If you’ve been working in tourism long, you will have heard about sustainable tourism. It’s an important topic that needs to be addressed by all of those working in tourism, including tour and activity operators.

Here’s what you need to know about green tourism, and how you can play your part in the road towards sustainability.

Why should you care about sustainable tourism?

While you may be familiar with the effects of pollution and global warming, sometimes it takes some hard-hitting facts to make you realise just how much of an impact we have on the environment:

  • Since 1970, a third of the natural world has been destroyed by human activity.
  • 70% of marine mammals are now threatened by extinction.
  • Every day, we dump 90 million tons of carbon pollution into our atmosphere.
  • 58% of the world’s coral reefs are at risk.
  • Species of animal or plant life disappears at a rate of 1 every 3 minutes.

So we definitely should care and try to turn that around, using sustainable practices when running tours or activities.

The World Tourism Organisation defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.”

It’s not just about trying to reduce the negative environmental impacts you make, but its also about using tourism to help local communities and raise support for conservation.

How are we tracking today?

The GST Council reports that sustainable tourism is still considered a niche, but big brands are starting to take the right steps towards achieving sustainability.

A big concern is ‘greenwashing’, which is when PR is deceptively used to promote a perception that an organisation’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.

Challenges being faced:

  • How to reach an end consumer who is less interested in certifications but wants 3rd party acknowledgement.
  • The perception that sustainability is expensive (it’s just not marketed enough, we need to create market access).
  • Building confidence in a brand is hard to do because of the confusion around certification and self claims.

Opportunities on the horizon:

  • Tourism is one of the best industries that can help efforts with conservation and poverty alleviation through sustainable practices.
  • Destinations are starting to see the value of sustainability, helping to accelerate the process through policies, incentives, and legislation.
  • GDS systems and tour operators can support sustainability by offering it to the mainstream market.

How can tour operators & activity providers help?

Your business can certainly help support the three pillars of sustainability.

Maximise economic benefits for the local community

  • Invest in the area your business operates (give profits to your local community, help preserve and protect the area your customers visit).
  • Contribute to the preservation of resources your company uses.
  • Hire local staff, and provide training on your sustainable practices.
  • Source supplies locally. Buying local could achieve 4-5% reduction in GHG emissions due to large sources of c02 and non c02 emissions during the production of food.

Reduce negative environmental impacts

  • Take responsibility for the damage you cause to the enviornment (for example, if you use water in dry area, use energy efficient measures). The Western world makes up 17% of the world’s population, but consumes 52% of its total energy.
  • Create conservation and reduction measures for water, waste and energy. 70% of earth’s surface is water but only 3% is potable (safe to drink).
  • Offer incentives to staff/clients to carpool/use public transport.
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle. For example, in your office have recycling bins, and use recycled paper.
  • Plant indigenous trees/shrubs in your area. Just 1 acre of trees absorbes 2.6 tonnes of c02 per year.
  • Keep the size of tour groups small to have minimal impact on flora and fauna in an area.

Maximise social benefits for the local community

  • Tell clients to purchase local products.
  • Don’t purchase products made from endangered species.
  • Support local projects, like charities and conservation efforts.
  • Inform clients of cultural/religious issues where they should be considerate.
  • Make sure none of your clients exploit children/break human rights conduct

Do what you can!

As long as you try to keep your environmental footprint small, you are doing your part. What are your thoughts on responsible tourism practices?

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