The tourism industry has been around a long time, so why the recent push for sustainable tourism? We have to look at this from many angles, including political, social, environmental and long term vision.
Tourism is the fastest, I repeat, fastest growing industry. Having said that, it’s an understatement to claim that tourism makes an impact on the world. It’s simply unavoidable. The key is to decrease the negative impact before it occurs, while simultaneously creating strategic positive impact. Let’s look at this based on the three pillars that make up sustainable tourism.
Sustainable tourism must take people into consideration, primarily the locals. A sudden explosion of travel in a new area can clog streets (if the infrastructure exists) resulting in a poor living experience. The added traffic places more strain on the infrastructure, natural world and quality of life.
On the other hand, sustainable tourism avoids exploiting the area (both built and natural) and the locals. Sustainable tourism empowers the local people. It provides them job opportunities. It establishes a global mindset. Sustainable tourism opens doors and creates new paths.
Planet, also referred to as the environment pillar, is a tricky one. Often criticized for being an oxymoron, providing tours that introduce the natural world and historic sites can be sustainable. Stretch Tourism looks at this from a balanced perspective. Sustainable tourism does impact the planet, but in a regulated and managed way with a sustainable mindset.
Mentioned above, tourism can open doors for locals. Sustainable tourism keeps money local. Hotels are owned locally. Outfitters hire locally. The locals know their land best and often times can speak to their history and natural areas best. For example, when my friends and I visited Costa Rica last year we stayed at a unique eco-lodge situated on the outskirts of La Fortuna. The lodge guide was a local, who knew the land inside and out. He pointed out flora and fauna, animals and insects, and so much more. Instead of having the lodges owned by foreigners, the locals often own the hotel and pay taxes appropriately, benefitting the government and home country. Travel spurs the local economy when tourists eat at local shops or shop at legit local stores opposed to internationally recognized chains.
The Future of Sustainable Tourism
By 2030, UNWTO forecasts international tourist arrivals to reach 1.8 billion. As international tourism continues to grow we will see an increase in sustainable efforts as well. However, sustainable tourism must be a collaborative effort. It literally takes a village to get right, and it starts with you, the traveler.
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As always, travel light, travel right.