Sustainable Travel Companies and the Future of Tourism

By Anna Johnson 

Tourism is a vital component of a healthy economic system. Global international tourism revenue is worth more than $7.7 trillion, and it’s the foundation for businesses around the world.

But tourism can have a nasty effect on the environment. Transportation is one of the largest contributors to air pollution, and tourists unknowingly endanger the environment with their excursions. Water resource depletion, land degradation, pollution, waste, sewage, construction, deforestation, and alteration of ecosystems are all direct results of worldwide tourism.

Thankfully, some organizations realize just how debilitating worldwide tourism can be, and they’ve made it a goal to reduce some of the destruction through something called the World Responsible Tourism Awards, held every year at the World Travel Market.

“The future of tourism”

The award, which is in its 12th year, is given to tourist-based organizations that go above and beyond to ensure their travel arrangements are economical, reduce their impact on the environment and improve the economy.

This year, 13 finalists were considered for five categories, and one overall winner was selected. The judges narrowed the overall winner down to two organizations: Lemon Tree Hotels and Tren Ecuador. The founder of the award, Justin Francis, felt these two companies far outstripped their competitors in responsible tourism.

“When I founded these awards in 2004, it was the aim to highlight what is possible to achieve through responsible tourism and hold the winners up as examples to be replicated by the wider tourism industry,” Francis said in the official World Travel Market press release.

“Lemon Tree Hotels [and] Tren Ecuador show clearly how big corporations can adopt responsible tourism as a core part of their business, be commercially successful and deliver significant benefits for local communities. These businesses move a more responsible style of tourism into the mainstream. They are the future of tourism.”

Lemon Tree Hotels’ employment efforts

Lemon Tree Hotels is an Indian hotel chain. It’s the third largest group in India and has recently become the fastest-growing hospitality company there.

Aside from winning the World Responsible Tourism award, Lemon Tree also took home the Best Accommodation for Responsible Employment award, thanks to its efforts to offer employment primarily to workers who have faced significant challenges in finding meaningful employment.

Thousands of citizens are struggling to find jobs in India, so the company’s efforts have helped to alleviate that pressure. Professor Harold Goodwin, chair of the judges, was particularly impressed with Lemon Tree Hotels’ efforts to improve the economic and environmental impacts of tourism in its hotels.

“Lemon Tree Hotels are recognized for tackling, effectively, a major social problem in so many societies,” he said in a statement. “A large corporate business backed by international investors successfully getting disabled and other opportunity-deprived people into the workforce in tourism and making this a core part of their operations is a powerful statement.”

Tren Ecuador improves tourism relations

The other winner, Tren Ecuador, is a South American train company. This firm also garnered the award for Best Poverty Reduction and Inclusion. Tren caught the attention of the judges, thanks to its efforts to open up train availability beyond just the elite.

Rather than depend on the traditional travel pattern in which guests remain isolated from businesses and tourist stops along its routes, Tren Ecuador created a system of shared value with local enterprises. Since its efforts began, the company has created 5,000 livelihoods for locals in communities situated near the rail lines.

“The judges hold Tren Ecuador up as an outstanding, holistic example of how all tours should be designed, and feel that if all tourism was planned in this way it would be very effective at making better places in which to live, as well as better places to visit,” said Professor Goodwin.

How you can travel with the environment in mind

As Francis stated in his press release, we’re looking at the future of tourism. Such efforts as these have the power to create a snowball effect for both organizations and tourists.

Corporations like Lemon Tree Hotels and Tren Ecuador have set high standards for responsible tourism to encourage greater participation in environmental and economical tourism around the world. Anyone interested in raising support for this style of travel can do things to be more responsible in the tourism industry.

  • Recognize your personal impact: Achieving this quality of travel means recognizing every step you take can have an impact on the environment somehow. As you travel, look for transportation modes that involve the least amount of emissions. Choose hotels that embrace eco-friendly operations. Book excursions that support the environment, such as whale watching. It may take a little more creativity and planning, but it greatly reduces the overall impact.
  • Support local tourism: Become aware of where your money goes when you travel. It’s easy to hit up McDonalds and Walmart for breakfast or articles you may have forgotten; but in doing so, you neglect the local market. It might be a little more costly to purchase food, souvenirs, and products from local vendors, but you will benefit the local economy significantly.
  • Pay attention to cultural differences: Waltzing into a new country without regard to rules, form, or function is one of the worst things we can do. It’s the antithesis of responsible tourism. Instead of acting the same way you would at home, try to be sensitive to the cultural norms. Ask before you take photos, learn the local greeting customs, and do your research on what might offend those you visit.

Responsible tourism is catching. If both individuals and travel organizations put a stronger emphasis on this style of vacationing, we have the potential to change our environmental and economic impact all over the world.

Image credit: Pexels

Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant from Olympia, WA. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, HuffingtonPost.com and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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