Is Travel Sustainable?

The pursuit of sustainability within each working sector is by no means an easy feat. It requires sustainability for the environment but also communities and the economies that they rely on, to survive. One of the world’s largest sectors contributing to climate change is the travel industry, (given how it is a considerable contributor to the depletion of natural resources.) 

With industries making moves towards being eco conscious and responsible, consumers can also seek to minimise their own impact and carbon footprint. To truly understand what sustainable travel is, we must make ourselves familiar with the many pillars of sustainability. By understanding each aspect, consumers can begin to improve upon their actions, to in turn reduce the negative impact that the travel industry has.

“Sustainable travel means finding a way that tourism can be maintained long-term without harming natural and cultural environments. Sustainable travel should minimise the negative impacts of tourism and ideally be beneficial to the area in which it takes place.” Sustainability is nuanced, covering many aspects. It is no wonder that the tourism industry has a long way to go in reaching sustainability in every aspect, but it is certainly achievable. 

Pillars of sustainable Travel

The main sectors of sustainability are as follows: Environmental, Economic, Community and Cultural. When working together in tandem, true sustainability can be achieved.

Environmental

Environmental sustainability is defined as ‘avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.’ In relation to the travel sector, the environment is the most at-risk factor due to over tourism and overconsumption of natural resources, indigenous to an area. Whilst “tourism has the potential to create beneficial effects on the environment by contributing to environmental protection and conservation”, more often than not, “the negative impacts of tourism development can gradually destroy environmental resources on which it depends.” By ensuring that aspects such as flora, fauna and wildlife are given precedence over visitors, these natural resources can be appreciated, opposed to exploited. 

Economic

The sustainability of economic growth relies on giving communities the chance/ability to thrive, opposed to large companies/conglomerates that are not local to the area profiting off of the resources. Economic growth is sustainable if not negatively impacting environmental, social and cultural aspects of the community.

Circular economies are sustainable for this very reason, as their very definition “involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended. In practice, it implies reducing waste to a minimum.”

“Most of the common positive impacts of tourism on culture include increasing cross cultural interaction; understanding, maintaining and keeping local culture, arts, crafts and traditions; empowering host communities; and strengthening cultural values. ”

Community

Sustainability within communities relies on supporting the people indigenous to the area who are reliant on the natural resources. Achieving social sustainability ensures that the social well-being of a country, an organisation, or a community can be maintained in the long term.

Over-populating an area in the name of tourism is dangerous to communities, it takes from their resources and exploits them in the name of profit. When choosing to travel, it is important to take into account whether a resort, lodge or hotel has the appropriate capacity of guests. 

Cultural

Very similar to community sustainability, cultural sustainability differs: it relies on respecting and honouring traditions that are local to an area. It is “hard to measure how much culture is being damaged by tourism, or how much culture is being protected due to the involvement of many socio-cultural and socio-economic variables together in tourism.”

Whilst local communities could be seen as being empowered through tourism, it could be easy to take advantage of in the name of profit. The commodification of culture could become a problem in areas with little to no economy that rely on tourists and the tourism industry to make an income.

The local community should be empowered and priority should be given to the process of development within the community itself, as opposed to commodified products. “A structural link between the formal and informal sectors in the tourism industry should also be led by the government” to eliminate the risk of exploitation. There is an importance for the government “to develop a code of conducts and cultural research centres for cultural education, training, workshops, exhibitions, and performance.”

The profits that tourism brings to communities has the power to preserve cultural heritage and revitalise traditions in the name of teaching and sharing to tourists. This gives back cultural pride and revitalises customs and traditions in the process. It is important to understand the difference/disparity between the two, and ensure that companies are being genuine within the tourism sector. 

September 27th has been declared as World Tourism Day by the UN World Tourism Organisation alongside private and public sector partners, intending to use the day to raise awareness for the social, political and, economic and environmental impacts that this causes. “As the IPCC (2007) points out, worryingly little is known about the employment and livelihood impacts of climate change. The sectors most likely affected are the ones most directly dependent on the weather, agriculture and tourism.”  

The day highlights the many aspects of sustainable tourism, aiming to educate travellers on important goals “that include protecting the environment, addressing climate change, minimizing plastic consumption and expanding economic development in communities affected by tourism.” It is a day that highlights a framework for engaging travellers and the travel industry at large in supporting goals that include protecting the environment, minimising the use of plastic, “addressing climate change, and expanding economic development in communities affected by tourism.” 

“We need to look after our planet, our resources and our people to ensure that we can live in a sustainable manner for both the current generation and the next. ”

Industries are beginning to react to consumers’ wishes and sustainability is a large factor that can affect a consumer’s willingness to be associated with a company. Sustainability is so incredibly nuanced, it’s more than just preserving natural resources but also intended to cover the sustainability of communities and their economies. If we are to visit areas that are popular due to their natural beauty, we have to tread lightly/ carefully, ensuring not to erase their own culture and resources in the process. 

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