Welcome to our ultimate guide Sustainable Tourism in 2023. The complete resource for the responsible traveller.
Why do you travel?
Is it to learn about modern and ancient history, diving into the stories that helped shape civilisations?
Is it to wander through impecable landscapes, being constantly inspired by the beauty that lies in this world?
Perhaps you seek to interact with foreign cultures, widening your horizons to understand the diverse nature of humanity.
Whatever your reasons, whether is a combination of all of the above, or purely for the sake of rest and recuperation in gorgeous environments, travelling is one of the greatest experiences you can ever have.
However, the impact of global and domestic tourism can have dire consequences on economies, the environment and local communities, if it is not practised in a sustainable way.
In 2019, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation recorded that around 1.5 billion people travelled internationally.
The number is expected to grow by 4% in 2020.
These numbers of travellers, along with a fast-growing global population, highlight the importance of focusing on sustainable tourism.
As professional travel journalists working extensively in the international tourism industry with a range of clients, from small businesses to national governments to global NGOs, we have come to understand the effects that increased tourist numbers can have on the society and the environment.
We have become huge advocates for sustainable tourism and responsible travel, and it is our goal to instil these ethics into all travellers.
This sustainable tourism hub is our way of providing the ultimate free resource for anybody seeking to become an eco-traveller, and to highlight the benefits and impacts of responsible travel.
The Sustainable Tourism Hub 2022
We first started travelling the world in 2007. Since then we have spent the majority of our time exploring the furthest reaches of the planet, seeking adventure and culture with a focus on sustainability.
After launching our travel business in 2013, we have worked as consultants, been commissioned for special sustainability projects and presented at dozens of conferences, seminars and public events, sharing our expertise with thousands of people on how the importance of ecotourism, and how to be responsible travellers.
Now we are bringing our expertise, and the knowledge of our fantastic team, to you in this sustainable tourism hub.
To jump to the sections in this content hub, click on the green icons below.
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What is Sustainable Tourism?
The concept of sustainable tourism is not new. While tourism has been around since time immemorial, the idea that it could have negative effects has been explored since at least the 1970s.
As a growing population found itself coming into new wealth, and the cost of travel became cheaper thanks to new technologies, a sudden influx of visitors began to flood every corner of the planet.
In the wake of rising visitor numbers, many communities and destinations started to feel environmental, societal and economic strains when trying to deal with newfound popularity.
Over the following decades, scholars and professional travellers started to develop the principles behind sustainable tourism to encourage awareness of these effects.
Today responsible travel has almost become a buzz word, however, the meaning behind it is extremely important.
But what exactly is sustainable tourism?
Without making things too complicated, the best way to explain the concept is this:
Sustainable tourism is the concept of visiting somewhere as a tourist and trying to make a positive impact on the environment, society, and economy.
So what does that mean?
Breaking it down shows that the principles of sustainability go beyond the obvious environmental impacts.
The concept goes much deeper to include supporting local economies and communities as well.
This sustainable tourism definition allows for a concise introduction to the complexities of this trend.
If you want to know more, read our following articles addressing exactly ‘What is sustainable tourism?’
Read More of Our Sustainable Tourism Articles
- What is Sustainable Tourism?
- 7 Ways You Can Help Turn the Tide on Overtourism
- Responsible Travel – An Open Letter on Sustainable Tourism
How to Be a Responsible Traveller
Now that you know what sustainable tourism is, it’s time to learn how to incorporate the principals and practices into your life to become a responsible traveller.
Sustainability is a complex topic, and when you start diving deep into it from a global tourism perspective, you’ll learn that there are dozens of different elements that come together to create positive impacts.
Unless you are looking to form a business in the tourism industry, chances are you are coming at this topic from the point of view of an individual.
And the great thing is that even individuals can have massive positive influences on social, economic and environmental communities when travelling.
The first thing you need to do is learn how to be a responsible traveller, and here’s our top 10 ways to do just that.
- Volunteer some of your time
- Shop locally
- Think before you act with wildlife activities
- Respect the local culture
- Minimise your waste
- Choose sustainable accommodation and tour operators
- Lower your footprint
- Look at the bigger picture when bargaining
- Don’t give to beggars
- Educate others to be responsible travellers
By following these simple principles, you’ll help leave a positive influence on the places you visit.
To learn more about each of these points, have a read of our dedicated article on how to be a responsible traveller.
We also strongly recommend checking out the fantastic ‘Helpful or Harmful‘ series by Kathmandu.
Read More of Our Responsible Traveller Articles
- How to be a Responsible Traveller
- Refusing to Ride – The Real Story Behind Elephant Tourism in India
- 7 Ways You Can Help Turn the Tide on Overtourism
The Benefits and Impacts of Tourism
Learning and implementing the principles of sustainable tourism has a whole range of incredible benefits and impacts.
Once you choose to become a responsible traveller, you’ll start to see how communities, society, economies and environment can be greatly improved through tourism.
Some of the main benefits of sustainable tourism are:
- Local communities will grow in positive way
- It helps to protects the environment
- You will have a deeper understanding of how local people live, work and interact
- You will leave the places that you visit in a better position than when you arrived
- It stimulates local economies
On the other hand, tourism can have negative effects as well.
- Increased strain on the environment
- Higher levels of waste produced
- Local families can be pushed out of their homes due to rising cost of living and increased demand
- Infrastructure can fall apart with large influx of tourists
- Wildlife can be exploited
As you can see, promoting sustainable tourism isn’t just good for all parties involved, it is morally the right thing to do.
Have a read of our articles all about the benefits and impacts of sustainable tourism here.
Read More About the Benefits and Impacts of Tourism
- Refusing to Ride – The Real Story Behind Elephant Tourism in India
- Cuc Phuong National Park’s Wasted Problems
- South Bohemia Itinerary – Sustainable Tourism in Czech Republic
The Truth About Wildlife Activities and Tourism
One of the best parts about travelling overseas is the opportunity to encounter species that you don’t have in your home country.
It is a humbling experience, seeing something as majestic as an elephant, penguin, whale or bear in its natural environment.
However the opportunities to see these in the wild are often expensive, time-consuming or difficult to reach, which has led to the creation of thousands of zoos and aquariums.
While some of these are very sustainable and responsible, with a heavy focus on conservation, some are far more unscrupulous in their practices.
Animals are often kept in poor conditions, with basic necessities such as food and shelter being pushed aside to increase profit margins.
Wildlife tourism is big business, and unfortunately many places only see dollar signs.
It’s important to do diligent research before visiting a zoo or aquarium, and this is particularly the case in developing nations where ethics and standards may be lower.
Diving deeper into the aspects of wildlife tourism, we come to another element that needs to be addressed, and that’s wildlife activities.
Things like elephant riding, swimming with dolphins, circus performances, petting tigers, aggressive whale shark encounters and Luwak coffee cafes are very controversial, and there is now plenty of peer-reviewed evidence showing that these can cause irreversible harm to the animals.
While it might be tempting to ride an elephant on a trip to Thailand, think about the long-term physical and psychological damage that these gorgeous creatures go through for 30 minutes of entertainment.
We urge you to do appropriate research when it comes to any tours or encounters that involve wildlife.
If in doubt, don’t support any businesses that potentially harm animals.
Read More About Wildlife Tourism and Activities
- Refuse to Ride – The Real Story About Elephant Tourism in India
- Why We Didn’t Do an Elephant Tour in Sen Monorom
Minimising Your Waste and Footprint as a Traveller
With the global effects of climate change wreaking havoc on the polar icefields, glaciers, low-lying land and drought-prone nations, the world is finally starting to see the benefits of turning green.
As a traveller, we can also do our part to minimise our carbon footprint and waste by simply following a few simple practices.
Some of these are obvious and easy to implement, while others might cause minor inconvenience while you get used to them.
Here’s some ‘low-hanging fruit’ when it comes to being an eco-traveller.
- Travel with a reusable water bottle
- Bring a packable carry bag so you don’t use plastic bags
- Use a ‘KeepCup’ or reusable coffee cup instead of getting takeaway coffees
- Travel with a metal spork instead of using plastic (you can even bring this as carry-on when flying)
- Say no to single-use plastics like straws
Becoming an eco-traveller can also go beyond just minimising your own waste when you travel.
It can also be about trying to lower your carbon footprint.
- Walk or rent a bicycle to explore cities and towns
- Choose a public bus rather than a taxi to get around
- Try to travel overland wherever possible, minimising the number of flights you take
- Choose to stay in eco-friendly accommodation
If you are required to travel a lot, either because of your job or personal situation, it is worth looking into ways to offset your carbon.
We personally use Greenfleet in Australia to offset all of our carbon from travelling.
Read More About Minimising Your Waste as a Traveller
Choosing Sustainable Tour Operators and Accommodation
One of the best ways you can be a responsible traveller and promote sustainable tourism is by choosing to spend your money with companies that have the same ethics and practices when it comes to protecting communities, local economies and the environment.
The term ‘eco-friendly’ gets thrown around a lot these days, and it’s far too easy to simply take a company’s word that they are being eco-friendly, simply because they have it published on their website or around their property.
For example, we’ve stayed in an accommodation that had a sign in their hotel bar proudly saying they care about the environment, and as such they are no longer handing out plastic straws with drinks.
Sounded great, until we checked in to our room and found that the bathroom was filled with miniature shampoo bottles, toiletries were individually wrapped in plastic and they cleaned towels every single day, even though we hung them back up again.
Luckily in this day and age of the internet, with online reviews, blogs and travel guides helping to identify these issues, it’s never been easier to research the companies you may end up supporting.
Here’s some ways you can choose sustainable tour operators and accommodation in your travels:
- Do your research by reading blogs, TripAdvisor reviews and check out the company’s website. They should have an ‘environmental policy’ if they are committed to sustainability.
- Be extra vigilant when choosing companies that offer wildlife encounters. Often the more expensive ones have much higher standards, and it’s worth paying more to help protect the animals.
- If you’re unsure about anything, call the company and ask questions. If they can’t answer clearly on their environmental policies, often they are careless about it.
Read More About Choosing Sustainable Tour Operators and Accommodation
- What are Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Hotels?
- How to Travel to Antarctica Responsibly
- Discovering Sustainability at EcoCamp in Torres del Paine