Updated: Dec 3, 2020
“Tourism can be a force for good in our world, playing a part in protecting our planet in its biodiversity, and celebrating what makes us human.”
- António Guterres, United Nations World Trade Organization
Travelling is one of the most self-rewarding, beautiful gifts. There are so many personal benefits - it boosts mental health, personal growth, provides creative inspiration, empathy, and exposes us to varied philosophies and ways of life. I for one have loved wading in that pool, soaking up all its goodness.
The travel industry exploded after the cold war and has been on a roaring freight train ever since. Prior to Covid-19, tourism contributed $8 trillion to the world’s economy. It’s not going away, pandemic be damned. However, we have been given the opportunity to pause and think about a more sustainable strategy for tourism - One where we actively give at least as much as we receive.
- We can do better...
We all know binging isn’t healthy - and usually results in feeling awful, both physically and mentally. It’s a coping mechanism to deal with negative emotions by numbing the stress, anxiety and depression. Binge trips may feel like a great way to blow off some steam but you usually feel worse by the time you fly home with your big sunglasses, burnt back and depleted wallet.
These types of vacations won’t change you or help you grow or heal. They will leave you damaged, broke and boring.
Help the environment, yourself, and local entrepreneurs by switching out the all-inclusive binge-fest for guided tours or getaways that will help deal with the pressures of life in a healthy way. Try a yoga retreat, a spa-cation, or an outdoors-centered vacation with hiking or kayaking.
As discussed in my previous article, we need to be more mindful about how often we fly and the impacts our travel has on the environment.
With organizations launching forward in the virtual-friendly workplace, we may see policies to work from anywhere sooner than later. Avid travelers should look to fly less frequently, but stay for longer and with more intention. Traveling slowly provides the opportunity to be more entrenched within the culture you fly to experience. It also offers the opportunity to explore lesser-known areas instead of speed-dating with destinations. While there, invest and give back to the local community.
Don’t have a virtual-friendly job or limited time? Take your electric car for a road trip!
Given our pandemic, there are also opportunities to discover our backyard and support local tourism. At home, experiences are heartening and creatively satisfying. Our cities are packed with rich diverse culture - go explore!
No matter where you go, keep these in mind:
Support biodiversity and conservation
Stay in energy and resource-efficient accommodations (bookdifferent.com)
Choose environmentally conscious transportation
Research the local waste management and act accordingly
Reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing offsets
- First Nation's Tourism, BC
Be a mindful travel consumer and take into consideration the various impacts your trip will have on the social and cultural makeup of your host destination.
I would love to see the travel industry evolve, and instead of travel agents finding the cheapest 7 day Mediterranean cruise, provide consumers with vetted options that promote environmental and cultural sustainability. They could offer tailored and sourced advice on how to be culturally sensitive, provide lists of organizations that hire local and give back to the local community, and resources that are environmentally friendly.
Seek interesting places to go (outside the over-tourist places) and be open to experiencing a different culture in an area that may not have the comfortable tourist infrastructure set up.
Travelers, take time to understand the history and culture of the place you are visiting. Watch documentaries, read books and go to local museums. Seek-out an alternative account of the ‘history’ we were taught.
- Accessible Tourism
Travel can build tolerance, acceptance, and understanding. Or, it can re-enforce roles, expectations and privilege.
You have the power. Demand industry gatekeepers attract, cater to, and celebrate diversity in tourism by investing your dollars with intent. Support companies that have diversity in their advertisement, that are respectful of women and who cater to diversity. This includes BIPOC, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ2S+.
Visit museums that portray and discuss a wide variety of historical issues, even if it is heavy and painful (such as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg). Purposefully seek out alternative and hidden narratives in the art galleries you visit, or in the plays you see. Look for works created, written and acted by our BIPOC, whose stories have historically been suppressed.
Lastly, while traveling, go to places, do activities and engage with people that are different than you. This is, after all, sort of the point.
- Rural Tourism: Aosta Valley, Italy
Travel can be a great redistribution of global wealth but we need to make a conscious effort of FAIR distribution. Over-tourist destinations are famous for good reason, and I feel the draw too. However, we really need to get off the beaten track. Please, let’s stop being so predictable in our choices.
Support bloggers, authors, sites and shows that promote unique tourist destinations, that will provide a greater distribution of our tourism dollars. Travelers can make a difference in rural communities which could foster job creation, social inclusion and regional development.
Vote with your tourism dollars and think LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL! Stay in locally-owned accommodations, eat at local restaurants, buy in local stores and hire local guides owned and operated locally.
- Tourists climb on Angkor Wat temple, Cambodia
Demand government standards, policies and legislation that will build a resilient, sustainable industry. It is our responsibility to ensure travel policies prioritize a healthy world and a fair and sustainable industry over profit margins.
Governments can implement policies such as fly-free days that will help the environmental impacts from aviation travel. International bodies can take further measures to not only fund the preservation of sites but also ensure appropriate standards and security of artifacts, heritage sites, natural wonders, and cultures.
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