Updated June 2022 – Sustainable tourism or green tourism is undeniably the way of the future. Aundeniably the way of the future. As we approach World Environment Day on 5 June and World Oceans Day on 8 June, we wanted to take the opportunity to answer the question: how can tourism be more sustainable?

In this article, we’ll explore proactive steps based on the four principles of responsible tourism, which can encourage your tourism business to make small yet meaningful changes. No matter whether your tourism business operates in a forest, wetland, or urban environment, here are six easy-to-follow sustainable tourism examples that can inspire businesses to adopt greener initiatives and promote responsible tourism.

What is green tourism?

Green tourism characteristics

Green tourism (or sustainable tourism) describes small-scale tourism that incorporates visiting natural areas while limiting the consumption of goods or services that may damage the environment, economy, or social life within the local community. This is achieved by tourists taking full accountability for their actions and working together to preserve cultural and environmental heritage. 

Why is green tourism important?

Tourism can be particularly damaging to the environment, as tourists often put undue pressure on natural resources through over-consumption. Overconsumption by tourists commonly has a knock-on effect, leading to:

  • Increased pollution and waste
  • Soil erosion
  • Natural habitat loss that disproportionately impacts endangered species
  • Water overuse
  • Overbuilding
  • Noise pollution

In this process, tourists are contributing to the destruction of the environment that they traveled a great distance to enjoy.

Green tourism characteristics address these issues that commonly arise from tourism by achieving the following:

Lowers environmental impact of tourism

Green tourism minimizes – or even reverses – the environmental impact of tourism by focusing on sustainable and responsible tourism practices.

For example, green tourism characteristics promote sustainable travel and transport that limits the emission of greenhouse gases. Air travel is a significant contributor to climate change – specifically, aviation is responsible for around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions. Green tourism utilizes ulterior methods of transport. These can include buses and trains fueled by wind and solar energy or even urban bike-sharing.

Supports local communities

Green tourism supports the transition of local communities towards economical independence. This is achieved by supporting local businesses, financing sustainable infrastructure, and consuming sustainably-sourced food and water. It can also act as an incentive for local communities to use the funds collected from tourism to preserve natural habitats and wildlife, in order to keep the cycle of green tourism thriving.

Actively keeps the environment clean

Littering is too often a byproduct of tourism. In the Mediterranean region, marine litter increases up to 40% during peak tourist season. If this trend continues as it’s currently doing so, there’ll be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

Even if you safely dispose of your plastic rubbish while on holiday, local governments often lack the finances to properly recycle or dispose of the mass amounts of rubbish that accumulate during the tourist season. Green tourism provides reusable alternatives to plastic use. By working to eliminate single-use plastics and investing in local recycling and composting initiatives, green tourism can build the foundation for an environment that doesn’t rely on unnecessary plastic packaging or items.

6 sustainable tourism examples for businesses in the travel and activity industry

Sustainable tourism examples

So, how can tourism be more sustainable?

There is no one-size-fits-all guide on how to achieve greener tourism practices or forming a responsible tourism partnership. Green tourism will appear differently in the context of each tour or activity business. This is due to the fact that it will need to take into account the demands of your business’s surroundings. To help provide inspiration on how your tour business could adopt greener practices, here are 6 steps that sustainable tour operators follow.

1. Promote sustainable energy consumption in the office

It might take a few lightbulb changes or the addition of a sensor or two, but some minor changes in your business’s office could see big differences in your energy consumption and your business’s carbon footprint. Lower electricity costs certainly don’t hurt either! We’re talking about using LED or fluoro lights to cut 25%-80% off lighting usage; reviewing your recycling program; and adding motion sensors in areas such as the kitchen or storage, where you might not be for most of the day (we promise the biscuits aren’t scared of the dark).

2. Go paperless with booking manifests, waivers, and other documents

Steps to sustainable tourism

Your booking manifest might have traditionally been written out on any old scrap of paper or on printed spreadsheets, but digitizing your guest manifest with online tour reservation software like Rezdy can improve your business operations as well as your eco-credentials. Guests will experience efficient automated booking confirmations, and you can conveniently access your up-to-date guest manifest as and where you need it on your device. You could even integrate Rezdy’s tour management software with the online waiver solution Wherewolf, to digitize your entire customer management experience.

Tip: If you’d like to experience Rezdy’s travel and tourism software for yourself, you can start a free trial today.

3. Swap out single-use plastics including plastic bags and disposable cutlery

It’s such a simple thing, and yet swapping out single-use cups or cutlery sets for bamboo or biodegradable alternatives can make a huge difference. Especially if you regularly provide meals or snacks to guests. Even better, consider having reusable cutlery and crockery to wash thoroughly in between tours. It’s a good feeling, and guests are sure to notice the effort towards sustainability.   

4. Focus on sustainably sourced food for catering

If you’re providing meals or snacks to your guests, it’s also worth considering the food miles that go into your catering options. In fact, focusing locally can be of great benefit for businesses and provides an opportunity to get involved in current food tourism trends. Why not collaborate with local food producers, or take the chance to showcase local ingredients that are native to the region? After all, nobody has ever traveled thousands of miles to eat the same hamburger they can find at their local fast food joint. This can amplify your guest experience, support local businesses, and help you reduce the carbon footprint in every bite.

5. Educate guests with ecotourism initiatives

How can tourism be more sustainable?

There’s a good chance you’re already promoting the amazing environment around you if you’re in the tour and activity industry. However, even if your business is in the ‘burbs there are still measures that can help guests to understand, appreciate and respect your natural surroundings. This might include explaining the natural and cultural significance of your location on your activity booking system; encouraging visitors to be water-wise in the bathroom through signage, and including information on native species during your activities. 

6. Incorporate local cultural knowledge into your activities

Embedding local cultural knowledge into your tours and activities provides an exciting opportunity to share thought-provoking insights with your guests. This could help in undermining any cultural stereotypes and instill respect for different natural and cultural heritage.

Addressing cultural sensitivities plays a key role in green tourism as well-managed tourism initiatives have the power to dismantle the age-old mentality of ‘us vs them’. Celebrating local cultural knowledge in your activities will look different from business to business, however, discussions of local history, culture, values, and traditions can exist in various forms. Consider teaching guests words in the local language, inviting someone from the local culture to share stories with your guests, or even providing local meals and drinks during the tour.

These ideas might not all be practicable for your business, but they do provide a few examples of how incremental changes can add up to a far more sustainable and thriving business. 

Here’s to World Environment Day!

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