More than ever in these times of crisis, we are gradually becoming aware that our decisions affect our planet. Unlimited economic growth and material consumption are not sustainable in the long run: a radical shift needs to happen on a global scale, in terms of both consumption patterns and human values. Self-awareness and responsibility towards the environment are crucial and need to be incorporated in the future of tourism.
The concept of sustainability in the tourism industry has been gaining momentum in the last few years, and a report by Booking.com reveals that the vast majority of travelers (87%) wish to travel in a more sustainable way. While some travelers have already started doing so, ecotourism isn’t the norm yet. Planning a sustainable trip actually requires putting up more effort and making some sacrifices.
But is it possible to travel in a fully sustainable way? What does “ecotourism” mean? Are there some realistic sustainable solutions when traveling in 2021? And what does ecotourism tell us about the future of the tourism industry?
How to define ecotourism?
When planning your last trip, you might have heard about “sustainable travel” or “ecotourism”. But what do these words refer to?
According to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism can be defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. In other words, ecotourism is a way to experience traveling in a way that is more responsible towards both nature and people.
Why choose to travel sustainably?
There are many reasons why you should choose to travel more sustainably.
For starters, you will reduce your carbon footprint and your ecological impact by traveling closer to home or by using cleaner means of transportation.
Moreover, it will give your trip more meaning: many people do not feel fulfilled with mass tourism and traditional vacation destinations. Shifting to a more sustainable tourism practice might be a way to give your trip a purpose and to connect more deeply with the environment and the people surrounding you.
Ecotourism is also a great way to help protect fragile ecosystems and raise awareness about local and environmental issues.
Finally, sustainable travel generates more income and development opportunities for local people: your trip might help build schools and create more jobs for the communities of the place you visit. Isn’t this a great way to spend your next holiday?
How to travel in a sustainable way in 2021?
Here are some tips to help you make more responsible choices:
- Choosing a destination
You can begin by making the right choices when picking a destination.
Staying close to home is a great way to travel sustainably: you reduce your carbon footprint and avoid polluting modes of transport. But if you want to travel a little bit further, you can choose an eco-friendly destination that will match your values and allow you to contribute to local development!
Nice beaches are tempting; but you might want to look beyond the scenery and find out more about the country’s ethical standards. Environment protection, animal welfare and human rights are some of the main elements to look out for when inquiring about your next destination!
Here are some of the best ecotourism destinations for 2021:
- Hawaii: aside from its dream-like beaches and its strong cultural identity, this island is very focused on ecotourism and offers sustainable tours which allow travelers to plant trees and to observe locals working the land. There are many eco-friendly accommodations, which run on solar power and pump water from local sources.
- Galapagos Islands (Ecuador): this archipelago has become, in the last decade, one of the most eco-friendly destinations in the world, with a limited number of travelers allowed in the protected areas and a visitation fee to help preserve the endemic fauna and flora of the islands. There, you can retrace the steps of Charles Darwin and observe the beauty of nature surrounding you.
- Costa Rica: this Central American country dedicates one quarter of its territory to reserves and conservation areas, and encourages visitors to travel in a sustainable way. Its volcanoes, beaches and biodiversity are unique in the world!
- Nicaragua: this up and coming destination has been developing as an eco-friendly spot for the last decade. In the years to come, Nicaragua might well become a top-10 destination for sustainable tourism. It currently has the advantage of being less crowded and much cheaper than its neighbour Costa Rica. Nature is luxuriant and eco-friendly activities are well-developed there.
- Sabah (Malaysia): Sabah is one of the most renowned ecotourism destinations and hosts Sukau Rainforest Lodge, one of National Geographic Unique Lodges. These eco-lodges only use natural resources, such as rainwater and solar energy. They also give easy access to the flora and fauna of Borneo, which you can observe without impacting it.
- Jordan: the varied landscapes of Jordan, between pine forests and desert landscapes, also host many ecotourism sites such as Fenyan Eco-Lodge. Jordan is a world leader of sustainable tourism and offers programs that help local populations and protect nature.
- Iceland: this is the perfect destination for cold weather enthusiasts. Whether you decide to visit in the winter when the country is covered in snow, or in warmer seasons when flowers bloom on the volcanic ground, Iceland will present you with untouched landscapes and many opportunities for eco-friendly adventures.
- Picking a mode of transport
When possible, it is ideal to travel by train: it is one of the less polluting means of transportation, in addition to being fast and super safe!
Coaches and buses also are a good alternative, since it is a public transport which allows many people to travel aboard the same vehicle. But if you want to enjoy the comfort of your car, don’t worry: cars are not the most polluting mode of transport, as long as you are not alone in your car. Whether you are driving with your family or choosing a carpool, there are many ways to make your road trip more eco-friendly!
As you might already know, planes are quite polluting; but in many cases, it is the only way to reach your destination. If you are flying, here are a few tips to make air travel more eco-friendly:
- Choose economy: there are more seats in economy, and having more people aboard the plane reduces each individual’s carbon footprint. When there is more legroom, in business or first class, there are less passengers, which means higher fuel-per-person. Simple as that!
- Lower your shades: by stopping the sunrays to enter the cabin, you are keeping the plane cooler and saving energy on air-conditioning.
- Buy carbon offset: when booking your plane ticket, you can choose to pay for the amount of carbon produced by your journey. It’s a good way to balance your carbon footprint!
- Sustainable accommodations and activities
Sustainable travel does not mean you have to camp in the middle of nowhere!
Here are some simple ways to be eco-responsible when choosing a place to stay:
- Avoid excessively luxurious hotels and favour local accommodations such as homestays and guesthouses.
- When staying in a hotel, check the seals of approval from green certifiers, inquire about the eco policiers and do not request fresh towels every day.
- Seek out local foods and activities, either by finding a local independant guide, or by booking professional tours operated by companies which show proof of responsible tourism practices.
- Stay away from activities which harm animals. For instance, swimming with dolphins in pools, riding elephants or taking pictures with tigers are a no-go.
The sustainable solutions to traveling in 2021
In a nutshell, traveling in a sustainable way is possible in 2021, but it requires effort and some sacrifices. Traveling closer to home, visiting places that need your support, using non-polluting modes of transportation and choosing local accommodations and activities are currently the keys to taking a more eco-responsible trip.
Some tourism professionals have actually started offering 100% eco-touristic products. It is the case of Hotel UNIQ, which offers unique ephemeral lodgings in Quebec to boost the local economy and to encourage sustainable development and the positive energy of a community of travelers. It is an unforgettable ecotourism experience in the heart of nature!
Similar sustainable accommodations can be found all around the world, and this model is gaining more popularity each year.
Consequently, touristic practices are evolving by taking a definitive step towards eco-responsibility and sustainability.
What does the future of sustainable travel look like? How will it evolve, and how will it impact the tourism industry?
With the COVID pandemic, many key players of the tourism industry have started to rethink their environmental impact and improve the quality of life of local people. Rachel Shoemaker, from the travel agency Louisa White Travel, says that “this pause in travel has offered us the chance to reevaluate where we go from here, to do a proper reset so we can take charge of travel’s sustainable comeback”. But what does that tell us about the future of sustainable travel?
Firstly, we are led to believe that the future of tourism is community-focused. Community trips indeed are a great way to immerse in a local culture and to better understand the various stakes of the communities.
Moreover, new forms of tourism are currently developing and gaining momentum. The concept of “staycations” and domestic travel cannot be underestimated: in 2020, the number of staycations rose significantly and many people realized that there is so much to see and experience within their own geographical area. “Year-round travel” is also emerging: it is all about traveling in the off-season in order to avoid peak seasons and ensure that communities prosper year-round. Finally, “slow travel” is a new phenomenon aiming at longer and more immersive trips, by deeply exploring a single destination rather than visiting multiple places in a more superficial way. At Stew Travel, we encourage slow travel and offer multiple 19-day trips, to Egypt, Morocco or the USA, to allow travelers to spend more time discovering their destination and get a better understanding of the culture and the nature surrounding them.
Furthermore, the voices of the locals are going to play a major role in the future of traveling. It is believed that locals will be given more opportunity to start their own initiatives, since they understand their territory better than anyone else.
It is also important to remember that tourism is an integral part of conserving and maintaining natural sites and heritage. And while sustainable travel aims at respecting and preserving a place and its people, another trend is gaining popularity: “regenerative travel”. This form of tourism wants to restore and improve what has been damaged or degraded by human actions. In this regard, traveling could be a driver of change, a change not only to the traveler but also to the local communities and the environment that has suffered from human activities in the past.
According to Adventure.com, “The future of travel belongs to those who care”. This means that travelers will be increasingly willing to choose tourism companies which have a positive impact on nature and people.
As technology continues to improve, the options for cleaner transport will become more widely available. The modernization of ecotourism will help make sustainable travel easier, faster and cheaper in the next few years. Sustainable travel will no longer be a trend: it will hopefully become the norm in the years to come.
In the meantime, remember that sustainable tourism isn’t about being perfect: it’s about making conscious changes and decisions to be more respectful of the environment and the people around you. Every little bit helps!
Top 13 tips on how to make sustainable travel a reality:
What does the future of sustainable travel look like? https://adventure.com/future-sustainable-travel/
The future of travel in 2020 and beyond: https://www.barrons.com/articles/the-future-of-travel-in-2020-and-beyond-01601119840
Be a more sustainable traveler: https://www.nytimes.com/guides/travel/how-to-travel-sustainably
Sustainable travel: how to travel more sustainably in 2020:
What is Ecotourism? Definition, Meaning and Examples:
100% ecotourism: an eco-lodge with simple sophisticated luxury: https://www.frankofon.se/post/100-eco-tourism
8 best ecotourism destinations to visit in 2020: https://www.skyscanner.com/tips-and-inspiration/best-ecotourism-destinations-to-visit
24 top ecotourism destinations for 2020:
A simple guide for a totally sustainable travel: https://ecobnb.com/blog/2020/06/guide-sustainable-travel/
The future of sustainable travel and how it will impact you:
The complete guide to sustainable travel: