Tourism is one of the world’s great economic motors. For many countries, it is the crux of their economy, and long indispensable to their livelihoods.
Ideally, tourism fosters sensitivity to the lands visited, their distinctive cultures and their people. Unfortunately, a phenomenon has persisted concurrent to the world’s steadily increasing tourism: the negative effects of the massive influx of foreign tourists bearing down upon hosting nations, their unique and indigenous cultures and their natural habitats. The motto of this year’s World Tourism Day is “Sustainable Tourism – a Tool for Development”.
Sustainable, gentle tourism defined:
The industry is doing more – and reaping the benefits
Hotels today are participating more and more actively in the movement toward sustainability, as they increasingly utilize renewable energy sources, reduce and recycle wastes and conserve precious water resources in their daily operations. Beginning with their construction, investors are building with environmentally friendly, recyclable materials and hiring regional companies and craftsmen to carry out their concepts for sustainable, gentle tourism. Opportunities to experience the natural wonders and beauty of the host countries are growing… including offerings such as theme excursions, exotic observation points and barefoot walks.
Even the last hold-out in environmental polluters, the air industry, has made noticeable effort in the development of modern aircraft. New airplane types like the B787 Dreamliner and the A350 XWB are releasing up to 25% less CO2 and burning less fuel, constructed with lighter component materials and optimized engine performance compared to their predecessors. A welcome side effect to these are the reduction of noise in and around airports, keeping them at or below established regulatory levels.
Dramatic environmental issues as chance
The delicate balance that sustainable tourism requires is, on the one hand, the fulfillment of travelers’ expectations. On the other, it’s protecting these destinations from invasive or, even worse, permanent damage. This has become a great issue amongst the inhabitants of the most popular holiday destinations, as we have seen in the emphatic protests against mass tourism on the island of Mallorca. Without constraints placed on the steady influx of tourists, demonstrating residents see a bleak future for their island. The beaches, cities and roads are congested beyond safe and reasonable limit and rental cars and cruise ships disturb the delicate environmental balance. Fearful residents don’t want to see their Palma de Mallorca ultimately overrun beyond recognition by holiday seekers as are the tourist magnets Barcelona or Venice.
Well targeted measures for the 21st century: #TravelEnjoyRespect
Sustainable solutions over the short term are called for, to keep tourism going and vital for the long run. Companies involved in the travel industry must increase their sensitivity to environmental concerns, providing education and directional guidance to both staff and customers. Holiday goers should be led by organizers and travel corporations to taking a responsible approach to the environments away from home… and the natural resources that sustain it. Well targeted measures to sensitize and educate tourist before they leave home can preclude and/or minimize further damage to natural reserves and protected areas. These function best through clear information campaigns, specifically crafted commercial offerings, attractive alternative tours and the mentor function of recognized experts.
UNWTO – the United Nations World Tourism Organization — has published their tips for responsible travelers.