What if your water bottle could biodegrade the moment you finished drinking it?
Paradise is something we’ve grown up expecting to find when we book a trip, but the myth makes travel unsustainable.
Shall we book a one way ticket to paradise? The Cambridge English Dictionary defines paradise as ‘a place or condition of great happiness where everything is exactly as you would like it to be’. Just the thing we need when we’re stressed out or bored at home, which is why the concept has been so often applied to holidays and is something many of us have grown up expecting to find when we spend money to go somewhere.
While the image of a pristine deserted beach graced by sunlight and free of people has become a cliché, many of us still daydream of far-flung pleasures and perfections from our desks when we’re planning our next trip, and the travel industry remains expert at selling us the myth. From enticing website copy to gorgeous photography, we’re told that if we book this hotel at this location, we’ll find somewhere pure and perfect where all our dreams will come true, where all our stress will disappear, where we can be happy and free and leave all our troubles behind – or indeed sort them out whilst sipping our Pina Coladas. We as travellers help perpetuate it too, by editing our photographs for Instagram or Facebook and pretending we were in paradise anyway, even when things failed to
live up to our expectations.
We all know that finding paradise is not a realistic dream in our 21st century world, where many people and much of the planet is empoverished, flawed or fragile and where empty spaces to retreat to are the exception rather than the rule. There are still beautiful beaches, impeccable service and life changing experiences to be found out there, but for every one of these that are offered in the spirit of sustainability, the travel industry perpetuates the paradise myth by not telling us the truth about others.
Holed up and cosseted in our hotel rooms, and treated with kid gloves by staff, we haven’t always had the opportunity to open our eyes and see what’s going on around us, from the rubbish that’s lying festering on untamed neighbouring land to the locals who live in poverty and don’t gain a dime from the tourist ventures near their town. But far from looking for paradise, we need to be realistic in our expectations when we travel and acknowledge we are part of a wider world if we want to travel sustainably and use our travel experiences to help build a more sustainable world.
Justin Francis, founder of Responsible Travel, says: ‘Our obsession with tourist destinations as paradise has led to us to turn a blind eye to local issues and feel we have a right to behave as we wish’. Rather than hiding these local issues, he says, the travel industry needs to be honest about the locations in which they operate and present them as real places that can benefit from tourist investment. ‘The travel industry has in the past thought that tourists didn’t want to be properly informed, but in my view that’s mistaken and has limited the tourism industry’s commitment and ability to do much to help solve these problems’.
This is the case whatever budget we have when we travel. And it’s the belief of many conscious travellers that, when it comes especially to luxury travel, sustainability is set to redefine it. Luxury experiences are not about perfection, unparalleled service or being The Best in the World. They are about authenticity and about being ‘the best for our world’. There’s a calm difference, a difference that will create a win-win for both traveller and travel
By encouraging the hotels we book and the tour operators we choose to make a stand and be honest about the locations in which they operate, we can in turn help drive change for the good of the whole world. It will be the end of paradise, but the start of truly authentic travel.
Genuine sustainable tourism projects can help save our corals says Steve Newman, Group Director of Conservation for Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts in the Maldives
In 2016 the world experienced its third major coral bleaching event, the results of which look set to be worse than the 1998 El Niňo disaster which saw an estimated 16% of all corals worldwide perish. By 2050, the general consensus is that bleaching events will become more frequent and more severe, threatening many coral species with extinction. Can the tourism industry do anything to help?
Coral bleaching caused by increases in water temperature is one of the most pressing climate-change-related threats to coral reefs. An increase of just a degree or two can stress corals enough to make them expel a symbiotic algae and turn white, so they appear “bleached”. Corals can recover from bleaching which lasts less than a few weeks, but any longer and many corals perish. While it is difficult to prepare for global climate events, I do believe that sensitive, sustainable tourism can play an important role in the conservation and restoration of reefs.
Last year Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts became one of the first private businesses worldwide to implement a bleaching response plan in the Maldives, which has the seventh largest coral reef system on the planet. While not a panacea for bleaching, the plan provides a holistic framework for the monitoring, management and restoration of the islands coral reefs, and is supported by dedicated on-site marine labs on Vabbinfaru and Velavaru as well as by guest engagement and citizen science programmes.
Managing any resource – be it money, fuel, people or the environment – first requires monitoring, and long term monitoring of our reef sites will help us understand change, direct our conservation efforts and assess our impact and success. Citizen science programmes are an important part of this, enabling people of all ages and skills to participate in scientific research. We provide fun, easy to use underwater photo-guides that allow anyone in the water to record sightings, and we educate and connect people with the environment in other ways to encourage them to feel genuine care towards it and want to take care of it in the future.
Before the 2016 bleaching event we’d already established nurseries to support 1000 corals on our Vabbinfaru, Ihuru and Velavaru house reefs – deep enough to avoid the effect of increased temperatures. After the event, both staff and guests helped to transplant these baby corals to help natural reef recovery – a low cost, low tech but highly effective process. The signs of natural recovery are now evident on our house reefs, where diverse and abundant fish communities are helping the reef recover and numerous baby corals are growing on top of the corals that perished.
Sustainable tourism ventures create environmental stewardship, and if founded on best practice and scientific knowledge, can help mitigate impacts and expedite recovery. However, a global approach is needed to ensure longevity of global coral reefs. Global challenges such as climate change are often daunting to tackle. I believe it’s only through collective, progressive action for the good of all that we will be able to effect positive change.
This month NOW talks to Renée Elliott, the organic pioneer who opened the first organic supermarket Planet Organic, writes brilliant cookbooks and works with women through her new business, Beluga Bean.
One word that describes you?
In your own words, what do you do?
Support budding entrepreneurs to follow their dream.
Which is your favourite part of your job?
Making a difference.
Which is the part that you enjoy the least?
Who is your greatest influence?
Best advice you’ve been given?
‘When you are tired, take rest’ – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
What was your Plan B?
Now that I’m not running Planet Organic anymore, my plan B is Beluga Bean, life skills and business skills for women.
Your personal indulgence?
A matcha in the afternoon with one of my Match Cupcakes, a recipe I wrote for my newest book, What to Eat & How to Eat it.
How do you like to travel?
With a book.
Favourite sustainable hotel or other place to stay?
Herdade da Matinha, half-way down the west coast of Portugal, between Lisbon and the Algarve, a simple and beautiful experience based around organic meals and living lightly.
What steps do you take to make your life more sustainable?
Everything I can think of! I support organic, sustainable agriculture through my work at the Soil Association, our work at Planet Organic and through the food choices I make every week by buying organic food, which is the simple, regular change people can make for the environment and for themselves.
What must happen NOW to help make our planet more sustainable?
Everyone needs to care.
Any regrets so far?
I usually avoid them by following my gut.
Looking for sustainable travel ideas? Palau is the world’s first nation to change its laws for sustainability and sustainable tourism.
A trailblazer of sustainable tourism, Palau is a beautiful archipelago of about 200 limestone and volcanic islands in the western Pacific Ocean that’s become the world’s first nation to change its immigration laws to help protect its environment. Upon entry, visitors now need to sign a pledge to act in an ecologically responsible way on the island, and entry visas are only issued to those who sign it.
‘It is our responsibility to show our guests how to respect our island home, just as it is their duty to uphold the signed pledge when visiting,’ says Tommy Remengesau, President of the Republic of Palau. The nation’s population of about 21,000 has also signed the pledge, which was drafted, rather wonderfully, with the help of children from all over the country.
It reads: “Children of Palau, I take this pledge, as your guest, to preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home. I vow to tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully. I shall not take what is not given. I shall not harm what does not harm me. The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away.”
Every tourist who takes the pledge needs to follow a set of sustainable tourism guidelines or risk a fine. These include simple things not to do – such as collect marine life souvenirs, feed the fish and sharks, drop litter or smoke in restricted areas – and to do – such as respect local customs and culture, take care over local wildlife and coral, and support local businesses and communities. Not bad for a country that covers an area of just 180 square miles.
In 2015 Palau turned most of its territorial waters into a marine sanctuary in which commercial fishing and oil drilling is banned, but as with other Pacific island nations, rising sea levels, illegal dynamite fishing, inadequate waste disposal facilities and extensive sand and coral dredging continue to present a major environmental threat. Mass tourism has also had an enormous negative impact on the state of the island’s resources, from its water supply and beaches to its coral reefs and local heritage sites. The island needs tourism – but the right kind of responsible tourism – which is where the pledge comes in.
‘The Palau Pledge is a wonderful example of a local community who are taking collective action to achieve responsible tourism in their destination,’ CEO of Earthcheck Stewart Moore told itmustbeNOW Magazine. ‘Tourism needs to be treated and recognised as a privilege and not a right. As travellers we have a responsibility to tread lightly in the destinations that we visit, to respect local customs and to play a part in helping to protect and maintain the health of the local environment.’
All Palauns have also signed the pledge, and a new curriculum for primary and secondary school students aims to help build eco-awareness in tomorrow’s leaders and conscious business principles within the tourist sector. The mere act of putting pen to paper and signing a pledge encourages people to do what they say they will do – and that they know to be right. It’s a wonderful example of what other countries can do all over the world. Find out more here.
Global citizenship is a way of living that recognises that we all live in an interdependent world and that our choices and actions may have impacts for people and communities. It nurtures respect for self and others wherever they live and a willingness to act to make the world a more fair and sustainable place.
It starts with education that help learners grow more confident in standing up for their beliefs and be effective, creative and proactive at solve problems, communicating ideas and working well within a team.
At Blackawton Primary School in the South Hams in Devon in the UK, an after-school club called Global Citizens Club aims to encourage its members to feel empowered to get involved in issues which they feel passionate about.
The Global Citizen’s Club members learned about single use plastics and their effect on our environments, especially the marine environment. They spent a couple of weeks researching the issue and they identified some single use plastics which they thought are unnecessary, including drinking straws.
Blackawton Primary School pupils Carys, Lily, Jake, Maddie, DD, Daisy and Ben noticed that the milk that they have delivered to the school, as part of a national government sponsored scheme called ‘Cool Milk at School’, was delivered in small cartons with a plastic straw attached. They wanted to do something to change that.
Established in 1998, Cool Milk at School Ltd work in partnership with local authorities to supply free and subsidised milk for children in primary, infant, junior and special schools.
Informed, inspired and empowered … Carys, Lily, Jake, Maddie, DD, Daisy and Ben wrote letters to ‘Cool Milk at School’ asking them to supply milk in more sustainable packaging and to ditch the plastic straw.
To their surprise, the Deputy Managing Director at Cool Milk responded to their letter. The MD wrote, “Thank you for your passionate letters which demonstrate your understanding of the impact of pollution, and your determination to make things better.” He went on to say that Cool Milk will supply the school’s milk from now on in recyclable large containers so that the staff can pour the milk into beakers; and also that they will be challenging the biggest dairies who supply their milk to work with their packaging suppliers to develop a more environmentally-friendly drinking straw.
Carys, Lily, Jake, Maddie, DD, Daisy and Ben were delighted with the response and learned that you can make a difference if you are passionate about an issue, and that if you do something about it then you can make change happen!
NOW would love to feature your ‘Giving Back’ stories too. For more information, take a look here: https://www.itmustbeNOW.com/itmustbeNOW-magazine-contributor/