There is a little town Whittier in Alaska, which was once known for its unspoilt beauty. This remote town, nestled at the foot of a glacier, came to tourist’s radar after Ed Ridicker-Henderson described this place in the 1960s edition of the Alaska Travel Guide. Roads were built, communication started, transportation began, and came the tourist hordes. Within just a few years, this picturesque town suffered unsustainable exploitation. Tourists, who came to admire the beauty of Whittier, left their garbage behind. Although the authorities are focusing on sustainable tourism, it will take some time for Whittier to recover from it.
However, Whittier is not the only victim. There are hundreds of such towns in the world that have lost their former virtues due to pollution, garbage, plastic, and traffic jams. Who doesn’t know about the ecological damage to corals, coastal vegetation, and disturbance to wildlife?
Todd Smith, the co-founder of Safe Landing, shared his first-hand experience on one of his trips to Peru’s Rainbow Mountain in 2017, which was discovered due to the snow melting.
“The summit sits just 100 metres lower than Everest Base Camp! Whilst at the summit, the guide told me Peru was one of the first countries to be hit by the climate crisis. In retrospection I can see that this was the first time I witnessed the devastating impacts of both mass tourism and climate change first hand. Mass tourism is a real issue in Peru now, local authorities require tourists to have a pre-booked pass to use popular routes like the Inca Trail for example. This helps keep numbers down but with the airline industry doubling passenger numbers every 15 years it represents a disturbing trend.”
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has direct negative impacts of tourism that includes the breaking of corals by divers and disturbance of the benthos by boat anchors.
But shouldn’t we see the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef or shouldn’t we visit natural parks?
Each choice we make while traveling puts us at a crossroads. When it comes to weighing up what’s best for the planet, it is very difficult to analyze every single move we make. From choosing between flights and trains to deciding whether to explore the magnificent coral reef, it is tough to decide how to be responsible towards the environment while on vacation.
Greening our vacations not only promotes sustainability, it also reduces our carbon footprints. There are plenty of ways for sustainable tourism. But before that let’s look into the insights of how tourism has negative impacts on the environment.
Negative Effects of Tourism on the Environment
The tourism industry is one of the largest industries in the world. It is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse emissions. Which means, every time you take a flight, a cab or even stay in a hotel, you are unknowingly contributing to climate change. And this statistic has not even included other impacts, such as waste generation and biodiversity loss.
Moreover, the industry ranks second in Co2 emissions in the world, which is 28%. When it comes to the impact of households on greenhouse gas emissions, they are responsible for directly generating 20% of the overall global total, with transportation accounting for nearly 75% of this amount.
Private cars, motor bikes, and cabs are the major contributor to transport emissions. Hence, electric bikes and bicycles are considered the progressive replacement of conventional vehicles. It is expected that these hybrid and electric vehicles can reduce the burden in future.
Not just the cars on the road, in 2022, the aviation industry accounted for 2% of Co2 emissions. But its overall climate change is higher. As per Ourworldindata, global aviation, including domestic and international, passengers and freight, accounts for 1.9% of greenhouse emissions (which includes all greenhouse gasses), 2.5% of Co2 emissions, and 3.5% of effective radiative forcing.
Campaigns such as Flight Shame or Flygskam are on the rise with the aim to reduce the environmental impact of aviation.
How To Travel More Sustainably
Trains over Cruise and Planes
For long distance journeys, passengers should elect other means of transport instead of flights. As per BBC data, planes are the worst mode of transport in terms of climate change and carbon emissions. For instance, a flight from London to San Francisco emits 5.5 tons of Co2 per person, which is twice the amount of emissions produced by a family car in a year.
Climate-conscious passengers are now choosing other modes of transport instead of planes. They are completely ditching flight journeys on short distances. However, it is not always possible to ditch flights. In that case, always choose a nonstop flight.
Additionally, while boating could be the safest bet to avoid pollution, you should know that cruise ships are not. Even the most efficient cruise ship could emit three to four times more Co2 per passenger per kilometer than commercial flights. Overall, trains are the best mode of transport as it emits the lowest level of greenhouse gasses and other harmful pollutants.
According to Pietersz, “On a cruise vacation, each person on board carries a lot of additional staff and resources. The burden of a cruise is more than the burden of an aircraft doing the same distance, in terms of CO2 emissions, resource consumption, and food consumption. It directly burdens the environment.”
As per a study, the carbon footprint saw a significant increase of 15 points between the years 2009 and 2013 alone. An estimation made by the UNWTO in their report published in 2019 indicates that transport-related emissions caused by tourism contributed to approximately one-fifth (22%) of overall transport emissions in the year 2016. Furthermore, these emissions are expected to grow by an additional 25% by the year 2030, bringing their share of the global total to 5.3%.
Flight Shame or Flygskam
The idea behind the Flight shame campaign is to convince travelers to choose eco-friendly travel or eco-friendly means of transport. This movement was popularized by young climate activist Greta Thunberg. It is expected that this trend could lead to massive changes in the aviation industry.
Interestingly, not just the climate-conscious passengers, Dutch airline KLM asks its passengers to fly responsibly. Even France has put a ban on short distance flights to cut down on emissions.
Smith further added that 80% of aviation emissions come from long haul flights. But even if we look at short haul and low-cost flights we can see that the true costs to extract 1 ton of CO2 from the atmosphere using ‘Direct Carbon Capture’ for example would be approximately $800 and yet passengers often purchase a short haul ticket for less than $85.
To extract the amount, short haul flights often take at least 10 legs in a single day. Basically, short haul flights emit 251 gm CO2 per km, while long haul flights emit 195 gm per km. It is due to the high fuel consumption during take off and landing.
On an average, 80% of the world’s people have never even stepped foot on an airplane and are disproportionately affected by climate and ecological breakdown. Todd further explained, a tax of jet fuel (currently tax free) and a frequent flyer tax levy would really help make those causing most harm pay their fair share. That additional tax revenue could then also be ring fenced and used in loss and damage to countries/communities most impacted.”
Where & When to Go
When considering ways to lessen our individual carbon footprints, one of the easiest ways to decrease emissions is by reducing the frequency of flying. Choose a shorter distance, instead of a long trip. The shorter the distance is, the lower your footprint will be. Staying close to home reduces travel pollution, but if you want to go further, there are several places that promote sustainable tourism.
According to a list compiled by several organizations that work on sustainable tourism, cities in Spain and Slovenia are the best places to explore and leave minimal footprints. In Palau, tourists must take a pledge to protect the country’s natural preserves and cultural heritage before entering.
Each of these destinations were selected based on certain criteria. One of the major requirements was, these destinations must have a governing body that focuses on sustainable tourism. Apart from this, the governing body should also protect the country’s natural resources, culture, people, and reduce energy consumption.
Visit Places That Need Your Support
Puerto Rico rebuilt itself after a devastating hurricane in 2017. Thanks to its approach to the robust tourism sector. The Times picked this beautiful Caribbean island as No. 1 destination in 2019.
Travelers to such destinations after it suffered a natural calamity, should volunteer for environmental and social projects to rebuild the community. It not only helps the country and the locals to overcome the disaster but also shows how tourism could be a possible and fastest way to recovery.
Gallivanting greener doesn’t just mean ditching flights or cars. It also means to choose a tour operator who sells sustainable holidays, an eco-friendly hotel, and seek out local experiences, such as homestays, local guides, and activities. Instead of spending your money on corporate sectors while holidaying, it is best to give back to the local community.
Get Around Greener
We all know that transportation is the largest emitter of Co2 and other greenhouse gasses, which is harmful to our environment. Many cities have already taken this initiative, where they provide solar bikes and cycles to get around. It is not only the most convenient way to leave less footprints, but also the most affordable as well. Instead of hiring a cab or a limo, or taking public transport, you would be more comfortable in a solar-powered bike to explore the city.
While covering long distances, flight could be the only option. You can avoid that by covering short distances on a train or a bus, which emit less harmful gasses than planes.
Panes consume a significant amount of fuel during takeoff and landing. Therefore, it is important to avoid air travel for shorter distances that could be covered by alternative means.
Ok, so traditional hotels emit 60 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. From wastage of food (specially on buffet) to using harmful materials alien to the region’s environment and soil, there are plenty of ways hotels are harming the climate. But thankfully, the hospitality sector is working towards sustainability.
From outsourcing food, products, and services locally to using biodegradable, reusable, and recyclable cleaning products, and building the entire hotel using materials which are local to the area, the eco-friendly hotels are ensuring a sustainable stay to their customers.
Many such hotels are now also eliminating the buffet culture. Although buffets are popular among the guests, it produces a large amount of food wastage. It can have a significant impact on our environment. Both hoteliers and guests are responsible for such food wastage.
And not just food, guests should reduce their footprint by switching off the lights and AC when not using it. Reducing water wastage by showering from a bucket instead of a tub or limiting wastage of toilet paper.
Several hotels are now going green and becoming a part of the Green Hotel Association. It is an organization that helps hoteliers to become more sustainable and environmentally responsible. The hotels associated with the organization get green features. Guests making responsible travel plans should search for eco-friendly hotels, b&bs, resorts, hotels, and motels.
But scammers are everywhere to be found. Many hotels and resorts that claim to be sustainable or eco-friendly- aren’t.
In such cases, you can always rely on Homestays. These homestays are provided by the locals, who most of the time, share their own home with the guests by providing a separate bedroom. The food ingredients are locally sourced and home cooked. Homestays consume 63% less energy per guest per night than any average hotel.
Influence of Eco-Tourism
Tourists typically pay fees for nature conservation and local development, objectives that have been undermined by the hiatus brought about by the pandemic. Specific studies suggest that ecotourism has benefited species such as the green macaw in Costa Rica, the Egyptian vulture in Spain, the western hoolock gibbon in India, the Cape penguin, the African wild dog, the cheetah and the golden lion tamarin in Brazil.
The popularity of nature tourism among tourists is increasing by 10-30% every year. Although, offering a nature holiday package could be tempting for the tour operators. But they should know that the natural resources are limited and anything that leaves behind after each group tour, can damage the entire ecosystem.
To eliminate the risk, tour operators along with the local authority and community must come up with a solution that promotes sustainable tourism. So that nothing leaves behind and nothing comes out.
In various nature preserves, hoteliers are providing a more eco-friendly travel and lodging. Treetop homes, bamboo huts, mud houses, wooden lodges are common in the US nature preserves, South America, Asia, and Kenya, etc.
Be More Aware While Diving
Did you know that every year 6-14,000 tons of sunscreen ends up on coral reefs every year and it is damaging the marine ecosystem? The toxic chemicals found in the sunscreens are harmful to marine life and making coral reefs more susceptible to bleaching.
Climate change, pollution, and overfishing are already damaging the corals around the world. And this added ingredient is just making things even worse for marine life.
You can avoid that by simply not applying it when planning to dive or wash off completely from your body. If you want to protect your body from UVA and UVB rays, wear a long sleeve UPF swim shirt or use a sunscreen, which is oxybenzone and octinoxate free.
Tips To Go Greener
Once you are at your destination, consider the following tips for a more responsible vacation. There are several ways to enjoy the city’s beauty without that lavish limo.
- Consider solar-powered bikes or cycles to get around.
- Sail instead of taking an engine boat.
- If you are renting a car, make sure it is electric. If you can’t find an electric car, select the smallest vehicle. Or you can go for carsharing, which is the best way to reduce pollution.
- Get around like locals. Take public transport.
- Volunteer for environmental-friendly activities with the locals, such as beach clean-up.
- Stay in a sustainable hotel or go for homestays, which is the best way to interact with the locals.
- If you are camping by the lake or in the mountains, don’t leave your trash behind. Carry a bin bag and bring back your wastes.
- Strictly avoid using plastic. Instead use biodegradable carry bags like paper bags or cloth bags or anything that can be reused and recycled.
Sustainability of tourism is a shared task. Making sustainable choices like opting for homestays, avoiding all-you-can-eat restaurants, using cycles and solar-powered vehicles, empowering local communities, and reducing wastage can keep our planet safe for all.
In the end, the sustainability of tourism is a collective responsibility. Our ability to explore the world without harming it relies on the decisions we make as travelers. Certain individuals opt to purchase carbon offsets from companies, while others consider sustainability criteria provided by businesses when making choices about dining, shopping, and accommodations. However, it is crucial that we remain vigilant against greenwashing tactics of these tour operators and businesses. While holidays are a common occurrence for all of us, we must not neglect our environmental obligations.