There are a million great reasons to travel. Seeing the world renews the spirit, refreshes the soul and teaches us about the way other people live. It provides us with perspective and is ultimately the best way for us to learn about who we are and how we are all connected.
As we fill our “bucket lists” with things we want to see before we die, we will increasingly experience first hand how our world is changing. From the disappearing glaciers at Glacier National Park to the rising waters around the Marshall Islands, the climate’s impact is becoming clear. These events, and our own relationship to their occurrence, beg the question: is tourism bad or good? Tourism is a double edged sword. Like technology, it is one factor identified as contributing to the environmental problem, but it could also be part of the solution. Let’s uncover the good and the bad about and the relationship tourism has with a more sustainable future.
Tourism does create beneficial effects on the environment by contributing to environmental protection and conservation. It serves as a way to raise awareness and creates a valuable tool to finance protection of natural areas and increase their economic importance. The United Nations, during World Tourism Day in September, stressed the important role that sustainable tourism can play in conserving the diversity of life on the planet. The Secretary General of the UNWTO, Taleb Rifai, commented that “tourism revenues resulting from the enjoyment of biological diversity, often located in the world’s less developed regions, are a significant source of income and employment for local communities.”
No matter where you go in the world, you can see the impact of people. From campsites left littered with trash to once unspoiled stretches of beach and rainforest now scattered with golf courses and mega-luxury resorts. The footprints we leave behind are not just related to carbon. The negative impacts of tourism development can gradually destroy the environmental resources on which life depends, depleting water resources, degrading land, causing pollution due to transport and contributing to deforestation.
The Ugly American…
It is important that people strive to be more responsible when traveling. Making eco-conscious decisions and immersing ourselves in new cultures of their surrounding helps link us to the places we have been. Ecotourism, defined as a more sustainable and responsible way to travel, strives to be low impact. Ecotourism educates the traveler and benefits economic development and political empowerment of local communities, funds conservation and reminds us to always respect human rights.
Adopting a more environmentally aware and ecologically sensitive approach while traveling can help US citizens chip away at the “ugly American” stereotype any international traveler has encountered. This doesn’t mean you have to stay in eco-lodges every time you travel, but here are a few good tips:
- Travelers who want to be more environmentally aware should support the local economy by purchasing local foods and products rather than imported goods. A simple thing you can make a habit of is to buy a piece of local art everywhere you travel…start your collection on your next trip.
- Hiring a local guide can also provide for a more authentic experience.
- Most importantly, always leave a good impression. A positive experience with the locals will pave the way for those that come after you.
To learn more about becoming an eco-tourist, please visit TIES.