We’ve been talking about Eco-Tourism since the 1980s, but in recent years its importance has hit the headlines.

Every year, stunning locations are destroyed by eager tourists taking advantage of the Earth’s beauty. Communities are losing their identity and culture as they become westernised by mass tourism… and animal cruelty continues as holidaymakers strive for the perfect photo.

You may presume that eco-tourism has something to do with the conservation of the environment and its resources – and yes you would be correct in thinking that. However, are you aware of how accessible eco-tourism is and just how easily sustainability can be built into your holiday plans?

A sustainable holiday would be one that does not have a significant negative impact on the environment. It would consider environmental protection, social responsibility and economic practice. Common sense may suggest that this just sums up the meaning of travel and that we don’t need labels such as sustainability. Sadly though, the majority of people don’t travel this way.

Quite a few travel companies now offer eco-tourism holidays which support sustainable development, do not negatively impact the environment, and offer financial support to local communities.

elephants at safari in Africa

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Ten Top Tips for being sustainable abroad

Explore

Tourist hotspots are great, but why not leave the beaten track and create your own experiences? Visiting places further away from the masses will not only give you a more authentic experience, but it will also help to reduce degradation of popular sights.

Cut down on electricity

Now, we aren’t saying that you shouldn’t use any electricity or water whilst travelling, but we are urging you to be a little more mindful. Yes, you have paid to be there, but there’s no need to leave lights on when you’re out of the room or use an excessive amount of water.

Environmentally friendly transport

Unless you plan on getting to your destination by foot or bike (which is slightly unrealistic) then you will have to use some sort of transport which is not completely environmentally friendly. This being said, some of modes of transport are better for the environment than others. Consider whether you could drive or take the train to your holiday destination, rather than flying.

Whilst we recommend avoiding short haul flights (<500km), that isn’t always possible. So, if you have no choice but to fly then go for an airline which can take more passengers and has more efficient aircrafts.

Whilst you’re away, opt for public transport rather than hiring car and don’t forget you could always walk to explore new places!

Be selective with accommodation

Choose to stay in a hotel or any other accommodation which has effective waste treatment systems. These systems can not only recycle waste, but they’re also extremely energy efficient and use sources such as solar energy, which is environmentally friendly.

Respect the local community and culture

It goes without saying, just because you’re on holiday, it doesn’t give you the excuse to act any differently. Don’t litter, stay on public footpaths and follow local laws and cultures. Many destinations are becoming increasingly commercialised due to western demand and in turn diminishing cultures which have been a focal part of communities for centuries. Help protect this by following local customs – just see it as a new experience and opportunity to open your eyes to ways of life far different from your own.

Support local businesses

It can be as simple as going for dinner in an independent restaurant, or buying groceries from a local market as opposed to a supermarket. It makes a difference and helps to boost the local economy and community.

Don’t go for any old tour operator

Always consider conservation when going on excursions or days out. Yes, a selfie with a tiger may be a great one for the album, but ask yourself whether it’s ethical. As with all animals in captivity, they are not there by choice, and whilst there are some sanctuaries that protect endangered species, don’t get greenwashed! Some companies are happy to twist the truth in order to make some money, so do your research in advance!

A tea towel is sufficed

We’re all guilty of getting a bit over excited when we see souvenirs which we can take home to our loved ones. However, before you get too carried away, keep in mind that they’re not always ethical or sustainable. It is not uncommon for coral, ivory and animal materials to be used in souvenirs and as tourist we are often blind sighted.

Bargaining is a key part of purchasing in many cultures so have get into it but make sure that you pay a price that’s fair not only for you but also the seller. And don’t shy away from asking questions about where the item came from, how it was made and what materials it’s made from.

Use eco-friendly sunscreen

If you’re planning on taking a dip in the ocean, be sure to use sunscreen that has no Oxybenzone as this bleaches corals.

Choose no-stop flights

A large amount of CO2 is produced during take-off and landing, so if you can get a direct flight, then do! Not only does it help the environment but it also means no stopovers – so it’s a win-win situation!

The best destinations for sustainable tourism

Struggling to find destinations that encourage sustainability? Take a look at what we’ve found...

Named the world’s most sustainable destination, Palau is a small island nation which has made the headlines for its sustainability efforts. They’ve even created the “Palau Pledge,” which asks visitors to swear to protect the natural and cultural heritage during their trip. At the beginning of 2020, a new regulation will see the banning of selling and using reef-toxic sunscreens – in a bid to save a habitat which is home to many marine species

This private island is guarded by a coral reef sanctuary (the first if its kind) and is home to a forest reserve which protects endangered wildlife from illegal hunting methods. The number of visitors is restricted as part of their eco-tourism approach and there are only seven lodges on the island, so sleeping arrangements are hard to come by. Each of these lodges are almost zero-impact on the environment and the money made from renting them out goes towards the management and upkeep of the island.

Águeda offers the perfect balance of natural and cultural landscapes which demonstrates its love for the people, culture and traditions. It is a destination that is constantly growing and changing, attracting visitors through its innovativeness and sustainability efforts. Its focus on preserving and protecting natural landscapes, implementing air quality improvement measures and improving public transport, have made Agueda an ideal destination for any eco-tourism enthusiast

Nestled in the South West coast is Baiona, a municipality which supports eco-tourism. It does this through supporting local tourism businesses, having natural and marine protected areas and making all beaches smoke free – to name a few.

The importance of sustainable tourism

In recent years, words like ‘sustainable’ and ‘responsible’ have become associated with tourism and travel. As travellers, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to this, given that one person can’t make that much of an impact – right?

Wrong. In fact, if we continue with this mindset, nothing will change and more irreversible damage will be caused. So much so, that tourism as we know it will cease to exist.

There are three pillars of sustainable tourism which holidaymakers should consider:

Environmental Sustainability: The environment is obviously a key aspect of tourism – you need somewhere to explore, right? Both the natural environment (beaches, waterways and forests) and the built environment (historic buildings) must be conserved for an area to be environmentally stable.

Put simply, environmental sustainability means ensuring resources in a given area can be protected for future generations (locals and tourists). This means awareness of the impact of mass tourism on destinations is key, and ways should be found to reduce the impact as much as possible.

Socio-Cultural Sustainability: Tourism can cause overcrowding, especially during peak seasons, so there are bound to be social and cultural repercussions for the locals in that area. This can cause frustrations as towns become congested, places can become commercialised and new languages, values and cultures can be introduced – losing sight of the destination’s heritage and way of life.

Socio- Cultural sustainability looks at minimising these negative impacts and focusing on making tourism positive through, preserving local customs and traditions, encouraging a cultural exchange and making the community feel more involved. This should help locals to see the positives of tourism and make them more receptive to holidaymakers.

Economic Sustainability: They say money makes the world go around and sustainable tourism is no exception. The key is keeping money local – that means using independent businesses that boost the local economy rather than international chains where the money can leak overseas. This way the destination will become stronger financially and with hold the ever-increasing rate of tourism.

 

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Eco-tourism and sustainable travel insurance

There are some travel insurers who accommodate for sustainability; however, they can be difficult to spot. Some providers give a percentage of each policy to charity however whilst this makes a huge difference, do not mistake it for Eco-Tourism (depending on the charity).

The best a travel insurer can support sustainability, is by only covering activities that fit with the Eco-Tourism movement. Some providers will not cover activities that are seen as environmentally destructive or harmful to animals (swimming with dolphins, shark diving etc). So, have a look at the activities within the policy wording before purchasing.

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