Birdwatching in Ecuador.
Relaxing retreats. Exotic adventures. Romantic getaways. When planning your summer vacations, do you consider the impact of your travels on the environment and communities you are visiting? Some of the world’s most breathtaking destinations are now being managed sustainably, which means that in addition to benefiting your own mental health, your next trip could also benefit the environment and local people.
More than 900 million people travel to nearby and far off destinations each year, making tourism one of the world’s leading industries. Tourism is a vital source of income in many developing countries, supporting the livelihoods of more than 235 million people worldwide; however, it can also have a negative impact on the environment and local communities, resulting in pollution, deforestation and cultural exploitation.
That being said, tourism can go hand-in-hand with a healthy environment and prosperous communities. Some communities that once turned to poaching or deforestation to support their families have learned they can actually earn a more sustainable living by conserving natural environments and promoting their communities as sustainable tourism destinations.
When a tourism business operates sustainably, it can create tangible benefits on the ground. These businesses become environmental stewards, conserving water and energy, recycling and treating waste, and supporting community conservation projects. They also provide a vital source of income to local community members, employing local people, providing training opportunities and sourcing locally-produced products in restaurants and gift shops.
Hammock in Honduras.
To promote sustainable tourism, the Rainforest Alliance works with hotels, tour operators, restaurants and other tourism businesses to help them adopt best practices that protect the environment and help local communities thrive. Through training and technical assistance, the organization teaches tourism managers how to operate sustainably and then verifies their progress toward this goal.
As a traveler, you can make a difference by making responsible travel choices. The following 10 sustainable travel tips help guide you on the path to becoming a savvy traveler.
- When choosing tourism businesses, look for Rainforest Alliance VerifiedTM mark, or other eco-labels recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council – the internationally recognized standard-setter for sustainable tourism. The verified mark helps travelers identify destinations that are taking concrete steps to support communities and protect flora and fauna.
- At the hotel: Ask about environmental policies and practices. Does the hotel support communities developments and conservation projects?
- Language: Learn a few words of the local language and use them.
- Dress: Learn about local conventions and dress appropriately. In many countries, modest dress is important.
- Be respectful of local citizens’ privacy. Ask permission before entering sacred places, homes or private lands.
- Photographs: Be sensitive to when and where you take photos/videos of people. Always ask first.
- Environment: Respect the natural environment. Never touch or harass wildlife. Always follow designated trails. Support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites or making a donation.
- Wildlife or forest products: Never purchase crafts, clothing, furniture or products that are derived from protected or endangered wildlife or plant species. In many countries it is illegal to bring these goods back home.
- Pay a fair price: Don’t engage in overly aggressive bargaining for souvenirs. Don’t short-change on tips for service.
- Buy local: Choose locally owned lodges and hotels. For transportation, use local buses, car rentals agencies and airlines. Eat in local restaurants, shop in local markets and attend local events. Hire local guides. These practices enrich your experience and support the local economy. Ask guides if they are licensed and live nearby. Are they recommended by tour operators?
- By making responsible travel choices you can lay back, soak up the sun and enjoy your vacation with peace of mind, knowing that you are playing your part in conserving the planet, supporting local communities and ensuring that these treasures will be around for future generations to enjoy.
Contributed by Anna Clark.
Photos courtesy of Rainforest Alliance.