Tourism is on the increase the world over, with rising visitor numbers having a significant impact on resources, pollution and local communities.
It’s never been more important to think about the way in which we travel. Here, Helen Abramson looks at the principles of sustainable and responsible tourism, and how we can minimise the negative effects on places we visit.
The planet is straining under the weight of these figures. We need to think about how to ensure the mark we leave is a positive one.
This landmark achievement celebrated the principles of sustainable tourism: causing as little impact as possible on a destination’s social and natural environment, and fulfilling local economic needs while maintaining cultural integrity.
“Economic prosperity, social inclusion, peace and understanding, cultural and environmental preservation” should shape the future of the industry, according to UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.
The term responsible tourism, by contrast, is generally used on an individual level. This means making choices that support the longevity of tourism in a particular location, respecting the environment and trying to improve the quality of life for the local population.
This could translate as making an effort to understand local culture, helping to preserve natural surroundings or travelling with organisations that allow communities to have a say in, and benefit from, your visit.
On a more local level, other environmental factors kick in. As tourism increases, roads, airports and facilities are constructed to accommodate visitors. Often this development happens quickly, and without consideration of the drain on resources, threats to natural habitats, and pollution of both water and land.
Further to this, communities often see visitor spending funnelled into the hands of big business, which can threaten local economies.
We need to identify ways of channelling tourist income towards locals, including through the informal economy, in which people can earn a living through services such as guiding or homestays. Tourist enterprises also need to be planned conscientiously, so as not to upset the local infrastructure.
Cultural and historical sites are a major draw for tourists. However, without careful management – especially in developing countries – local cultural heritage is sometimes sidelined in the face of financial gains.
This can lead to the eradication of traditional practices and ethnic legacies. Indigenous communities may lack the political influence and legal rights to protect themselves from such damaging external forces.
Work out your carbon emissions using an online carbon calculator first; a return-trip flight from London to New York, for example, uses around 1.5 tonnes of CO2, and costs around £11 ($14) to offset.