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Tourism forms a significant and essential part of our global culture. Tourism allows us to explore different parts of the world, meet people from different walks of life and discover new traditions and activities. We collectively see it as a good force since it brings people around the world together. But, the tourism industry accounts for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the tourism industry is changing. Every day, we’re becoming more and more conscious of our role in escalating climate change and a warming planet, and so is the industry. The tourism industry is now thinking of ways to reduce our impact on the Earth; one of them is sustainable tourism. Our increased awareness of issues like deforestation and natural resource depletion has contributed to the growth of sustainable tourism.
Sustainability refers to a balanced environment. It means consuming enough to meet the needs of the present without hampering the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Therefore, sustainable tourism is tourism that benefits the environment, the economy, and local communities. Sustainable tourism refers to creating benefits for the area’s environment and people. It takes into account economic, social, and environmental impacts. It minimizes the harmful effects of tourism.
Sustainable tourism involves using sustainable methods of travelling, staying in eco-friendly accommodations, eating locally sourced and ethically produced food, and avoiding activities that cause environmental harm.
The sustainable tourism industry’s goal is to reduce conventional tourism’s impact on local people and the environment. This involves eliminating over-consumption of resources while travelling and making choices that promote, conserve, and preserve local traditions and heritage.
While conventional tourism methods generate economic benefits and provide jobs for people in an area, it also negatively impacts the environment and the traditions of local groups. The negative environmental impacts include over-consumption of resources, emission of greenhouse gases, and destruction of local plant and animal species.
With experts predicting the tourism industry to rapidly grow in the coming years, current tourist habits need to become more sustainable. We are already facing the impacts of our unsustainable lifestyle choices. The Earth does not have enough resources to sustain our current life choices. Sustainable tourism practices will ensure that the tourism industry isn’t destroyed and stays around for the years to come. The tourism industry provides jobs to hundreds of people. Sustainable tourism ensures that their jobs are safe and secure.
The main aims of sustainable tourism are to:
1. Protect wildlife, natural environments, and natural resources while managing tourist activities
2. Provide tourists with authentic experiences that conserve and celebrate local culture, traditions, and heritage
3. Create socio-economic benefits for local communities through employment
For sustainable tourism to succeed, all sectors and stakeholders like tourists, local governments, and tourism businesses need to collaborate. Sustainable tourism ensures that tourists and tourism companies use resources in the most efficient way while also conserving natural heritage and biodiversity and respecting the culture of indigenous groups.
There are many forms of sustainable tourism. All these forms oppose the traditional ways of tourism that lead to environmental damage, loss of culture, and negative economic impacts.
Ecotourism focuses on environmental conservation. It highlights responsible travel to natural areas. Ecotourism supports and contributes to improving biodiversity by the responsible management of accommodation for tourists and respecting and enhancing nearby natural areas. Most importantly, ecotourism bodies make sure that their activities do not disturb natural ecosystems. It also ensures that interactions with wildlife are non-invasive by avoiding the negative impacts to animals.
Soft Tourism highlights local languages, experiences, and cultures. It involves spending a long time in individual places. Soft tourism is a stark contrast to hard tourism. Hard tourism features shorter stay durations, disrespecting local culture, taking lots of selfies, and feeling a sense of superiority just because you’re a tourist.
Many World Heritage Sites promote soft tourism by protecting and preserving the environment and local indigenous communities. An example of soft tourism is Peru’s famous Machu Picchu. The area requires tourists to hire local guides on the Inca Trail, providing jobs to the local communities. The tourism body operating in the area also gives tourists specific dates and times for visitor tickets so that overcrowding does not occur at the site. No one is allowed to use single-use plastic on the site.
Rural tourism is tourism in areas far away from urbanization. It includes tourism in areas such as national parks, forests, and nature reserves. Tourists usually camp while staying in these areas. Rural tourism is the most practical way of practising sustainable tourism since it usually involves lesser use of natural resources.
Community-based tourism is when tourists stay in the homes of local community members of an area. Community tourism is popular in rural areas and underdeveloped countries. This form of tourism fosters a bond between the tourist and the local community. Tourists gain an in-depth knowledge of the local wildlife, traditions, culture, and environment. Local communities directly benefit economically through community tourism.
When you choose sustainable tourism, your money supports employees of the sustainable tourism industry, who, in turn, pay taxes that contribute to their local economy. If those employees do not receive fair wages, you unknowingly damage the future of that local community. Similarly, while travelling, if you stay in a hotel that does not track its ecological footprint, you may be staying on the grounds that were once animal nesting sites or sites of importance to local community groups. You could also be staying in a hotel that excessively contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Spaces that are sustainably managed profit conservation of the local environment.
Take Costa Rica as an example. In the 1980s, Costa Rica faced a severe deforestation crisis. But the country bounced back from this crisis by designating most of its land as wildlife refuges, nature reserves, and national parks. Today, tourism in these natural areas contributes to around one-third of the country’s revenue. Most tourists visit the country because of its protected areas and nature-based offerings.