“Sustainability” is a popular buzzword these days. It pops up in all sorts of contexts, including tourism; but most often, it’s used in connection with the environment, and that can lead to misconceptions about what it means. You might think, for instance, that sustainable tourism means sleeping in a tent without running water or electricity. Granted, that used to be true, but sustainable travel isn’t about “roughing it” anymore. Now you can travel comfortably and sustainably, and that’s what Mockingbird’s tours are all about.
The United Nations General Assembly has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Let’s kick off the year right by understanding what sustainable tourism actually is.
To travel sustainably means traveling in a way that actively benefits our destinations and does them no harm. Protection of the environment is certainly an important component of that; if tourism destroys the local resources and the natural beauty that the tourists came there to see, the community (and the world) is worse off and the tourists will eventually disappear. But there’s more to it than the environment: sustainable tourism also focuses on protecting the cultural heritage of the local communities and generating social and economic benefits for them. These last points are equally important.
Tourism is a powerful force for economic development. It generates trillions of dollars for the world economy every year. The recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development recognized that “well-designed and well-managed tourism” is an important driver of economic growth, job creation, and trade. Even countries like isolated Belarus have recently begun opening themselves up for tourists. But if it’s not done thoughtfully, tourism can harm local economies, cultures and environments. And none of us – as dedicated travelers and explorers – want that.
For example, staying in a large chain hotel provides minimal benefits to the community where it’s located: too often, those hotels fill their staffs with foreigners, and the profits all go back to owners in other countries. Instead, choose a hotel that is owned and staffed by locals; the experience will be more authentic and you’ll know that the money you spend there is going directly into the community. Fortunately, there is a growing number of hotels, locally owned and operated around the world, that embrace responsible environmental practices and offer the creature comforts we crave.
How we travel matters. Sustainable tourism helps ensure that there will continue to be authentic, beautiful, inspiring places for us to explore.