What is Sustainable Travel

Dear TAs,

Now that vaccines are going into arms and travel is beginning to resume, it’s time for travelers to begin to think about their impact on the environment, and how they can travel more sustainably.  We saw earth’s temperatures reduce as result of people staying put for an extended period of time – which may have your clients already wondering how they can travel more responsibly. In fact, It is time for us all to think about travel differently. We need to stop thinking just about what our own personal experience is going to be – and start looking at the impact of our experience on the ground, on the destination and in the communities we visit.

There have been many newsworthy stories lately regarding overcrowding, climate change, and unfair working conditions in the travel and tourism industry. You can advise your clients how to have a wonderful trip while being mindful of their own global footprint.

There are several different “sustainability” certification labels in use, each with their own criteria and little enforcement. Of course, saying your company is green is not the same as taking the necessary steps to ensure that your business practices are green.  There is a lot more to it than simply reusing the towels in a hotel room or paying for a carbon offset for a flight. “Sustainable travel” means a different thing in different places, because of each country’s unique location, climate, and people. There are more than 230 travel organizations that have joined the Tourism Declares initiative, members of which have pledged to publish a climate action plan and cut their carbon emissions. If a company is classified as a “B Corporation” — they meet a rigorous sustainability standard that’s not limited to the tourism industry.

The time to ask questions about sustainable travel is before booking.  Tour operators, hotels and the actual destination should make their stance on sustainability clear with an obvious statement on their websites.  Some things travelers should consider:

  • Does the money they spend end up in the local economy? Are locals hired as tour guides? Are hotels sourcing food locally?
  • Are your clients traveling during a peak time where cities can become overcrowded, putting additional stress on local resources, or wear and tear on historic or natural sites?
  • When flying, clients should choose a long-haul flight to the destination, and then choose trains or other less-polluting ways to get around, even if cheap short-haul flights are readily available.

Rules that all travelers should follow when going anywhere include:

  • Hire local guides
  • Ask permission before taking photos of people
  • Stay on designated trails in natural areas
  • Think twice about handing out money to children
  • Call out waste or abuse when they see it

The world is reopening for exploration. If we all take the necessary steps towards traveling sustainably, we will leave our destinations a better place for travelers who come later, and for the people who call these places home.

Cheers,

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