Sustainable travel, it’s more than just avoiding plastic straws and water bottles. In the first of our three-part sustainable travel series, we tackle the subject of economics and why where you choose to spend your money, matters.
What is sustainable travel and why is it important?
Like all industries, the travel industry generates both positive and negative impacts. While on one hand, tourism can help to reduce poverty and conserve wildlife, on the other, there’s no getting around the fact that travelling by plane does no favours to the environment. So, if you plan to travel, and most of us do, it’s important to find the right balance.
With great power comes great responsibility
For many countries, tourism is a significant, and sometimes the largest, contributor to GDP and a major source of income for local people. But, it’s not easy relying on tourist dollars. Destinations can go from “must-see” to “must avoid” overnight, with devastating economic effects. But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom!
One of the most empowering things about travelling is that you can play a direct role in redistributing wealth, with a real impact on local people and communities. By making just a few conscious decisions about how to spend your hard-earned cash, you can positively influence the quality of life of individuals and their communities.
1. Opt for local guides
With so many great benefits to you, this one is a no-brainer! By always using a local guide, not only are you giving local people a chance to financially benefit from tourism, you’re also giving yourself the best chance to immerse yourself in the destination and learn about local life and culture, straight from the source.
You’ll also be empowering locals to maintain (or in some cases even revive) elements of their culture, heritage and history that may have otherwise been lost. You’re also likely to find yourself experiencing a place in a more respectful and sustainable manner since locals are acutely aware of how tourism impacts their culture and environment.
2. Choose boutique accommodation
Choosing locally-owned boutique accommodation over large international chain hotels can have a significant impact on the local economy in the long term. While larger international hotels can be a great source of employment, most of the profits are “leaked” offshore, minimising the roll-on effect it could have if those profits were circulated in the local economy.
Go one better:
Many of us enjoy a mix of different accommodation styles when we travel, from hotels to lush villas or even boats. If you’re open to it, why not include a homestay pre or post one of our trips? Not only is it a great way to meet local people, but it’s also an effective way of ensuring your tourism dollars benefit locals.
3. Hit up the local markets
There’s no better way to soak up the distinct smells, flavours, sounds and craftsmanship of a new place than by heading to the local markets. Whether you're seeking out a famous delicacy or just want to absorb the atmosphere, this is a great place to make a few sustainable purchases. Buying from market stalls rather than chain grocery stores ensures that more of the money you spend stays in the destination and supports the local community.
Never underestimate the power of a souvenir! A meaningful item purchased while travelling has the ability to transport you back to your happy holiday place after you have returned home, bringing all the smells, sights and sounds flooding right back. When you purchase locally-made and culturally-appropriate souvenirs, everybody wins!
4. Research rather than avoid struggling destinations
Whilst safety should always be a primary concern while travelling, do not rely solely on the media for an accurate portrayal of a situation in a foreign country. It’s best to head to a reliable source, like smarttraveller.org for accurate advice on precautions and speak to people who have recently visited the destination for their first-hand experiences. The local economy will benefit from travellers resuming visits as soon as it is appropriate to do so.
Visiting a destination when they need it most can be incredibly rewarding. The importance of the relationship between travellers and residents is reinforced in tough times, and you’re likely to find yourself having more meaningful local encounters. Your trip will be made all the more memorable by the fact that you’ll be avoiding the usual crowds.
On any Unmapped adventure, you’ll get to experience all of the above because we know that, as well as guaranteeing benefits for local communities, it also guarantees the most memorable and authentic trips for our travellers.