations to help see these ambitions actualised in the form of volunteering. Here at Contiki, we work with the geniuses from Me to We, offering volunteering trips that allow you to integrate with a local community and work on a sustainable development project. This could be building a classroom, installing a well, or just working with a local farmer – each one entirely vital in its own right.
You're having a say in infrastructure development
One key factor of a strengthened economy is the positive impact it has on the local way of living. Improving factors like infrastructure not only facilitate traveller’s experiences, but can also improve the quality of life for residents. Creating better sewage systems, water, roads, telephone and public transport networks are all massive advancements for the local way of living, all thanks to tourism.
You're improving quality of life for millions
Sustainable Tourism isn’t just about creating better places to visit, it’s about creating better places to live. As mentioned earlier, non-profit local businesses are the best way to directly inject money into the local economies. This can be opting for independent hostels, homestays or AirBnB’s. These options are not only better for the local residents; they are also often cheaper and provide a far more authentic way to experience somewhere new. Another benefit of the increase in jobs and future careers is the positive affect it has on avoiding the displacement and resettlement of local communities, also inadvertently improving the happiness of families and communities.
You're preparing yourself for the future
Change is coming, that much we can be sure of. Climate change is already impacting the world in a massive way, weather patterns are changing, food production is being affected, and natural disasters seem to be an almost daily occurence.
It’s simple – if we don’t change our habits, life as we know it will no longer exist. So let’s start practising ASAP. Take a bike ride around a new city. Buy local. Work with a charity. Do your research on who to travel with, and where. There are some incredible tools already at your disposal, like Glooby, an eco-focused search engine that calculates factors like fuel consumption and flight distances between airports to show fliers a detailed eco-rating when they search.
We still have a chance at turning things around, but we have to do it now. And we have to do it together.