When I started this blog, I was thinking carefully about the topics that are important to me and the values I defend. A very important and now unavoidable topic is sustainable tourism. Whether you are traveling on a week-end or booking a long trip to a far country, many travelers do not want to explore new places as part of a horde of tourists, but prefer an authentic and sustainable vacation experience.
But the term “sustainability” has become a popular trend word and is unfortunately often misused. In tourism the term sustainability is mainly applied in three areas: ecological, economic and social sustainability. But what does that mean for us and how can we apply it on our way of travel?
I question myself before traveling to a new destination or sight, if I can visit it in a good conscience. Cruises and swimming with dolphins have been banned from my bucket list since many years now, just to name two of the classic examples.
Since I live in Barcelona, I have been experiencing overtourism directly and I am anxiously observing the masses of people arriving every summer in the harbor on cruise ships. These ships can carry almost 10,000 people, who then land at the same time. The German nature protection organization Nabu estimates (PDF) that a cruise ship emits as much CO2 per day as nearly 84,000 cars, as much nitrogen oxide as 421,000 cars, as many fine particles as more of 1 million cars and as much sulfur dioxide as no less than 376 million cars. Given the enormous impact on the environment, it is clearly impossible to get on a cruise ship with an ecological conscience for oneself.
The picture below is the Barceloneta beach in Barcelona. I took it on a Saturday afternoon in August!
But that’s only a small part of the whole problem and of course it does not mean that we have to stop traveling. But we can learn about ways to contribute and what to look for when we book our next travel. The topic of “Green Travel” is more and more thematized in the media and is probably no longer just a trend, but a lifestyle that will certainly become established over the next years.
The number of hotels and travel agencies offering ecotourism is increasing every year. But beware: with this growing interest, there are also black sheep that jump on the trend and upgrade their brochures and websites with invented green labels and certificates. This is called greenwashing. Unfortunately, there is no unique, worldwide green label or certificate but many label from different organization and countries which apply different criterias. This makes it difficult to keep track and distinguish the right labels from the wrong ones.
One of the first and largest programs worldwide is Green Globe. Green Globe helps companies to improve their economic, social and environmental sustainability – 70% of the criteria cover the environment, 30% socio-cultural aspects. Green Globe has members in more than 90 countries, making it one of the largest organizations in the world. More information here.
On Ecolabel Index you will find a list of the most known eco-labels in the tourist field:http://www.ecolabelindex.com/ecolabels/?st=category,tourism
It is good to be guided by certificates and to choose and support the right tour operators and hotels. You also have the possibility to adopt some responsible practices, which help preserve the environment of the countries you visit while teaching a couple of things to your children.
Here is our very personal list which we try to respect as much as possible before and during our trip:
- Book sustainable and small hotels, campsites, owner-managed accommodations
- Nobody wants to give up to travel by plane but sometimes you can find good alternative. For Example: Europe has a very good rail network and a journey by train with a good book can be very enjoyable.
- During your stay: try not to use the air conditioning. Use bath towels and sheets for several days.
- Zero waste when traveling (take your water bottle to refill, no plastic or disposable packaging, as these can not be separated in many countries)
- Go hiking and cycling and enjoy the local scenery local landscape
- When possible, travel during low season (especially for overcrowded places like Venice, Barcelona or Machu Picchu)
- Respect the local environment and nature
- Support local vendors, restaurants and artisans
- Book responsible guided tours in small groups
- Avoid dolphinariums and other animal shows that do not respect animals
Send us your feedback regarding sustainable travel. Perhaps you have discovered an awesome eco-hosting or you have a great idea to travel more sustainable?