By now climate change has become part of wider political discourse, yet there are many aspects that still go unacknowledged. One of these aspects is the many-faceted effect that tourism has on the planet. International travel is on the rise like never before, exponentially growing as a global market. Uncontrolled tourism is wrecking the planet. However, as students and future holidaymakers there are things we can look out for and steer away from, in order to preserve the natural habitats that we might one day want to visit.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimated that around one billion people went on an international holiday in 2015. By 2050 that number could reach 4.3 billion. Travelling for leisure accounts for 60% of all commercial flights, making an international holiday a large contributor of CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, the biggest problem with tourism is the nature of a price driven market where margins are increasingly squeezed. We risk seeing a reduction in quality of holidays, and damage to both environmental and historical destinations if current patterns of tourism continue. For example, large quantities of water are used to maintain golf courses. Additionally, there are many forms of pollution besides CO2 emissions, such as littering, which impacts fragile ecosystems. This is why in recent decades organizations such as The International Ecotoursim Society and The Travel Foundation have been raising awareness and working with governments to limit the environmental footprint of tourism.
The biggest problem with tourism is the nature of a price driven market
UNESCO lists a few general principles that we should follow, in order to transform ourselves from being tourists into responsible travellers. The first step is understanding and learning about the different environments we are visiting, such as their histories and cultures, before our departure. Secondly, making conscientious choices with which tour operator and hotel we use. Looking out for companies and businesses that have received the Tourism for Tomorrow award is a great way to make sure the environment is taken into consideration. Thirdly, it is important to consider the impact of your presence. This can include not littering or avoiding tour buses, which are famous for running their motors while waiting for wandering tourists to return, to guarantee air conditioning.
As students there are both benefits and burdens we have to look out for when travelling. Unfortunately, it is often the case that the cheaper a service is the less consideration its management gives to limiting its effects on the environment putting students in a difficult position when trying to plan a sustainable vacation on a budget. Backpacking, for example, is an efficient way to limit our environmental footprint, or taking trains rather than flying and making use of public transport when available.
The first step is understanding and learning about the different environments we are visiting
Sustainable tourism does not only involve an environmentally conscious way of exploring the world. Its aim is also to minimize negative environmental and social impacts, especially when talking about mass tourism. In other words, sustainable tourism means maximising the benefits, such as job creation, support of domestic markets and foreign exchange earnings. When travelling, it is fundamental to safeguard the ways of living and the cultural heritages of those communities the open their doors to foreigners.
As educated travellers, the biggest effort we can make to ensure our grandchildren will get the chance to visit the places we visit is to consider the environmental impact, in order to make responsible decisions when picking our destination, accommodation, and way of travel.