Sustainable Tourism: Interviews with NGOs and Academics

There’s a big world out there to explore, and how we travel plays a pivotal role in ensuring a healthier Earth for generations to come. We interviewed non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academics across the world for insight into the growing ecotourism movement and asked them the burning questions we all want to know. How has ecotourism changed over the past 10 years? What are the “greenest” cities to visit? What makes the biggest impact on sustainable tourism? And what can we do to help keep the planet healthy when we travel?

These NGOs and academics have watched this trend grow from a fad to a way of life and have seen firsthand how sustainable travel and eco-travel create better travel experiences. From visiting a city’s natural landscape with eco-travel to using more sustainable practices to cut down use of natural resources when travelling, ecotourism is the wave of the future.
Here are the experts’ answers about how ecotourism has evolved and how we can all travel in a more sustainable way:

The Travel Corporation

Jeff Element is the President of The Travel Corporation, a highly successful international travel group with 24 award-winning brands.

Q: If you were to share a stat/fact to make tourists more environmentally conscious when travelling, what would you share?

Jeff: The U.S. Office of Travel & Tourism, claim that approximately 48.6 million Americans travel internationally each year. Estimating that each traveler takes about a two week trip, and consumes an average of three bottles of water a day, we are looking at 3.5 billion plastic water bottles used and discarded worldwide by travelers annually. And with an estimated 450-1000 years for a plastic bottle to fully break down in a landfill site, we recommend that travellers drink tap water where they can. They can bring their own bottles and fill them with filtered water.

Q: What are some touristic destinations or cities that are currently negatively impacted by tourism?

Jeff: Unfortunately, there are many cities that are negatively impacted by tourism. To name a few, Venice is a classic example as well as Pompeii and Cinque Terre in Italy. It becomes a matter of carrying capacity and destination management – how much load can a small town or city really handle, what does it mean for the locals in terms of cost of living or infrastructure and how can the industry work to support these destinations and handle the stresses of the industry?

For example, The TreadRight Foundation partnered with the Venice in Peril fund to restore the Monument to Canova in the Santa Maria GloriosadeiFrari church. This involved commissioning a comprehensive report by Venetian scientific experts on the underlying problems, so that recovery could be carried out as thoroughly as possible. The project, enabled with additional support from UNESCO and Cambridge University, also explored methods in which the city could encourage a more sustainable tourism industry.

Q: How can practicing sustainable tourism positively affect the locals in the touristic destinations?

Jeff: It’s a very simply model – tourism dollars and benefits must positively influence local communities. Tourism must support local people and we can do this by making increased leaderships, knowledge and infrastructure accessible to local communities.

Q: What are some touristic destinations or cities considered to be the “greenest” in terms of sustainable tourism? And Why?

Jeff: It really comes down to management, but at the end of the day, a destination that is sustainable for tourism, must be sustainable for it’s own communities. Some areas to consider are Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for sustainable tourism today?

Jeff: I think the biggest challenge is striking a balance with welcoming enough tourists to a region to support the local tourism industry and associated services, while still retaining the inherent sense of a place associated with that region. Consider Iceland, the solitude is a major attraction for people, but as the tourism numbers increase, that unique feature is threatened. Destinations must protect their tourism resources – the very things that make them distinct like their communities, cultures and history. We travel to experience these things.

Q: What are some things (1 to 3 things) that tourists should do to be more eco-friendly when travelling?

Jeff: Here at the Travel Corporation, we work hard to ensure that our guests and staff have an appreciation for what it is to be a responsible traveller. We’re making headway, but there’s still much work to be done. We are very proud of our efforts with The TreadRight Foundation, our non-profit foundation which was established by The Travel Corporation to encourage sustainable tourism within our own family of brands and in the places we visit. To date, TreadRight has donated more than US$2 million to sustainable tourism projects around the world.

TreadRight’s purpose is to support destination based projects in the areas of conservation and sustainable development. Have a look at their tips for living and travelling lightly here. For example, for Contiki Holidays, we work with our Sustainability Partner and environmentalist, Celine Cousteau (granddaughter of legendary explorer, Jacques of Cousteau) By partnering with Céline, Contiki Holidays continues its efforts to raise awareness of the need for sustainable tourism, educating Contikitravellers about marine ecosystems, ocean conservation and sustainable tourism.

For Trafalgar, we have been working for several years with the UK’s National Trust including the restoration of the White Cliffs of Dover. The National Trust, a UK based charity protecting historic places and green spaces. Hailed as one of Britain’s most spectacular natural features, for centuries the stunning White Cliffs of Dover have been seen as an icon and sign of freedom. For our other brand, Insight Vacations we have been supporting Whitmuir Organic Farm in Scotland which promotes sustainable food.

For more tips on sustainable travel please see http://www.treadright.org/responsible-tourism/tips-travellers.

Here is a link to TreadRight’s site: www.treadright.org

Sustaining Tourism

Dr. Rachel Dodds is an Associate Professor at Ryerson University, and the Director of Sustaining Tourism; an online resource showcasing the economic, environmental and social impact of tourism. They provide best practice case studies that outline responsible tourism with a goal of creating a sustainable global future for travel.

Dr. Dodds has over 20 years of experience in tourism and is passionate about making tourism more sustainable. She has lived and worked in four continents and travelled to over 75 countries. She has worked on projects around the world to help tourism become more sustainable including reducing waste and energy, helping write government policies, producing tool kits and working with local stakeholders to understand their views.

Q: If you were to share a stat/fact to make tourists more environmentally conscious when travelling, what would you share?

Rachel: Tourists use a LOT of water! FACT: The average North American household used 326 liters of water per day….a village of 700 in a developing country uses an average of 500 liters of water per month AND a luxury hotel room guest uses 1800 liters of water per person per night…

Q: What are some touristic destinations or cities that are currently negatively impacted by tourism?

Rachel:  There are hundreds of places that are being negatively affected by tourism –these are just a few:

  • Many beach resorts in Spain such as Magaluf and Benidormhave become the ‘costa del concrete’ and because of overdevelopment tourists have moved elsewhere looking for a pristine place to enjoy.
  • The Mayan Riviera, Mexico faces waste issues, as they do not have anywhere to put the masses of garbage tourists create.
  • Goa, India is facing water shortages because resorts are over-using the potable water supply.
  • The Austrian and Swiss Alps are suffering during their ski season due to unpredictable, and often, less snow and countries like the Maldives and famous cities such as Venice are at risk of going underwater because of sea level rise.
  • Many resorts in tourist destinations do not pay fair wages to their staff and so the local population cannot afford to live well.

General environmental impacts are often not considered when travelling. Did you know the following facts and tips? http://www.sustainabletourism.net/index.html

Q: How can practicing sustainable tourism positively affect the locals in the touristic destinations?

Rachel:  Sadly in many destinations less than 10% of the money you spend on your all-inclusive  or air and hotel holiday package stays in the local economy… most goes back to the international hotel chains and airlines who are based in Europe and North America.

Staying at locally owned hotels and buying local food and souvenirs keeps money in the local economy.

Being conscious and considerate of locals is also being more responsible. You are a visitor… locals live there so they have to deal with yourgarbage. You are using the water and energy that they would use and overusing it takes it away from them!

To be a more responsible tourist, practice these tips http://www.sustainabletourism.net/carbon.html#responsible

Q: What are some touristic destinations or cities considered to be the “greenest” in terms of sustainable tourism? And Why?

Rachel: There are some great good practices for sustainable tourism. Destinations and companies everywhere in the world are listed here with explanations

http://www.sustainabletourism.net/cs_destination.html

http://www.sustainabletourism.net/cs_company-org.html

As for a few of my favorites:

  • The Southwest of England has a comprehensive sustainable tourism plan complete with marketing and training assistance for businesses. Visitors are educated about their impacts and how to make more sustainable choices.
  • Whistler Blackcomb, Canada is a ski resort that has sustainable tourism as its key focus. Since 2000, they have reduced their waste by more than 60% and between 2008 and 2009, waste was reduced by 42% in their restaurants through the implementation of large-scale composting facilities. They have reduced energy consumption by 15% and continue to implement energy efficiency projects across operations.
  • Chumbe Island, Tanzania is the first privately established and managed marine park in the world and makes serious efforts in their sustainability operations. Income from visitors finance conservation and environmental education programs for local schools and other groups. Chumbe’s bungalow accommodations are built entirely out of local material and designed with solar lights, rainwater catchment, solar-heating of shower water and composting toilets. Education about marine life and conservation is part of the visitor experience.

Cities

  • Copenhagen, Denmark is striving to be carbon neutral by 2025. It is a city committed to its green spaces, waste and energy management and is a fantastic place to visit.
  • Vancouver, Canada has plans to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. They have lots of urban green spaces, you can be in the complete wilderness in 20 minutes from the city centre and they are increasing cycling lanes almost daily. Interestingly, however, they don’t really promote it to their visitors!
  • London, England encourages tourists to take public transport, it is chock a block with heritage sites, green spaces and even the grocery stores tell you how far their food has travelled before it reaches your hands.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for sustainable tourism today?

Rachel: The biggest challenge today is that there are seven billion people in the world and it is growing. We are overusing our resources instead of protecting and cherishing them. Many see travel as a right rather than a privilege and often we aren’t considering our impact on the resources in the destination including the impact on the local community.

Q: What are the current trends in sustainable tourism?

Rachel: People are becoming more interested in natural areas and want a clean pristine environment. This is pushing hotels and governments to realize that the very resources that attract tourists need to be protected. A dirty beach is not a nice experience!

Tourists increasingly expect accommodations to be ‘greener’ even though they don’t necessarily ask.

Local food is the biggest trend with more and more restaurants sourcing locally grown, organic, fairly traded food. In many places, tourists can find out and visit local farmers markets and eat and experience locally sourced and produced food.

Stay-cations are becoming more popular in Europe but alas the sun,sea, sand holiday is still the most popular!

Q: What are some things (1 to 3 things) that tourists should do to be more eco-friendly when travelling?

Rachel: Obviously not flying can make a big impact on the reduction of carbon into the atmosphere and taking the train or more sustainable forms of transport are often a much nicer way to travel. However, even small changes can make a big difference.

Here are a few tips to be a more responsible traveller

http://www.sustainabletourism.net/carbon.html#responsible

Here are a few tips to be more carbon conscious

http://www.sustainabletourism.net/carbon.html#carbon

If you are a business, ask yourself if you are doing the following to be more sustainable

http://www.sustainabletourism.net/questions.html

Accomodating Green

Dr. Sonya Graci is the Director of Accommodating Green; a boutique consulting agency that specializes in developing sustainability strategies for communities and businesses. The focus of Accommodating Green is to work with stakeholders on tourism and environmental issues to develop practical sustainability solutions. Expertise in stakeholder analysis, multi-stakeholder partnership development, facilitation and workshops with a specialty in developing innovative initiatives.

Q: If you were to share a stat/fact to make tourists more environmentally conscious when travelling, what would you share? 

Sonya: The impact of travel on the social, environmental and economic aspects of community can be extremely detrimental. 15,000 cubic meters of water would typically supply 100 rural farmers for three years and 100 urban families for two years, yet only supply 100 luxury hotel guests for less than two months (Holden, 2000). In dryer regions, tourists’ water consumption can amount to 440 liters a day per tourist, which is almost double the average amount of water used by residents in Spain (UNEP, 2008). When travelling, be conscious of your use of water, energy and waste. You may not have to pay for it, but the costs are much bigger than the impact to your wallet. Be mindful of your use!

Q: What are some touristic destinations or cities that are currently negatively impacted by tourism?

Sonya: Many mainstream destinations and cities are affected negatively by tourism.  Several beach destinations such as in the Mediterranean and Mexico have been affected by erosion due to building hotels too close to shore. This has resulted in a loss of beaches and the degradation of coral reefs.  The impact of tourism on undeveloped areas such as beaches, forests, mountains create detrimental effects that cannot be reversed.

This can be seen in many tourist destinations that cannot handle the waste produced by tourists and have litter in the ocean, on the streets, and in piles being burned. Cruise ship ports of call are extremely impacted by tourism, as the infrastructure in these destinations are not built to handle thousands of cruise ship passengers as well as their waste, offloading on to their shores. 

Q: How can practicing sustainable tourism positively affect the locals in the touristic destinations? 

Sonya: Tourism can provide direct jobs to the community, such as tour guides or hotel housekeeping. Indirect employment is generated through other industries such as agriculture, food production, and retail.Visitors’ expenditure generates income for the local community and can lead to the alleviation of poverty in countries which are heavily reliant on tourism. 

In addition, sustainable tourism is also about being socially conscious and if practiced correctly, can assist in the alleviation of poverty, in the education of locals, and the general well being of society.  Purchasing local food from local farmers, local souvenirs and supporting the local economy creates the multiplier effect which means that one dollar from a tourist benefits the community numerous times, creating for a more stable economy.

Q: What are some touristic destinations or cities considered to be the greenest in terms of sustainable tourism? And why?

Sonya: This is not an easy answer! Whereas there are many businesses such as hotels and tour operators that operate based on sustainable principles, it is difficult to identify a destination that can be considered sustainable. Some destinations have a country wide accreditation for sustainable tourism or green hotels, such as the National Eco and Sustainable Tourism Standards in Australia or the Costa Rican Certificate for Sustainable Tourism.

Some destinations such as Calvia, Mallorca in Spain have sustainable policies that govern the destination and some destinations are known for their ecotourism such as Dominica in the Caribbean. Cities such as Vancouver that have the lowest per capita carbon emissions of any major city on the continent also display several sustainable practices. In many destinations you can find examples of sustainable practice. It just takes some research to identify what is there and what should be supported!

Q: What are the biggest challenges for eco-tourism today?

Sonya: The biggest challenge for sustainable tourism today is for tourism to be sustainable; therefore every destination, business and tourist must practice sustainability.  Currently we are not doing enough to protect our destinations. The implementation of sustainable practices is not widespread enough and cannot keep up with the current demand for travel.

Educating destinations, businesses and tourists is necessary and seems to be the biggest challenge to date. There is a mentality on holiday to use and abuse; that luxury means wastefulness and this mentality needs to be changed. Knowledge is power and this is the biggest challenge facing tourism to date. With knowledge comes the pressure from tourists to create change and to urge destinations and businesses to focus on sustainability.

Q: What are the current trends in sustainable tourism?

Sonya: The current trends in sustainable tourism are the increase of green accommodations and the focus on local food and cuisine. Green accommodations have been on the rise since the early 90s however the movement towards local and organic produce, cuisine and chefs is a trend that is becoming increasingly popular.

Micro breweries, sustainable wineries, and artisanal products such as cheese and chocolate all support the destination not only economically but by supporting the movement towards sustainable agriculture.  It also greatly benefits the community through investing in their economy and reducing the reliance of destinations to purchase imported goods, not native to their island.

Q: What are some things (1 to 3 things) that tourists should do to be more eco-friendly when travelling?

Sonya: A few that come to mind are…

  1. Reduce your energy and water use and be mindful of your waste generation. Do not purchase numerous water bottles, but bring a reusable container and refill water either from bigger containers or many hotels have filtered water from the tap, so ask the front desk when you arrive about the safety of the water.
  2. Support local as much as possible through buying local, using local guides and supporting local cuisine.  Reduce your need for imported goods and sample what is local to the community.
  3. Be mindful of the natural resources surrounding you. Try to travel with low impact, walk, cycle or take local transit. Be mindful of coral reefs and never step on them. Do not purchase foods or souvenirs that perpetrate the poaching trade, such as shark fin soup, elephant husks or crocodile purses.

We would like to extend a big thank you to Dr. Sonya Graci (Accomodating Green), Jeff Element (The Travel Corporation), and Dr. Rachel Dodds (Sustaining Tourism) for participating in this interview! The consensus is clear; eco-travel isn’t just a trend, it’s a new way of life when it comes exploring our world. Between visiting a city’s natural beauty and using only the best eco-friendly habits when travelling, ecotourism helps make exploring the planet sustainable, for this generation and the next.

Explore Ecotourism in Canada
Environmentally Conscious Tourism in Canada – Expedia Canada’s home for all things ecotourism.
Eco-adventures in Canada – From exploring caves to watching polar bears, there’s a wild world waiting for you. Here are some of the best eco-trips to try around the country.
Best Eco-friendly Hotels in Canada – Staying somewhere sustainable is just as important as where you travel to. Here are a few of the top eco-hotels in the country.
Greenest Cities in Canada – When you’re looking for the greenest cities in Canada, search no further! These are the crème of the crop.
The History of Ecotourism – Want to know more about the history of ecotourism? Check out our helpful ecotourism infographic.
Interviews with Ecotourists – When it comes to ecotourism, some of the best people to talk to are real-life explorers. Here are our interviews with well-regarded eco-travelers.

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About Author

Jennifer Cuellar

Jennifer Cuellar is a writer, an avid explorer, and fan of all things Games of Thrones-related. When she’s not sipping tea in a café by the beach, she’s off writing about wondrous cities you simply have to visit. From mountain peaks to downtown streets, there’s a world of adventure waiting to be explored. She spotlights top cities to tour, which attractions you’ve got to see, and off-the-beaten path activities to try during your next vacation. Let’s go travel!

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