Just a few days ago summer has officially started in the Northern Hemisphere and many of us are ready to embark on a trip or an adventure to discover the glorious beauty of our planet Earth. Strolling down a sandy tropical beach, exploring one of the world’s capitals or visiting a secluded and tranquil village make travel experience memorable and worth every penny. Until recently, it has seemed that tourism is a quite benign activity since what could be harmful after all when the first association with traveling is leisure, enjoyment, and zero-guilt-felt hedonism. However, as tourism has started to grow and sharing economy, cheap and affordable low cost flights enable people with decent income to travel regularly, it has become an industry that has started to show negative impacts on environment and prompted certain actions aiming to limit these negative effects and promote sustainable tourism.
Standards for sustainability in travel and tourism
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), as an independent and neutral non-profit organization, has been established under this name in 2010, ‘‘representing a diverse and global membership, including UN agencies, NGO’s, national and provincial governments, leading travel companies, hotels, tour operators, individuals and communities – all striving to achieve best practices in sustainable tourism’’. In 2013, the GSTC released the GSTC Criteria that serve as the global baseline standards for sustainability in travel and tourism and are used for education and awareness-raising, policymaking for businesses and government agencies and other organizations, measurement and evaluation, and as a basis for certification. The Criteria are arranged in four pillars:
- Sustainable management
- Socioeconomic impacts
- Cultural impacts
- Environmental impacts (including consumption of resources, reducing pollution, and conserving biodiversity and landscapes)
Recently we observed a huge rise in ecolabels with more than 150 international eco certificates been established. The first eco labels in tourism emerged around 1987 when the Blue Flag, for European coastal zones, was introduced. Yet, ecolabels differ greatly and one criterion that confirms their trustworthiness is whether the label has been recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). Some of these ecolabels include:
- Actively Green
- Biosphere Responsible Tourism (ITR)
- Green Key
- Green Globe
- Green Growth 2050
A recent advancement in Dubai, one of the leading travel destinations, includes the mandate by the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM). DTCM issued a directive, according to which all hotels will need to comply with a set of mandatory sustainability requirements, to be implemented over the next 18 months.
Sustainable tourism – key challenges
Tourism has become one of the most powerful drivers of economic growth and development and according to UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international tourist arrivals grew 6% in 2018, totalling 1.4 billion and in 2019, international arrivals to grow 3% to 4%. Apart from having many benefits, tourism sector has started showing negative impacts and according to sustainable tourism expert panel, that was convened in partnership with the Sustainability Leaders Project, there are three key challenges:
- The need for ongoing comprehensive tourism planning and management
- Effects of climate change on tourism
- Changing consumer behaviour and expectations around ethical and authentic experiences
When it comes to comprehensive planning and management, the main issue is overtourism that occurs when there are too many visitors to a particular destination leading to extreme pressure being placed on residents as well as on environment. The sharing economy models like Air B&B have triggered a huge influx of tourists to many European countries and their capitals causing some of them, like Spain and Italy, to consider bans or restrictions on visits by clamping down on the growing number of houses and apartments rented out to tourists. Climate change also has impacted tourist destinations and it asks for urgent and prompt action to mitigate its negative effects. For instance, Cape Town, as one of popular tourist destinations, went though serious drought and water scarcity during the last three years and in 2018, it became the first big city on earth to run dry. Even though overtourism has detrimental effects on tourist destinations, travellers have becoming more aware of their environmental and cultural impacts and 68% were actively seeking out eco-friendly accommodations in 2018.
How to travel responsibly?
Tips for a Responsible Traveller guide, developed by the World Committee on Tourism Ethics and based on the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, lays out tips how to become a responsible traveller and ultimately help sustainable tourism. Here are some of them:
- Honour your hosts and our common heritage:
- Research your destination to learn about local customs, traditions and social conditions.
- Experience and respect all that makes an international destination different and unique, from its history, architecture, religion, dress and communication codes, to its music, art and cuisine.
- Protect our planet:
- Reduce your environmental impact by being a guardian of natural resources, especially forests and wetlands.
- Purchase products that aren’t made using endangered plants or animals.
- Reduce your water and energy consumption whenever possible.
- Support the local economy:
- Buy locally made handcrafts and products.
- Respect livelihoods of local vendors and artisans by paying a fair price.
- Be an informed traveller:
- Take appropriate health and safety precautions prior and during your trip.
- Choose tourism operators with environmental policies and community projects in place.
- Be a respectful traveller:
- Observe national laws and regulations.
- Respect human rights and protect children from exploitation.
- Take photos instead of protected cultural artefacts as mementos of your trip.
Do not just travel, but travel responsibly
Travel broadens the mind. It changes travellers’ views on particular regions, countries and nations. It creates new friendships, builds communication among different people and ultimately can contribute to global understanding and world peace. But it should not be taken for granted any more, since travellers can make both a positive and negative impact on the planet. We should all choose, and must choose wisely, to travel responsibly and sustainably.