I get a lot of questions about sustainable travel and whether it really benefits communities around the world. “Does sustainable tourism work?” is one of the most-asked inquiries I receive when I talk to people. This is a great question, and one worth thinking about when we consider globalization and the way we want to approach a better future.
Some might argue that the best thing to do for our world is to stay home and save on jet fuel, keep areas pristine, and leave local cultures the way they are. However, many don’t realize that tourism can affect a region positively. For many countries, tourism is one of their most important industries, and it provides jobs and incentives to create national parks, museums, and conservation efforts.
Many have also argued whether tourists will take the time and effort to contribute to a place while they are traveling. While it might seem as though those on vacation might need a break, many are happy to volunteer time toward helping the location they are visiting through paying a bit more in order to know tours are ethical, or offering their time to volunteer.
Here are some basic facts from Authenticitys, a tourism company focused on sustainable tourism:
- The 2015 “Good Travel” survey by Tourism Cares found 55% of their respondents said that they volunteered or gave money at a destination they visited on their travels.
- 72% of the participants in this study also listed that giving while travel was “important” or “very important.”
- According to UNWTO, nature-based travel accounts for 20% of the tourism sector, and 73% of the millennial generation is willing to pay more for a sustainable experience.
- The market for sustainable, global tourism has created more than 11.7 million jobs, and has an estimated market value of $678.5 billion in the year 2017.
- 69% of travelers would like to try something new on their next travel, and 47% say they have visited destinations because of the people and culture of specific cultures.
As sustainable tourism becomes more popular, there is likely to be more infrastructure for it, making it more common. In fact, with some of these guidelines becoming the new rules of travel, the likelihood that sustainable tourism will become commonplace is rather high.
I remember when the idea of ethical travel first arrived and suddenly new tours were available to those who wanted to have a minimal impact on the places they visited. To me, this sounded ideal—I had seen a lot of damage at the destinations I had visited and had a bit of an ethical dilemma of whether I should continue to travel or not. Since then, numerous companies and tour businesses have sprung up promoting better tourism practices. Clearly there has been a market for this for quite a while.
It might be too early to see the direct impact of sustainable tourism and the new choices travelers are making, but there are some signs that things are starting to improve. By limiting the amount of tourists that are allowed to see delicate natural sites, educating local people on environmental concerns, and providing more ethical options for visitors can go a long way. There’s also a lot to look forward to with future generations, who see sustainability as an important factor toward making the world better and helping a destination rather than hurting it. Again, once these practices become normalized, it’s likely that better tourism will be the expected way to act while traveling.
For me, this gives me a lot of hope. It’s easy to feel disheartened about the damage we have caused as travelers, but thankfully, sustainable tourism gives us the option to do good while visiting other spots.