It’s a word that only very recently started to cross our paths in the world of travel and tourism, but now that it has a name, we’re hearing it almost daily.
Overtourism has become mainstream, according to travel research firm Skift, and popular tourist destinations like Barcelona, Venice, Machu Picchu and, most recently, the idyllic cove that featured in movie, The Beach, have taken drastic action to reduce the negative impact of “too much” tourism.
The list of affected destinations is growing – Dubrovnik is capping its daily visitor number at 4,000; the Philippines island of Boracay is closed to tourists for six months; and now the popular Greek island of Santorini is under threat of overcrowding.
It seems rather drastic that one would have to resort to closing an entire beach or island down to ensure its survival, but when you’re battling bad behaviour from hordes of inconsiderate tourists, it certainly must seem like the last resort.
We talk a lot about preserving the environment and being environmentally conscious, but that doesn’t always extend to adopting responsible behaviour when one is travelling for business or going on holiday. You recycle at home, but do you recycle when you’re on holiday? You’re sensitive to different cultures in your office, but do you spend time reading up on the culture of the locals in your holiday destination? There’s no holiday for being a responsible citizen of the world.
Travel companies in their own right are involved in a range of positive responsible tourism initiatives. The most recent of these being the announcement by The Travel Corporation and TreadRight that it would be banning single-use plastic across all its global travel brands – a move that Hurtigruten, Hilton and Alaska Airlines have also adopted.
This is an excellent start. Another step in the right direction for the travel industry would be to influence our customers to travel more sustainably. We’re certainly not advocating that people stop travelling altogether. Rather, we’re saying we need to change how we travel so that the effect to our holiday or business destination adds meaningful value, not impacts it negatively.
There are three pillars of sustainable tourism and, as the World Tourism Organisation defines it, a “suitable balance” must be established between these three pillars to guarantee its long-term sustainability:
• Environment: Optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
• Socio-: Respect the sociocultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance; and
• Economy: Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socioeconomic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.
If like me you want to be a responsible traveller when you’re headed on your next business trip or holiday with the family, here are some easy things you can do to preserve our world for the next generation of “travellers”:
Align with socially responsible travel experts
Being a responsible traveller starts with aligning yourself with travel brands that strive to maintain a high level of social responsibility.
It’s one of the easiest ways to give back while you travel. Flight Centre has its Flight Centre Foundation which offers bursaries to children from disadvantaged backgrounds from Grade 8 to tertiary.
Speak to your local travel expert on their recommendations for eco-friendly accommodation, sustainable travel activities and destinations where you can contribute to conserving the environment.
Brands like G Adventures are great for this. They offer an authentic and sustainable approach to small-group travel to off-the-grid destinations in Peru, India, and even the Arctic.
Use selfless travel products
When one talks about giving back, one of the go-to suggestions is often to volunteer, which is a fantastic way to give back, but it’s not the only way, according to Rochele le Roux, the co-founder of SpiritGirls.
She says: “Start by looking at the products you buy for your travels, from your body lotions to your clothes. Our earth-loving activewear uses fabric made from recycled plastic bottles (recycled PET). Not only are they eco-friendly, they’re also super practical for travelling.”
Start supporting local
While you’re travelling, avoid buying mass-produced souvenirs, and eating hotel meals. Choose handmade arts and crafts made from sustainable and recycled materials, and buy food from some of the local hotspots.
Not only will you be supporting the locals directly, but you’ll be departing with meaningful mementos and gifts for friends and families back home, according to Louise de Waal, founder of Green Girls in Africa, a sustainable blog based in South Africa.
“This is one of the easiest ways to get your head around ways to give back while you travel. Even taking the time to immerse yourself in the local customs and traditions is a step in the right direction of showing appreciation for those who don’t have access to the luxuries that you do.
“Besides aligning yourself with meaningful travel brands and experts, social media is also a great way to start educating others and raising awareness on local initiatives you have encountered on your journeys that need support.”
So, as you start planning your December holidays, as many South Africans are starting to do, consider what else you can do to be a better traveller so the “tourists go home” banners we’ve started seeing in the world’s most beloved tourism destinations are replaced with a welcome banner once again.
• Sue Garrett is the product and marketing manager for Flight Centre Travel Group