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10 Effective Ways to Promote Sustainable Tourism

Mary works on international development projects and writes about the interesting attractions in countries where work has brought her.

Pristine Beach in Concepcion, Iloilo, Philippines

Pristine Beach in Concepcion, Iloilo, Philippines

Why Sustainable Tourism?

When we travel to new places, we often flit by, hardly taking in the faces and scenes we pass—new restaurants, world heritage sites, art galleries, temples, stupas and basilicas, unique architecture and so on. Some have been there forever, but we just pass-through for a quick peek; after all, we'll probably never see them again.

We hope these places will be there for the next generation, not only ours, but we know that this is not always the case. Look at the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The Mongols and other conquerors protected this place, as they knew it had been there for ages, but some in our generation thought the Buddha statues should not be there. We can, of course, think of other examples.

Your Vacation Destination Is Someone's Home

The places we visit are homes for people like us who live and work there. How would you want visitors to behave in your own home? Think about it! When you are the host, it's great fun to show off what you have. But when the visitors leave, you hope they've cleaned up after themselves and taken only good memories, not some of your heritage!

If we are good tourists, we try to make wherever we go a little better during our visit, or at the very least to leave it the same as when we arrived. We don't have to sacrifice our holidays to do this, either. It can even add absolute pleasure and a unique twist to our experience. Enter sustainable tourism.

Sustainable Cyclo in Hanoi

Sustainable Cyclo in Hanoi

10 Ways to Promote Sustainable Tourism

If you want to become a more responsible tourist, here are some ways you can try:

  1. Include sustainable tourism alternatives in your trip.
  2. Go green at your hotel.
  3. Reduce your carbon footprint.
  4. Say NO to illegal trade.
  5. Support sustainable options in island destinations.
  6. Take care of heritage places.
  7. Challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone.
  8. Support community-based tourism and initiatives.
  9. Respect the practices of local people.
  10. Use reusable bags.

1. Sustainable Tourism Alternatives

There are alternatives we can opt for when we plan our trips that ease the burden on congested tourist destinations.

Travel in the Off-Season

For example, we know that in summer, many cities are overburdened with guests, so why go at this time? Visit when the crowds have gone so you give the city a break.

Stay Outside the City Centre

If you have no choice but to go in the summer, you don't have to stay in the city centre. Stay in a place close by and just visit the major attractions each day. In choosing not to stay in the already overburdened tourist areas, you lessen the pressure on the city.

Research Eco-Friendly Services in the Area

Are the classically touristy areas really the best places to see? Are they popular only because the one-day tourist can see them easily, or are they really worthwhile places to visit? How can you support programs that will make life better not only for the top 1% but for the simple folks in the area? To find out, visit Sustainable Travel International, Stay Another Day or the many other websites dedicated to eco-friendly products and services in your target area.

Botanical Garden in Hanoi

Botanical Garden in Hanoi

2. Go Green at Your Hotel

The chance to go green starts with your hotel. If you are staying longer than a day or two, ask them not to change your sheets and towels every day. Similarly, turn off air conditioners, heaters, and other electronic gadgets when you go out. Better still, stay in hotels that have recycling programs in place and abide by their guidelines.

3. Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

One key step in promoting sustainable tourism is reducing your carbon footprint. This is easy to do and will have a big impact. The EPA reported that aircraft accounted for a whopping 9% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. No wonder some airlines now offer the option for anyone booking a ticket to buy some credits to offset carbon footprints.

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But there are plenty of green tips to offset your carbon footprint other than just buying credits. You can take direct flights, as having several layovers in your trip increases your carbon footprints. Sometimes, this can't be done, so you may have to consider other options, including buying organic, local products from grocery stores and farmer's markets.

4. Say NO to Illegal Trade

Buy from local businesses so you circulate money in the local economy and create jobs for local people. Patronize businesses that are not engaged in illegal trade, the exploitation of humans (especially children) and the looting of artifacts. For example, one of the illegal trades in Southeast Asia is rosewood. Coveted for luxury furniture, cars, pens, yachts, etc., loggers are ravaging Cambodia's forests for rosewood (which can fetch them upwards of $7,000–$15,000 per cubic meter).

5. Support Sustainable Options in Island Destinations

Coastal cities and islands often depend on tourist dollars, so more and more islands and coastal areas are being developed in many countries all over the world. In order to accommodate a new influx of tourists, these places are being built out with paved highways, lavish resorts, seaside villas, spas, helicopter landing pads and golf courses.

This dizzying pace is forcing local residents to relocate and driving them away from their livelihoods. Of course, these developments also create jobs; unfortunately, they are often filled by skilled recruits who are not from the islands. This social impact is accompanied by an environmental one. The coastal forests that often protect these islands from typhoons and soil erosion are ripped up to make way for development. So are the mangroves that are important to many islands' eco-systems.

Island Destinations

Island Destinations

6. Take Care of Heritage Places

Heritage sites you visit are likely visited by millions of other people a year, so care needs to be taken to allow others to enjoy them as well. Take your litter with you and for heaven's sake, don't graffiti! Do you really need your name emblazoned on the walls or the caves or the sides of the mountain? Do you absolutely have to take that picture of yourself on top of a monument especially when the signs say "NO"?

These monuments and artifacts are so old and fragile that they are sensitive to the touch of hands or bags and shoes, not to mention pens and the like. For more information on this, go to Heritage Watch.

Heritage City of Dubrovnik

Heritage City of Dubrovnik

7. Challenge Yourself to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Often, we go on cushy guided tours and retreat to our hotels for meals. Instead, you should:

  • walk around, even if only in the streets closest to your hotel.
  • eat in local restaurants.
  • talk to the locals, even if it's only with your taxi driver.
  • learn a few words in the local language and use it. You will surely get a smile from the hotel staff and street vendors.

In other words, challenge yourself. Taking a step beyond your comfort zone each time you take a trip is worthwhile. You will be surprised at the rich treasures stored in your memory.

8. Support Community-Based Initiatives and Tourism

In between the world-famous Phuket and Krabi, Koh Yao Noi knew that tourists would not always stay in those developed places; soon enough, they would venture out to other lesser-known islands. Lo and behold, the tourists have come, and the island is ready.

Koh Yao Noi is home to around 5,000 Muslims—most of whom are fishermen and farmers—who want guests to their islands to dress properly, leave the corals and shells alone and not litter. The residents who first mobilized to stop poachers who were exploiting their marine resources eventually formed a club to manage the influx of tourist to their islands. They handle all aspects of tourism, from tours and sightseeing to homestays.

Around 30 households on the island can accommodate up to 150 guests at a time. Guests who have stayed on the island consider it their secret escape and want it to remain so.

Communities have a stake in the development of tourism in their areas, so their active involvement will ensure that programs will be sustained.

9. Respect the Practices of Local People

Be discreet when people are praying in churches, mosques or temples, and if you choose to visit any of these places, wear appropriate clothing. In many countries, they won't allow people in sleeveless tops and shorts to enter such sites. On top of abiding by the dress code, be sure to respect the silence and the restrictions placed on these sites. If you see a pile of shoes outside the entrance, take your own off too. Don't be a doofus . . . think!

Utah Desert

Utah Desert

10. Use Reusable Bags

This has to be the simplest way to promote sustainable tourism. When you do this, you discourage the use of those plastic bags that fly all over many sites and foul up water and waste systems. On my travels, I have used a tote bag to carry some cookies to give to beggars and kids, as I believe that giving them money will just encourage dependency. (If you really want to give, there are agencies you can donate to or where you can volunteer some of your time. This will surely be an experience, especially in the more disadvantaged countries).

This is just a simple thing to do, but it eliminates the plastic bags that pollute the environment and create eyesores such as roadside fences completely covered in plastic bags.

A Commitment to Sustainable Tourism

Learn How to Promote Sustainable Tourism

Whether you are a resort owner, a promoter of tourism in your area or simply a tourist, there is value in learning how to promote sustainable tourism. Every little thing you can do to ensure that future generations will still be able to enjoy the beauty of the places you appreciate will go a long way.

Eating Street Food in Hanoi

Eating Street Food in Hanoi

Challenges to Sustainable Tourism

Ecotourism is on the rise, as an increasing number of tourists want to travel more sustainably. Countries vying for tourist dollars are eager to capitalize on the eco-tourism trend.

The development of ecotourism at the community level certainly contributes to socioeconomic growth, especially in the remote areas. The following are just a few benefits of the development of ecotourism: poverty alleviation, expediting the growth of necessary facilities in remote areas, protection of indigenous species and traditional ways of life (especially of ethnic minorities) and biodiversity.

However, it is not easy to organize community-based eco-tourism. The list of challenges are listed below.

6 Top Challenges to Promoting Sustainable Tourism

Plenty of initiatives have succeeded in establishing community-based ecotourism, but many have not been sustained. Here are the top six challenges that make sustainable tourism hard to maintain.

  1. Working with local authorities and getting approval often takes a very long time, and some authorities make it hard for communities to start these initiatives by instituting purposefully complicated and difficult processes.
  2. People residing in areas where ecotourism is possible are often illiterate and lack the skills to make this happen. Training can take time.
  3. Communities often do not have the money to sustain the services they provide, so when support is gone, the program disappears.
  4. Struggles for control over natural resources, such as land concessions, can cause problems in ecotourism areas. When developers start cutting down trees and building on the land, the place loses its ecotourism potential.
  5. Lack of knowledge and access to materials needed can put a definitive halt on the development of ecotourism. Local people often do not have the resources or knowledge to start these initiatives or even improve the quality of their preexisting products and services. As such, they cannot attract tour operators to send tourists to their areas.
  6. A lack of local capacity to manage and develop ecotourism programs both on the community level and the government level also makes ecotourism hard to develop and maintain.
Take part in a beachside cleanup!

Take part in a beachside cleanup!

One Couple's Version of Sustainable Tourism

Recently, we were going to meet friends of friends visiting Cambodia, so we set a date at the FCC and started looking around when we arrived for possible candidates. We soon realized that we got the date wrong. So we just sat down and had dinner. One of the couples we had spoken with earlier joined us at our table, and we got to talking.

They had been visiting Cambodia because, on their first visit, they met a young girl in the Russian market (a favourite for tourists here in Phnom Penh). This girl was selling guide books. They told her they were not interested in buying any because often the content is all over the place and not of much real value. But they got talking to her and she ended up introducing them to her father, who was disabled during the Khmer Rouge war. They were intrigued, and when she invited them to see their home, they accepted readily.

Their house was dilapidated, about two hours by tuk-tuk from Phnom Penh. The couple then decided to build them a better home! They were here to visit the finished home, which is now the best in the village. The couple has no children of their own, so they have adopted this family, and it brings them joy to help them. Many people are partaking in similar initiatives all over the world to bring a better quality of life to people who lack opportunities to advance.

A More Authentic Travel Experience: Quality Beyond Five-Star

I just finished reading an article on community tourism in My Son, Vietnam. A village close to the heritage site in My Son is now earning extra income on tourism by providing home stays, cooking for tourists, guiding tourists, renting out bicycles and even allowing tourists to partake in fishing and farming. The International Labor Organization provided them with training, and now they are happy to have something to do after they have planted their rice.

The income is good, but beyond this, the villagers know the place very well and by providing these services are giving tourists quality experiences—not five-star hotel quality, but real quality.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Mary Norton

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