World Tourism Day will be celebrated around the globe this week on September 27. You likely know by now that the United Nations declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The UN has recognized the immense power the travel industry has to support economic, social, and environmental growth as well the 17 sustainable development goals. UNTWO created a helpful Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and Tips for a Responsible Traveler.
Lately, tourism has been getting a lashing by the media who’ve been shedding a negative light on travelers, and the travel industry, from stories about the cause and effect of mass tourism, discouraging travel to countries in natural disasters or boycotting inhumane regimes. All of this can be combated through community-based travel.
1.2 million of us traveled across international borders last year, and each of us has the spending power make a more peaceful planet through mutual understanding and cultural appreciation. Our voyages fund the 1260 trillion dollar international tourism industry which provides 10% of the global GDP and 1 in 10 jobs. That’s a crazy amount of money, right? Well, funds mostly go directly to large corporations and not local tourism operators. Imagine if instead, those financial earnings went directly to the communities we are so lucky to visit? You’d likely be spending less money and having a transformative experience in which you can learn about heart and soul of the place you’ve visited directly from locals. Your travel dollars could improve lives, support entrepreneurs and small business owners, conservation efforts, and so much more. To me, this is an obvious decision. But I recognize that travel is a deeply personal experience and everyone has to form their own style through their experiences.
When choosing hotels and brands to partner with I always support establishments that are eco-conscious and support a sustainable community. I try to make responsible travel decisions each day and seek out cultural heritage experiences that are off-the-beaten-path. The purpose of this travel journal of mine is to share with you my sustainable travel experiences and tips. My lifestyle as a traveler changed drastically when I was first introduced to social impact travel. I’ve been able to visit a bear sanctuary in Romania, spend 10 days in the Sahara Desert with a Gnaoua family, learn about sustainability projects in India, and how to make delicious Sri Lankan curries. I’ve recruited dozens of organizations to partner with the social travel platform in Morocco and India, and will hopefully bring more on board soon in Southeast Asia where I am currently slow traveling.
It is more accessible and affordable than ever to be a more sustainable traveler. From homestays, purchasing carbon offsets, supporting local business and these 9 small changes to be a greener traveler, each of us can be more responsible in the way we spend our tourism dollars. As the tired but true quote says, “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.”
Over the last year of my journey into becoming a more mindful traveler, I’ve connected with many other travelers who are committed to responsible travel. To celebrate World Tourism Day I’ve asked them to share with us why making ethical travel decisions is so important. I hope their answers will inspire you. I am very passionate about the capabilities the travel industry and travelers have to change the world for good, you may always email me with questions you may have about your own journey into becoming a more mindful traveler.
Naomi visiting Painted Warriors Ranch, an indigenous tourism organization in Alberta, Canada.
Naomi of Roaming The Americas: The beauty of travel is in getting to know the people that make up a culture. When you get to know people and the place that they call “home,” you’ll naturally want to see their community and environment thriving. You’re not just stepping into a place for 10 days and leaving, but you’re invested in that destination’s well-being because there are people there that you call friends.
Lourdes of place OK: Tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and is a major source of income for many countries. Tourism can also cause problems, such as social dislocation, loss of cultural heritage, economic dependence, and ecological degradation. However, tourism has the power to promote an inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment opportunities, poverty reduction, environmental protection, restore cultural values, mutual understanding, peace, and security. When travelers choose community-based tourism they get an authentic and meaningful experience.
Sky of Sky vs World: Community-based tourism is the best and easiest way to have ethical and sustainable travel experiences. When we travel, it’s important to do so in a way that gives back to the local communities–not just big corporations and chains. After all, it is the locals allowing us the opportunity to share their hometowns and they are the ones most impacted by the presence of tourists. We should do what we can to make sure that impact is a positive one. When you choose community-based activities, you are giving yourself the opportunity to see the “other” side of a destination and learning more about the local culture which is always an enriching experience.
Nam of Laugh Travel Eat: Being conscious of the environment and other living things that inhabit the world is important. The same extends to people and their habitats. Community-based tourism not only means you get a better insight to the community but that you can be sure that you won’t impact their society in a negative way. It is also a more intimate way to travel, unlike those mass-manufactured experiences where a lot of people are herded from one place to another.
Bianca visiting a homestay in Palpa, Nepal which helps to promote community-based tourism in the region.
Bianca of The Altruistic Traveller: As travelers, I believe that we have a responsibility to use travel as a way to help others. Sustainable tourism gives us that opportunity, whether it’s positively impacting people, animals, or our greater environment. It is taking a mainstream activity and turning it into a sustainable one, an activity that changes us and changes our world. The rise of sustainable tourism means that people are starting to realize they have the power to make a difference. We have a choice where to spend our money, and remote communities around the world have the opportunity to open their societies to travelers, with the opportunity for income generation. If we all made mindful decisions when we travel, stepped out of our comfort zones, and gained experiences through community-based tourism we could all support the development of remote communities around the world. We could change lives.
Tanya of Can Travel Will Travel: While traveling we should not have a negative impact on people, environment, or economy. We should respect the places we visit, along with its culture and customs. With ecotourism, we can leave a smaller footprint and conserve wildlife, land, and resources. Community-based tourism enables first-hand experiences of local communities and wildlife while respecting their cultures and traditions. It also enables locals to earn an income and part of the tourist income is passed back to the communities in a responsible manner. This enables travelers to see and experience the places they visit in a sustainable and authentic way.
Cindy of Cin Travels: I have the privilege to travel and with that privilege comes the responsibility of informing myself how my presence as a traveler has an effect on the places I visit. This is why I like to do research before traveling somewhere and ask for recommendations from other sustainable travelers. It can be as simple as shopping and eating at locally owned places in order to contribute to their sustainability and local economy. Travelers should choose community-based tourism because it is a way to help the locals that live in the many cities where tourism is the main source of income. Being conscious of who and what we support when abroad can make a difference. We should treat every place that we visit with honor by respecting local customs and traditions.
Angie of @Angieemarti: The worlds’ horizons have expanded, giving us the immense amount of travel possibilities we have today, and our role as travelers in protecting our world is more important than ever. Improper travel practices impact not only natural persity and ecosystems but also local people and economies worldwide. It is crucial that as travelers we stand together and use social media as a platform to voice our concerns and mediate change.
Kiona visiting Casa Flor Ixcacao, a weaving cooperative in the small village of San Juan on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
Kiona of How Not To Travel Like a Basic Bitch: As humans, we have the ability to rationalize and make conscious decisions, therefore we have the responsibility to leave the world a better place. Sustainable travel is so important for that exact reason, to sustain travel. The whole point of traveling is to create community. The reason why I travel is to foster connections with people unlike myself, in a culture unlike my own, and return home a better, more tolerant, and educated person. Make conscious decisions about who your dollars go to–they should go back to members of the community through locally owned and operated businesses. Giving as much, or more, than you take is the name of the game of human connection in this journey of life.
Brianne of A Traveling Life: Community-based tourism allows for more meaningful and memorable travels. You are more likely to have the opportunity to talk to people on a personal level and learn about their lives, which leaves you with a deeper understanding of the culture (and likely some good stories to take home!). Supporting local businesses like restaurants, shops, and tour operators allows you to have unique experiences–ones that likely won’t be shared with hordes of other tourists. You also can feel good that your tourist dollars are staying in the community and going directly into the pockets of the people who live there instead of outside investors.
Gabi of @Gabi_Niv: As travel has been commodified internationally, communities, often those at most risk of exploitation, have been negatively affected. From gentrification to human trafficking. As a lifelong immigrant, I feel it’s my duty to be a conscious and responsible traveler to the best of my ability. Cities aren’t just sights, they’re places nurtured by communities, by people. Travelers need to remember that they are guests. This world isn’t just ours for the taking, those privileged to travel have a responsibility to be conscious.
Savanna giving singing and harmonium lessons in exchange for Hindi lessons from local children in Rishikesh, India.
Savanna of Oh She Moves: I prefer to really live in a place and see whats hiding within the layers of a city/town/community. There’s so much more to learn and absorb when we take the time to slow down and live in the rhythm of a new culture. By traveling in this way, it becomes natural to live in a sustainable way, home-cooked meals with local produce, lower travel costs and emissions, and relationships with locals based on sincerity and understanding. Travel becomes so much richer when we get in touch with the actual reality of a new place, rather than skim the surface and only take in what is ready-made and curated for tourists. There’s so much to learn and exchange in this quality of interaction. And, why not offer some skills too? Anything from singing to yoga to computer basics to English–if given with an open heart is absolutely appreciated by locals.
Ellie of Soul Travel Blog: The number of travelers worldwide is set to increase 150% over the next decade, up to 1.8 billion travelers by the year 2030. With mass tourism in popular holiday hotspots, and climate change worsening, travel in its current form is not sustainable. It’s up to us to find ways to travel which have a positive impact on people and destinations and damage the environment far less. Community-based tourism directly benefits the places you visit and allows a genuine, interactive experience with locals. One of the best benefits of travel is the opportunity to learn about ourselves but also about the people we meet and about different cultures.
Nikki of The Culture Addict: With the overall narcissism that seems to be attached to travel in our generation, we easily lose sight of the fact that we all have the ability to make a positive difference along our journey touching every part of the world we land in. We all have a part to play to keep our planet healthy and be a responsible global citizen. Community-based tourism gives travelers a deeper sense of worth and meaning, while also giving back to the culture that is hosting them.
Susan at a homestay in a remote island village on Lake Titicaca. Her host, Fernanda, seen here, was eager to get to share the local lifestyle with Susan.
Susan of Brooklyn Tropicali: I’ve been traveling full-time for over a year and a half, and nothing makes me feel more connected to the world and myself than getting to know locals in a meaningful way. I’ve learned more about what’s important in life while traveling around developing countries in Latin America than I did while “living the dream” in NYC. It’s extremely important that tourism benefits those who are from the beautiful places we get to visit. Our tourism dollars need to go to the locally owned restaurant, the native tour guides, and companies that operate ethically, not some faceless foreign-owned resort. Travel is a way to grow, learn from each other, and make ourselves better. Travel should create more connections between people and cultures, thus promoting peace and equality.
Sara of The Life of a Solivagant: If we don’t start to figure out how to travel sustainably, then we will be traveling to places that have been completely ruined by tourists and are no longer the authentic places we were hoping for. As traveling becomes more accessible, we need to find ways to reduce our impact, especially in nature. Book tours through local companies or local inpiduals. Give my money to those who are actually local and contribute to the economy directly. Don’t pay some foreign company that doesn’t do anything for the local people. When you use a local company you will get a better experience. Why wouldn’t you want to see a place from the local’s perspective?
Johanna of Travel Eater: As citizens of the world we have an obligation to try to make the world better, not worse. The same holds true when we travel. Responsible tourism maximizes social, cultural, environmental, and economic benefits while minimizing related damages. It also helps the people who live in the destinations we travel to live healthier and happier lives. It also makes the travel experience better for those of us who visit now and in the future too. Responsible travel is simply the right thing to do.
Dora of Let’s Go Wonder: “Sustainable travel is important to me because no matter where I go, I hope that local’s lives won’t be negatively impacted because of my arrival. Be it raising rent or cost of living. I am deeply passionate about community-based tourism because I am fascinated by culture. What appeals to me the most is how people live their day to day life and how they engage with their community on both a large or small scale.”
As the UNWTO Tourism Day site says–whenever you travel, wherever you travel, remember to respect nature, respect culture, and respect your host. Travel. Enjoy. Respect.
Next check out the second post on Miss Filatelista for World Tourism Day: 16 Travelers Share Transformative Ethical Experiences.
How are you celebrating World Tourism Day? Tell us your sustainable travel tips in the comments.