Hands up if you took a flight last year? The chances are that most of the readers of this blog took a flight at some time in the past year. Last year there was 1.2 billion international tourist arrivals and that figure is set to increase to 2 billion people by 2030.
A quarter of the planet’s population is visiting new countries, eating different cuisines and discovering new cultures. Some of those travellers would have witnessed amazing natural phenomena like the Northern Lights, the Great African migration or the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica. It’s exciting isn’t it?
Travel breaks down barriers like no other industry and is responsible for 1 in 11 jobs around the world. If you ask most people what they are looking forward to most in the year, their answer will be a well-earned holiday.
But is the tourism industry about to hit severe turbulence?
Every action we take as humans has a consequence somewhere, and travelling is no exception. All that flying I mentioned earlier creates 781 million tonnes of carbon. There are now areas of Barcelona that are so overrun with tourists that the newly elected mayor is considering putting a cap on tourist visitors to the city. Recently the Thai tourism authority banned travellers from visiting Koh Tachai because of the environmental damage visitors were causing.
We have seen the consequences with our own eyes. This year we were lucky enough to be diving in Japan and snorkelling in the east coast of Sri Lanka. Even though the countries are thousands of miles apart, on both dive sites the coral on the reefs were heavily bleached because of climate change.
Can we change how we travel?
The good news is, yes we can. But, and this is a big but, it will take a collective effort from the tourism industry, governments, transport as well as you and I.
20 years ago hardly anybody had heard of the Fairtrade movement. If you went into a major supermarket in Britain to buy bananas the chances were that there were no fairtrade bananas on sale. Now in every major supermarket in Britain they ONLY have Fairtrade bananas. How did this happen? Well first of all the fairtrade movement began. Then a small number of stores started stocking fairtrade products. It was many years later that the big conglomerates started stocking fairtrade products. Why? Because the consumer (that’s you and I) started demanding it. Never let anybody tell you that you don’t have the power to influence change.
The same can happen in the tourism industry. In fact it already is. Seaworld in Florida, USA, announced in March that they would stop breeding Orcas after reports came out at how badly the orcas were treated in its parks. Once the public became aware of the situation, the pressure on Seaworld became so great that the company had no choice but to change.
It’s the same with riding elephants or swimming with captive dolphins. Years ago this would have been a dream of mine to do but after reading what the elephants and dolphins go through just for my enjoyment, I decided to find more sustainable ways to see these beautiful animals.
The key to the examples above is awareness and education. When I found out the horrors of breaking an elephant, I decided there and then never to ride an elephant or go on tour with a company that has elephant rides.
If we are going to redefine tourism then we all have to put pressure on travel companies to practice sustainable/responsible tourism. We also have to practice what we preach by spending our money with the companies that are already practicing sustainable tourism.
The amazing thing about sustainable tourism is that when you practice it, your holidays and travels will become more magical.
Helping feed elephants is pretty magical right? How about sitting with Orangutans in their natural environment? What about going on tour where all your money goes to a women’s cooperative to help them start businesses? All of these are examples of tours we have done personally with responsible tourism companies.
Next time you book a trip somewhere, please book it with a travel company that is practicing sustainable tourism. Let’s redefine tourism together and hopefully as Fabien Cousteau said: “I look forward to the day when there is no sustainable tourism, just tourism”.
How would you redefine tourism? Please leave a comment below.
This post was done in conjunction with The World Tourism Council.