Just a few months ago, a global battle raged against over-tourism — the very opposite of eco-tourism.
Over-tourism is a phenomenon fuelled by a middle class with increased access to travel tools, and, additionally, a younger generation inspired to travel by, largely, Instagram shots of influencers flaunting luxury lifestyles in exotic destinations.
While countries welcomed tourist dollars and the industry boomed, beautiful destinations became both cliché and repulsive, and often depicted evidence of decay and destruction.
Hundreds of unwelcome cruise liners had dotted the oceans and poured oil into canals, killing fish, chipping away at marine life and crowding ports.
A handful of famous beaches and bays closed to rehabilitate or started charging entrance fees to deter travellers. The most visited cities, including Rome, Venice, Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Santorini and Bali, became overcrowded; with tourists pushing their way towards historic attractions for selfies, littering famous streets or outnumbering locals.
Now, as borders gradually open with hesitancy and caution in light of the pandemic, it’s our responsibility more than ever to ensure ethical, environmentally-friendly and considerate travels in the form of eco-tourism.
WHAT IS ECO-TOURISM?
“Eco-tourism”, together with “sustainable travel” and “ethical travel”, are all umbrella terms used to refer to travel and tourist practices that promote the conservation of visited areas, and aim to be kind, responsible and sensitive to both the environment and the locals.
It could involve something as basic and environmentally friendly as reducing plastic usage or avoiding littering, and could extend to purposefully booking remote, unpopular destinations with low-impact accommodation options, or avoiding flights.
TIPS TO MOVE TOWARDS ECO-TOURISM
Besides the norms, which should be practised even at home — like respect for the environment and people, abstinence from damaging property and natural habitats, reusing and recycling, and refraining from disposing of litter irresponsibly — there are a few additional tips to ensure ethical, environmentally-friendly and sustainable travel.
ENSURE ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS ARE ETHICAL
Attractions that use animals as bait for tourists who often don’t know much better, are usually composed of animals who are confined to tiny spaces, neglected, and/or mistreated.
However colourful, happy or trendy encountering these animals may look, it’s essential to remember that, to these companies and organisations, the animals are nothing more than a source of income.
Avoid circuses with animal shows, zoos, and, however tempting, animal rides, like on camels and elephants. Exceptions are possible at certain sanctuaries and conservation parks that don’t use heavy metal equipment on their animals to seat tourists and instead offer bare-back rides on animals who aren’t confined to caged or gated spaces.
If you really must visit an attraction that houses animals, investigate reviews online and the website of the attraction to confirm ethical practices are observed and that the animals are treated with love and respect.
SUPPORT THE LOCALS
Wherever there are options to choose a local company or vendor, try your best to support them instead of internationally based tour and travel companies.
Although more accessible and incredibly easy to book, these global companies charge a heftier fee for online bookings in currencies like dollars, euros, and pounds, and end up outsourcing the work through one of the local companies in the area anyway.
You’d receive the same quality of tour or day trip, and, not only will booking directly through a local company be much cheaper, but profits are injected straight into the local economies.
Booking online through trusted agencies may be unavoidable if you’re heading somewhere especially remote, but busy, bustling cities with high tourist influxes usually have dozens of tour and trip companies dotted around the city with package deals ready to go.
READ THE ECO-POLICIES OF YOUR ACCOMMODATION PRE-BOOKING
Already, major hotel chains and well-loved accommodations have transitioned to more environmentally friendly practices, as they become increasingly aware of the damage the industry causes.
Browse through the websites or facilities offered by potential accommodation options; hotels, homes and guest houses that have purposefully changed practice in the interest of eco-travels are usually proud of this and promote their policies widely.
Look to see how often towels and bedding are changed, and if there’s an option to opt for washes only on demand rather than daily so as to save water. Also, whether the place has chosen to use large dispensers of soaps, shampoos and conditioners rather than disposable, replaceable bottles, as the latter create incredible waste of resources and plastics.
Examining their recycling policies and the even the ways they treat their staff may be a good indicator on whether you’ll be staying with hosts who care about our planet.
Eco-travelling is easy and doesn’t really require us to change much about the way we travel. Now it’s time to help maintain the beauty of those places we’ve always dreamt of visiting, so future generations can enjoy them too.
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