What is sustainable tourism? Its about respcting the environment, uplifting communities, and ... photo by unknown CC user on wikimedia

There is a lot of talk in the travel industry these days about doing it responsibly, but for many, it isn’t clear what it all means. Just what is sustainable tourism all about anyway? This article will attempt to answer this question in as succinct a manner as possible…

Sustainable tourism is about…

photo by CC user za-photos on flickr

1) Maintaining/improving the environment

Of all the factors that define sustainable tourism, one’s impact on the environment is the metric that travelers and industry stakeholders have focused on the most. Airplanes use a tremendous amount of fuel ferrying people to faraway lands, which have led to many eco-conscious individuals to buy carbon credits to offset the considerable emissions that went into getting them to and from their destination.

The revenue generated by these bonds go into the creation of carbon sinks like the mass planting of trees and creation of renewable energy sources that will theoretically replace ones that are reliant on fossil fuels.

On the ground, practicing low/no impact strategies that include recycling whenever possible or going with tour operators that minimize disruption of wildlife on national park tours help to reduce your impact on the environment, while volunteering to help sea turtles at a beach could even make your impact a net positive.

photo by CC user 10630381@N03 on flickr

2) Increasing wealth across all sectors of the local economy

Instead of staying in international hotel chains and eating all your meals at fast food restaurants, sustainable tourism emphasizes spending your cash with local small businesses instead. When you stick with major corporate brands, the money you spend will mostly be shipped overseas to people that don’t really need it.

However, when you get your souvenirs at local market stalls, eat authentic national cuisine at a mom and pop canteen, and when you spend the night at a family owned guesthouse, more of your cash will stay in the local economy, enriching everyday people on the ground.

photo by CC user Jlh249 on wikimedia

3) Respecting and supporting cultures of which travelers come into contact

The forces of globalization have enriched many around the world over the past few decades, but an unwelcome side effect of this has been the erosion of traditional cultures as the power of television and internet media have led many to abandon hundreds of passed down rituals.

By patronizing tours that are built around eons of national rites of passage, and by respecting the social codes of conduct that define life in the region you are visiting (example: don’t walk down the street in any Southeast Asian destination in nothing but a bikini, as such gratuitous displays of skin are considered lewd by Buddhists and Muslims), you will help maintain the integrity of cultures that are under threat of being undercut by outside influences.