Visiting other countries and having the opportunity to interact with people of different cultures is important in understanding how we live, learn and communicate with others. It also can help make the world a better place through understanding the values and traditions of people across the globe.
Tourism is an important industry in both developing and developed countries. It provides jobs, stimulates local economies and fosters local traditions like arts and crafts or folklore. Sustainable tourism promotes responsible travel so that travelers leave a minimum impact and the hosts benefit. Respecting the cultures and ways of life of those who live in places we visit allows us to experience the traditions, food and landscapes of the area in a natural way.
As more people travel, both consumers and tour operators are finding ways to minimize environmental and cultural impacts and ensure that local people benefit. Air travel has a greater impact on the environment per passenger mile than other forms of transportation. There are ways to minimize environmental effects of air travel: through carbon offset programs, by taking direct flights to reduce take-offs and landings, and reducing baggage weight because lighter planes use less fuel. Other ways to reduce environmental effects include using local public transportation like busses and trains, using bicycles as part of the sight-seeing program or taking a trekking tour.
There are simple and enjoyable ways we can limit other environmental impacts associated with tourism. By eating in local restaurants, we support local economies and reduce the distance that food has to travel between the farm or pasture and the place it is served. Savoring local cuisine lets us experience not just food but the customs and hospitality associated with dining. Using recyclable water bottles and filling up at water filters rather than buying new bottled water greatly reduces waste.
Using local accommodations supports local businesses. I prefer home-stays or local inns to fancy hotels when traveling to other countries. By staying with host families, a traveler experiences the way people really live. Some of the experiences stay with you throughout your life, like bathing in a ramada-style lean-to with grapevine lattice for a roof with water drawn from a well. Walking to the market with the host family to buy ingredients for meals each day lets us learn about the local foods and introduces language through learning names of vegetables, fruits and grains. Using home-stays and local accommodations also reduces new construction of intrusive buildings. How discouraging it is to arrive at a beautiful beach to find that the view is blocked by high-rise international hotels.
Many tour operators organize trips so that the people of a community benefit. Agreements with local vendors may include better wages and medical care for guides, porters and hotel staff. Tour agents may also work with local organizations to ensure that children are not employed or exploited. Being respectful to sensitive environmental areas and avoiding purchase of products that come from endangered species or are the result of animal cruelty help protect resources for the future.
Responsible tourism doesn’t mean roughing it. Sustainable safari tours in Africa include five-star lodges that run on solar power and feature gourmet meals from locally grown and produced vegetables and livestock. Some have established community development or wildlife conservation projects. If we are aware of the effects of travel, how we use and re-use resources and how we affect those in host countries, we can learn, enjoy and share throughout the globe in a positive and responsible way.