If we want to move beyond sustainable tourism to embrace a brighter travelling future, how and where we choose to travel and spend our money – and what we do when we get there – is vitally important. It can have an enormous impact on how our chosen destinations treat wildlife, the environment, their citizens, indigenous people as well as the world at large. But with so much choice out there, how do we help make a positive difference and limit the negative impacts travel can have?
Fly less, and when you do fly, make it count by giving back
There's no getting around it - when it comes to sustainable travel, many trips and holidays need an international flight with its associated CO2 emissions, and one long haul return flight can produce more carbon dioxide per passenger than the average UK motorist in one year. So fly less, and when you do fly, make it count by giving back. With more than 10% of the global population reliant on the tourist industry, many of whom live in the developing world, there is lots you can do to help benefit local people as well as the environment.
Choose ethical travel insurance
Like tour operators, there are some insurance companies who care about people and planet rather than only profit. When you book travel insurance with World Nomads, for example, you have the option of adding a small donation (about £1) towards its charity, The Footprints Network, which funds all sorts of useful community projects across the globe, from offering safe access jojobas for migrant women in Myanmar to providing a mobile library for children in Ethiopia. You can choose to increase how much you donate, and the project you fund.
Choose your tour operator with care
Whether you want to be guided on an extensive trip of a lifetime or take an afternoon tour once at your destination, choose responsible companies that seek to reduce CO2 impacts, give back to their local communities by supporting programmes and development, take care of nature and wildlife and give a cut of their profits to help upkeep or restore ancient sites and other attractions that feed the business. Feel free to ask questions of the company you’re booking with if their sustainable policies aren't obvious and be wary of greenwashing. Responsible Travel and Intrepid Travel are transparent about the responsible tourism practices of the holidays they represent.
Choose genuinely sustainable hotels
Book hotels that don’t greenwash, have been credibly proven to be sustainable and that take sustainable action on a daily basis. There are over 300 different programmes offering sustainability certification schemes in the world, but only five that are approved, accredited and certified by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (Biosphere, Eco-Tourism Australia, Control Union, Rainforest Alliance Sustainable and EarthCheck). Ask a hotel these questions before you book and check out NOW Sustainability tool for our ever-growing list of hotels trying hard to become sustainable.
Volunteering is in theory a brilliant thing, but can cause more harm than good. Never volunteer to work with children in orphanages, for example, unless you are a professional, fully qualified childcare or teacher with experience and can do so for a minimum of four weeks. There is proof that the constant, short term engagement with a stream of strangers is hugely damaging to children, and that it’s better to focus efforts on helping poor families and communities so that they can keep their children safe at home. If you have no specific skills, go through a work exchange organisation such as HelpX or Workaway.
Pay for a day trip for a disadvantaged child
Many children in developing countries who live near fantastic wildlife parks or the sea have not seen either. Knowing this, every time you buy a holiday with Responsible Travel, the company will (if you want it to) pay for a day trip for a disadvantaged child from a developing country to visit or experience something new. They took 20 children who live close to Angkor Wat in Cambodia but have never seen it to visit for a day, for example.
Be conscious of where you are visiting and buy local whenever you can. Eat locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and go vegan for a day or more to reduce the strain on the environment that comes from imported food and meat production. Opt for spa treatments using products that have been locally made with natural ingredients rather than products that have been flown half way round the world. Hire local guides, and if you’re on an adventure trip in a developing country consider a homestay, which gives your hosts an often much-needed direct dose of money.
Stand up and speak out
When you see unethical practices while you are travelling, whether that’s animals being mistreated or plastic rubbish being thrown out of a window, make the effort to point them out to those concerned and explain why such behaviour isn’t helpful. Use your smartphone to tell the world about genuinely sustainable places, hotels and behaviour you’ve found, and to expose any unsustainable practices you’ve witnessed. As travellers holding the wallets we can help create a more caring tourism industry and a more peaceful world.