These days, international travel is moving more than just people; it’s defining a key portion of many nations’ economies. In 2016, The World Bank reported that nearly $1.4 trillion was spent globally on international travel. The world is quickly becoming accessible to anybody who wishes to see it, and with airlines, hotels, car rentals and even some attractions partnering with travel agencies for vacation packages, the cost is becoming too reasonable to pass up.
While this is great news for the economy of a country, tourism can have an adverse effect on many things. Environmental concerns, local life and culture can be affected by the constant arrival and departure of tourists to and from countries. This is especially a point of concern for local economies whose profits depend on the reputation of their natural beauty, their local charm or their cultural identity. There is a balance that must be reached: profit from the location but protect the location to make a profit.
It is with this challenge in mind that talk of sustainable tourism has intensified. The United Nations World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities. The object of sustainable tourism is to encourage protection of the environment and communities, to protect the unique identities that make the host country distinguishable and to be accessible to all who wish to experience the country.
Within the focus of sustainable tourism, there are subtopics on which organizations concentrate. Below are some examples of how countries are handling sustainable tourism and what you can do to help during your vacation.
The environmental impact left by tourism is undeniably profound. Fuel from transportation, construction for lodgings and even simple litter from tourists pile up to impact the environment both locally and globally. Many countries have made a commitment to seeking to minimize this footprint. Home to a large portion of the Amazon rainforest and a country well-known for its unique cultural identities that intertwine with its natural beauty, it’s not surprising that Brazil has taken the challenge of ecologically responsible tourism very seriously.
In 1998, Brazil signed on to the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), along with Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. The organization was created around the treaty that was originally initiated by Brazil and signed in 1978, promising to dedicate multilateral efforts to preserving the natural resources of the Amazon, as well as protecting its over 30 million inhabitants. In 2002, the ACTO signed an agreement designated Brazil as the headquarters for the organization.
With conservation and environmentally conscious agenda being an official stance of the country of Brazil, many different options are now available for tourists that would like to see the beauty of the country and maintain a low ecological impact on the area. Hotels such as the Ukarai Lodge, a water-based floating lodge in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve that uses solar power and collects rainwater for use of energy, are becoming popular in Brazil as means of allowing tourists to experience the country while also keeping an ecologically responsible presence and stimulating local economies. Hotels are taking any measure they can to earn the “green” status, whether it’s incorporating solar power or putting funds into the revitalization of the ecosystem around them.
Sometimes, planning the most ecologically sustainable vacation is as simple as researching your transportation and lodging before you choose it. Websites like It’s a Green, Green World will list hotels and facilities that incorporate green technology and revitalization efforts into their experience.
While ecotourism puts emphasis on a country’s efforts to offer environmentally friendly options for tourists, geotourism puts emphasis on the traveler to choose activities and places that their presence will help build the local community and maintain the cultural identity of the host community.
The term “geotourism” was coined by National Geographic and used in an effort to promote conscientious involvement and partnership between a traveler and the community that is hosting them. The idea of geotourism itself is simple: buy and patron local. Suggestions for responsible geotraveling range from choosing a small, independently owned hotel in a small city to volunteering around the community in your spare time.
Unlike ecotourism, which requires an initiative of a governing body that will enable acts and legislation to fund the process, geotourism can be done in any country in the world, with or without any overarching legislation. To start, National Geographic suggests traveling light, carrying only what you’ll need, and do plenty of research beforehand on things like the opportunities to stimulate the local economy and the options for making personal environmentally friendly choices, such as walking to as many locations as you can, instead of relying on transportation. Try to find restaurants and cafés that source as much as their product locally as they possibly can. Insist on buying authentic art that will create revenue for the artist directly. There are also courtesy suggestions, such as learning as much of the local language as you can before your trip, being mindful of the fragile state of local heritage sites such as archaeological sites and being courteous to the residents in the town around you.
Geotourism is a mindful approach to tourism that can be done in absolutely any destination and helps to have a great impact when combined with the efforts of a country that is taking the steps to protect its own environment and culture while inviting travelers to experience both. It also contributes to a better experience all-around. After all, how many times have you stopped to ask locals where they prefer to eat or things to do that are not “tourist traps”. These small acts contribute to geotourism, and both the local economy and your memories of your trip will be much better for it.
Perhaps one of the most well-known, voluntourism, or volunteer tourism, is riddled with challenges due mainly to the potential negative impact on the local community. For example, it may seem like a great cause to help build a school in an impoverished area. Local residents of the area, however, often speak about how such things can negatively affect the income of those that would have been hired from within the community to do so, and that a better use of money would be to donate directly to those companies.
Voluntourism requires extensive research beforehand. The most successful options are options that provide a service in which there are not enough people to hire from within the local communities. This can include things like volunteering in a shelter or orphanage that is understaffed or teaching English as a second language in countries that encourage learning English but may not have opportunities for those with low incomes.
When looking into volunteer opportunities abroad, it’s important to keep in mind a couple of things:
• Who will be benefitted? Will the efforts positively affect a community in need?
• Who will be hurt? Will the action take away labor from locals that are already struggling to find work?
• Is the service one that is requested or required by the community? Or is it a service that is “offered” without input from the local community?
• Who is the organizing group? Where does their revenue go? What are the reviews like from both people who have volunteered and communities who have hosted them?
Answering these questions before committing to a group can lead you to an opportunity to give to a community in need and help build a sustainable, empowering future for those that are seeking the assistance.
The chance to make a great positive impact at a low cost to a host community is always available. It takes a little research and careful planning beforehand, but if you take the time to plan your vacation with these steps in mind, you can enjoy an unforgettable experience and help contribute to the sustainability of the community you may very well want to visit again!