Tourism forms one of the world’s largest economic sectors- creating jobs, driving exports, and contributing to overall wealth generation across the world. Travel & Tourism accounted for 10.4% of global GDP and 9.9% of total employment in 2017. Taking an example of Kenya, in 2018, the tourism sector experienced 31.2 percent growth in revenues. The latest data from the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife indicated that revenues totaled to Sh157.38 billion in 2018 from Sh119.0 billion in 2017, with the industry clocking a 68 percent rise in guest arrivals.
The question is: do we, at any one moment, halt to think about the impact our travels could have on the environment? A study by the University of Sydney found that global tourism accounts for 8% of the total carbon emissions, which is three times higher than previously thought. With global travel becoming cheaper and more reliable and accessible, the usage of airplanes, cruise ships, trains, and buses is increasing and emitting a tremendous amount of carbon and other harmful substances. This intensifies the effects of global warming, subjecting the world to environmental vulnerability.
It calls for every person to become a responsible traveler by taking into account the effects of travel on both physical and cultural environments visited. The next question is how to become a sustainable traveler and mitigate the potential harm that comes from exploring the world.
Use of alternative modes of transportation
How you choose to reach your destination is the most important decision when it comes to your trip’s environmental impact. For instance, if you reside in the U.S, taking a train would be an ideal option because aircraft accounts for 12 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gases generated from transportation. Despite airplanes being more efficient and less expensive, the government can improve on the metro systems to encourage more train commuters. Emissions from cars and other vehicles account for an even larger percentage, making train an optimal option. Whereas avoiding flying altogether is often not an option for travelers, the underlying notion is to eliminate unnecessary flights when possible.
Another important factor to note is that shorter flights and stopovers are more polluting per passenger-mile than longer flights, as take off and landings generate a significant part of the total emissions per flight.
Where possible, use local public transport or go by foot or bike when exploring. When taking vacation, it is important to consider taking fewer but longer vacations and flying directly as often as possible.
Choosing sustainable lodging
Also of importance to a responsible traveler is to select a more sustainable lodging. Interestingly, hotel sustainability practices have gained ground in recent years, especially through certification programs that adhere to international best-practice standards. Travelers can visit these programs’ websites, like The Rainforest Alliance and Earth Check, and hotels that are accredited will typically show a certification logo on their own websites and marketing materials. Also to note, hotels that are not listed for their green efforts can still be sustainable; therefore, it is important to inquire with a hotel before your booking. Key aspects to look for include environmental, social and local economic impacts, including waste, water, and energy efficiencies. You should also look for the hotel’s commitment to its local community and the fair employment of local people.
Sustainable tour operators
Another important aspect is to know your tour operator. This is important because some tour companies are way ahead in regards to their actions towards environmental conservation, protecting wildlife, and supporting cultural heritage. Be wise and choose operators that are clear about their support for the communities and environment they visit. Some parameters can be used to evaluate the sustainability of tour operators. For instance, in the case of wildlife tours, feeding, touching and any altering of natural behavior are an indicator of an irresponsible tour operator and such conduct should be highly discouraged.
Most importantly is the need to respect the hosts. As long as you are visiting people’s homes and places, it becomes important to see them as hosts rather than a homogeneous holiday provider; this way you become a more responsible tourist. Additionally, leave no traces when visiting a destination, because the creation of solid waste- particularly plastic- poses a significant environmental impact. Help reduce waste production by carrying your own reusable bags, straws, utensils, and takeaway containers. Choose to spend money with businesses that source locally. This may be through eating locally grown foods or purchasing locally produced handicrafts.
If all the mentioned initiatives are observed fervently then we will reduce our carbon footprint to a large extent- and possibly make this world a more sustainable place for us and the generations to come. We can choose to be responsible tourists both at local and at international levels. Let us all choose to go green on travel!