The vibrant shades of green radiating from the palm fronds, the grass waving on the trade winds, and (in frequency) from the truly eco-friendly resorts that are leading the way towards sustainable tourism. But what classifies a resort as truly eco-friendly? We’re all aware of the trend and the buzzwords and yes, the ‘green-washing’ that is unfortunately all too often a part of a well-designed public relations campaign to posture as championing the environment while in reality carrying out cost-saving practices that result in just the opposite effect. Let’s further examine the idea of sustainable tourism, so we can all be better informed about the impact we make on vacation – and vote more responsibly with our dollars.
Sustainable tourism is the practice of reducing impact on the environment and local culture while generating employment for local people. It’s all about mindful development that enhances the positive experience for all parties involved. International tourism is projected to continue its rise as one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries – so to counter the stress that this increase will place on effected regions, sustainable tourism is now more important than ever. Sustainable tourism can be judged on the the three core philosophies of Social Empowerment, Environmental Stewardship, and Economic Development. These pillars take into account a wide range of factors such as:
- Source of electricity;
- Source of food;
- Method of waste disposal;
- Engagement with community and if locals (especially women) held positions of power.
- Is the property off-grid and generating its own power or is it drawing from wasteful systems?
- Is the food being sourced from local farmers or is it all shipped overseas?
- Is water supply viable and sustainable or are local aquifers being polluted and depleted?
- Is revenue being circulated back into the local economy with helpful community projects or is some giant multinational corporation raking in the spoils?
Sure we’d all like to contribute to the betterment of the world by choosing only 100% sustainable resorts, but it’s not always that easy. The tricky part of the matter is that not every boutique hotel is perfect – but it’s those that are making an authentic effort to become evermore sustainable that we should support. Choose those properties that are locally owned and operated, contributing to local causes, recycling, and/or using alternative forms of energy. Choose the properties that are doing their part and being responsible.
The thing about Boutique Hotels is they’re smaller than the massive chain resorts, and in this case smaller is better. Boutique hotels can not only focus more on each individual guest, but are consuming less and thereby wasting less. They’re leading the way towards a more sustainable future in tourism, so the we can all continue to experience the wonders of these exotic and fragile foreign lands.
What You Can Do
Sustainable tourism, however, is a two-way street. Individuals are just as crucial as local governments and NGOs to facilitate sustainability. This is where the concept of responsible tourism plants its roots. It’s about taking accountability for the impact you make and not just expecting others to behave in a sustainable fashion. Wherever you choose to stay, choose to be an environmentally responsible tourist. That means being knowledgeable about your destination and being aware of the impact your presence has on the local environment, so that you can do your part to help minimize harm.
- Learn about the effects of mass tourism on the ecosystem: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”
- Use water sparingly. Save electricity. Ride a bike or walk.
- Buy local – eat local. Don’t litter.
- Don’t buy products made from endangered species.
- Don’t disturb the wildlife; don’t take home natural resources.
- Choose your recreational activities wisely, like non-motorized water sports.
Research your destination and learn about the culture, history, cuisine, political situation and current events. Not only will this make you a more mindful visitor, you’ll enjoy your vacation a whole lot more when you understand your destination in context. From this position of curiosity and respect, you can seek to further your understanding throughout your trip. Learn about something you’re interested in and choose your boutique lifestyle vacation appropriately, whether it be the local cuisine or a yoga getaway or whatever your passion may be. One of the best ways to experience your destination to its fullest is: get off the beaten path and go where the locals go! Learn a few basic phrases and interact with the world. For the unique experiences you have when you venture out into the unknown, you’ll be happy you did.
Everybody is responsible for sustainability, so do your part! Vote with your buying power to vacation at locations that are contributing positively to creating better places for people to visit and to live in. Enjoy your holiday while respecting the environment and the local culture. After all, authenticity is a far richer experience than its counterpart. The future of travel is sustainable and responsible, so let’s all do our part to create this reality. 🙂