The Modern Tourist: How we can all travel more sustainably.
By Jade Cheli
If the COVID-19 pandemic has had one noble impact, it would be that it has somewhat temporarily saved our environment.
Clear waters and swans on the usually overcrowded Venetian canals, the untrampled, restored streets of the historic centre of Florence, otters lounging about the banks of the Thames, we have all seen those viral pictures. As countries begin to open their borders again, we have been granted a golden opportunity to learn from our mistakes as ignorant tourists and make huge change in an industry that so vitally needs to adapt, but is simultaneously desperate for our support right now.
The tourism industry has lost an estimated 1.3 trillion dollars in export revenue in 2020, forcing shut many artisan businesses and dropping some countries into a complete state of panic. Not only this, but it will be a slow recovery, with the timely Brexit changes, fear of new Covid variants, as well as talk about vaccine passports, and a multitude of swabs still being stuck up our noses to board flights, international travel has not bounced back yet. So, let’s start thinking… how can we, as the generation of upcoming travellers and tourists, support this industry in the way we want to? In a sustainable and eco-friendly way? How can we finally see those classic brits abroad and feel a sense of pride? This crisis is an opportunity to rethink tourism of the future, from a global, governmental, and local perspective. There are so many ways to see the world that doesn’t involve harming it, here’s a few where I believe we can start with.
1) Educate yourself!
There are constantly new technological advancements, campaigns and organisations looking to prevent and mitigate the effects of tourism.
When travelling this summer, try research alternative transport to flying or taxis. Europe in general has a very modern and efficient train service, with many operating electrically. One flight from Barcelona to Paris creates an estimated 238 kg of carbon emissions, compared to the equivalent train journey, emitting just 11kg.
Stay at certified green hotels, sites such as bookdifferent.com compare hotels based on their eco friendliness or choose a destination that values sustainability. Slovenia was one of the first countries to fight towards sustainable travel, voted Europe’s greenest city. The more we support these businesses and countries, others will follow suit. Let’s make travelling green fashionable!
When you’re in a new city, opt for sustainable activities. Very few websites offering activities have an eco-friendly outlook, with many being solely profit focused, which is understandable in the current climate. But we have the chance to change this, making eco-friendly companies more profitable by supporting them. Intrepid Travel offer trips organised by locals, making sure the profits go directly to communities and not to big cooperation’s. The World Tourism Organisation reports that for every $100 spent during a trip, only $5 benefits the destination. Don’t be afraid to ask where your money will be going.
2) Consume Locally
Eat local, shop local, stay local. Go for a walk, find the farmers market, buy local fresh ingredients, buy a local bottle of wine, walk past a small independent shop selling artisan local products? Support them! Come home feeling full of beautiful new food, local gifts, and a sense of being adequately culturally enriched. Not only is it much more rewarding and environmentally friendly, it also often turns out to be cheaper and better quality. Don’t forget to tread lightly, all the little things you would do at home may not seem important on holiday, but its good practise to make sure you treat someone else’s home as you would your own (recycle, don’t litter, don’t use plastic straws). Try to also take e-scooters bikes or go by foot, slow travel is the best form of travel.
3) Quality over quantity
Slow travel or Slow tourism is a philosophy that emphasises longer stays, holiday rentals, alternative transport, and cultural immersion. Due to the pandemic, the practise of slow tourism in a way has become easier to uphold. The days of travelling for short stay business trips are over, with most companies realising the same effect can be achieved over zoom. Equally quarantine restrictions and testing means jetting around many different countries in a short timeframe is unrealistic. Maybe this has taught us something about staying put and taking our time? Maybe it’s time for that staycation to Devon or Brighton, or a long relaxing stay in a French farmhouse. We tend to over consume on travel in the same way we have learnt to over consume on everything. Less is sometimes more. You do not need to travel to 20 countries in 3 weeks of inter-railing, to the point where you can’t even tell them apart anymore. Of course, slow tourism relies on one having the luxury of time, and many of us can’t afford time off. So maybe, save up for one big trip abroad and in the meantime visit your local little vacation spots, get to know your own backyard first.
4) Speak out
Join campaigns, push your local council to make changes, educate your family and friends, don’t visit destinations or support businesses with poor or no eco-friendly policies. The more we rally together to support sustainable tourism, the more of it we will see. At the end of the day, we are the consumer, and we can change an industry to one that is more sustainable. The most damage done to our planet is caused by the top wealth percentiles, so never underestimate how campaigning and raising awareness for slow sustainable tourism is equally as important.
5) Mitigate the effects
If you do travel by air, consider offsetting your carbon footprint. Many websites will allow you to track your carbon footprint by entering what you eat and how you travel. Carbon offsetting basically works by compensating for your emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. Many carbon offsetting companies invest in other benefits such as biodiversity, creating jobs, education, food security, health, and wellbeing. Don’t be surprised if we start to see more and more countries mandating for fly free days as well. Although there is some criticism surrounding carbon offsetting, ultimately allowing people to travel guilt free and feel like they are making an adequate difference, when combined with other sustainable ways to travel, I strongly believe it’s still worth doing, when travelling for necessity.
Tourism is one of the biggest industries globally, providing a life for so many people. It goes without saying that the benefits of travel outweigh the costs, making us more culturally aware, connected, educated and empathetic. However, the way we travel and over consume is unsustainable, we need to change our behaviours and learn to protect and love to world we so desperately want to continue to see more of.