The world has slowly become more connected over time. People take an interest in other cultures and want to experience them themselves. Traveling is an exciting part of life because it broadens your horizons and provides excellent educational opportunities, but how can you do so sustainably? To celebrate World Tourism Day 2023 under the theme “Tourism and green investment”, we dive deep into the world of ecotourism and explore new and innovative solutions to promote the movement of people around the world.
What Is Ecotourism?
Ecotourism involves traveling sustainably. When you vacation, domestically or abroad, you stay conscious of the environment as much as possible. Ecotourists try to limit their carbon footprint and support local ecosystems by contributing positively. For example, they could eat at a local restaurant or refrain from using plastic on their trip. Ecotourism has become critical as people try to expand their worldview while staying environmentally conscious.
Why Should You Practice Ecotourism?
Tourism is vital for many communities worldwide. Vacationers spend their money to help small businesses thrive and to stimulate local economies. However, tourism can negatively impact the environment. A 2022 study found that tourism is responsible for nearly 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, most of which came from food and waste management.
The pandemic hit the tourism industry with a steep 74% decline in international travel. Many countries had lockdowns in place to prevent COVID-19 transmission from foreign places. While this contributed to a significant drop in carbon emissions in 2020, tourist-dependent nations suffered huge economic losses.
Three years after the first case was detected in Wuhan, China, the pandemic is finally winding down and international travel is resuming, with air traffic set to reach 2019 levels soon. Last year saw a 153% increase in air travel compared to 2021 and about 62% pre-pandemic levels. In 2023, air traffic is expected to continue rising as most countries lift restrictions.
The bounce-back of tourism means the same will happen in terms of emissions. In 2022, GHG emissions increased by 7% in the first quarter compared to 2020.
It is critical to practice ecotourism as global warming becomes more apparent. You’ll benefit from learning and becoming a better friend to the environment. Implementing ecotourism comes with many benefits:
- Educate yourself: The most significant benefit of ecotourism is educating yourself on environmental issues. If you find ways to be environmentally conscious on your trip, you are more likely to repeat those behaviors at home. Reading literature and research from scientists puts into perspective how the planet needs your help to survive.
- Protect resources: Sustainable travel means using natural and renewable resources to improve the planet’s health. You’re protecting the environment around you from the negative impacts of travel. If you believe in leaving something better than when you found it, ecotourism is the way to go.
- Help economies: Practicing ecotourism means other vacationers behind you also get to enjoy a clean environment. One way is by spending your money at local businesses. These shops are the heart of communities and give the location its remarkable personality. Patronising these companies helps them grow and continue their services for future visitors.
How Can You Be Mindful on Vacation?
It’s challenging to be perfect regarding your carbon footprint when traveling, but there are ways to limit your environmental impact abroad and contribute positively to the area. These five ways show how you can be a mindful ecotourist on your next trip.
1. Research Ecotourism Locations
Ecotourism starts before you travel. Research as thoroughly as possible to see what destinations are the most conducive to ecotourism and find ways to be an ecotourist at the location. For example, you could look for hotels with biophilic designs. These spaces combine buildings with nature to maintain a connection with the environment. You may see natural materials like hardwood, stones, and trees inside the facility.
Ecotourism means accounting for your environmental impact, but you should also examine how the area cares about green practices. When planning a trip, search for cities that implement eco-friendly policies to promote ecotourism. For example, Seattle, Washington, uses hydroelectric power for nearly 100% of its energy consumption.
2. Beware of Greenwashing
Talking about environmentally friendly practices is one thing, but implementing them and supporting the planet are the next steps that some businesses do not take. You may know this strategy as greenwashing. Due diligence can tell you which organisations stay true to their word and which only use eco-friendliness as a marketing term.
It is essential to be able to spot greenwashing when you travel. Research hotels and businesses in the area and review their practices. How do they align with environmentally positive initiatives that they claim? For example, in 2018, Hilton said it would reduce CO2 emissions. However, critics accused the company of greenwashing because it cut down palm and mangrove trees to build its resort in the Maldives. Tearing down palm trees significantly affects carbon levels in the atmosphere.
One way to research a company like Hilton for greenwashing is to examine its environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores. These metrics track companies’ operations and give an objective measurement to gauge practices. Organisations like Bloomberg developed databases that show exhaustive lists of ESG scores. They monitor thousands of businesses worldwide, so it is easier to see which are telling the truth beyond their ‘green’ campaigns.
3. Visit a Wildlife Refuge
Part of ecotourism is finding ways to limit your environmental impact, but you can make positive contributions while still having fun. Visit a wildlife refuge when on vacation. These sanctuaries are some of the best places to support wildlife conservation and educate yourself.
Wildlife refuges provide large, safe, and green spaces for animals to thrive. Many of them risk extinction and can thrive in a sanctuary. The money you spend at the refuges goes toward keeping the facilities standing and funding research to examine these animals. There are wildlife sanctuaries in all 50 states and five territories in the U.S. Internationally, there are numerous opportunities on every continent to support conservation.
Seeing wildlife is a terrific experience, but remember to be mindful when visiting. For example, do not disturb animals by calling or touching them, and refrain from feeding them, even if they approach you. These creatures have special diets and oftentimes, human food is not suitable for them. If you bring food, clean up your waste afterward. Curious wildlife may get their heads stuck in plastic containers or eat things they are not supposed to.
4. Use Green Transportation Methods
Another way to practice ecotourism is to use green transportation methods. This strategy is something you can do abroad and practice at home. Eco-friendly transit reduces your carbon footprint significantly because it reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and negative environmental impacts.
Depending on your destination, you should search for ways to take public transportation. These options may include buses, trains and metro lines. Public transit is more efficient than passenger vehicles because it emits 45% fewer CO2 emissions than cars on the road. Use bicycles and other low-emissions options if it’s not available.
5. Learn Local Customs
Ecotourism goes hand-in-hand with mindful traveling. When you vacation, try to be one with the culture and immerse yourself. That’s how you get the most out of your travels. Learn local customs and find out what the residents do. They say when in Rome, do as the Romans do — and that’s a solid start for being an ecotourist.
Eating local food is an excellent way to immerse yourself and be an ecotourist. Ask a guide or resident where the best places to eat are. Small businesses and restaurants are likelier to have a lower carbon footprint than tourist traps. Find establishments that source their food locally. The shortened supply chain delivers delicious items at a lower price than you may see in chains.
Being an Ecotourist Worldwide
Calls for sustainability are growing as humans begin recognising their negative environmental impact. You can find ways to lower your carbon footprint at home, and you should keep the same mindful attitude when traveling abroad. Focus on being an ecotourist and helping the environment wherever you go.
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