What Does Sustainable Tourism Truly Mean?

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By Justin Smith, The Evolved Traveler

Sustainable tourism is a term many of you may have become aware of in the past few years but could quite likely be unsure of its true meaning or application. I would like to believe that will soon change.

The groundswell regarding Sustainable Tourism is significant, so much so that the United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism.

While the rise in awareness of Sustainable Tourism is encouraging, many of us in the travel industry that is passionate about the issue have put it at the pole position of our business believing it is not only a necessity but in many instances, critical.

All of us are aware of sustainable options available to us in our everyday lives such as community recycling programs, organic food options, and even alternative powered vehicles. Yet, unbeknownst to many travel consumers, similar options are also available when it comes to making choices for travel.

That being said, we presently face two significant challenges regarding Sustainable Tourism – a clear and unified approach from which we, the travel industry, work, and subsequently but equally important, providing consistent awareness and clear best practices to you, our clients and guests. I believe we can begin to define the principles of Sustainable Tourism into three easy “best practices.”

Ensure local communities benefit socially and economically from your travel
Presently, no more than 10% of all tourism revenue in developing nations benefits the local communities visited. The social and economic benefits to communities are monumental when there is even a marginal shift in this paradigm.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to ask your travel agents and tour operators if the products and services they will be using are sourced locally.

Enrich cultural heritage and understanding
See yourself as an ambassador of culture and goodwill. Remember, you are travelling to and visiting people’s homes, towns and communities.

Treat them with the same respect you would want in your own home or community. Moreover, engage with them authentically by initiating discussion of their everyday lives, family, culture, community, and even their view of the effects of tourism on their communities and country. You will be rewarded with far richer experiences and knowledge.

Reduce negative impacts on the environment
This is the easy one! Apply a few simple rules to your travels just as you likely do every day at home: reduce the use of disposable and consumable goods, respect and protect natural resources wherever and whenever possible; reduce energy and fuel consumption; do not participate in the inhumane treatment, consumption, trading, or harvesting of protected wildlife and plant life.

Sustainable Tourism was born of very simple, common-sense ideas, but in its organic and authentic form, is still in its infancy. However, the time is here for all of us to begin practising it.

I believe our first step towards that could be as easy as setting our intention in regard to it. What is that intention? To think as a global citizen, not a global consumer. This simple shift in perspective is extremely powerful when done individually, image its implications when it’s done collectively.

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