Those that read this site regularly will be aware that the topics of sustainable travel and the environment are close to my heart. Therefore it was particularly interesting to participate in the regular social media hashtag meet, Travel Talk on Twitter (TToT) which was about this subject.
The social media travel community is extremely knowledgeable and insightful. The expertise, tips and common sense that are shared every week demonstrate the wealth of information which is available through this forum. Everybody that participates is generous with their experience, sharing great tips and it is possible to pick up genuinely useful advice. This topic certainly did not disappoint.
The questions raised a number of issues from sustainable transportation to the challenges that face the sustainable tourism industry in the future. Many sensible and useful suggestions were made, opinions shared and some great projects promoted.
“Respect the people, respect the environment and respect the destination”
Sustainable travel means many things to many people and when people were defining it there were some outstanding comments.
Slow travel and alternatives to flying was unsurprisingly a popular theme, with many feeling that short haul flights in particular should be reduced. Alternatives for reaching remote destinations like Micronesia, are understandably more difficult and probably only viable for those on extended periods of travel.
Encouraging local communities to become involved in any project which provide sustainable options was another popular suggestion. Communities need to instantly perceive potential benefits, long term improvements are often difficult for them to accept when their children are hungry now.
Respect for the people and environment of any region or country is essential if beautiful, and authentic destinations and their cultures are to survive.
Many participants repeated a famous quote “Take only photographs, leave only footprints” believing it amply defines the topic.
Sustainable transport options were discussed, most suggestions were predictable, from camels, horses and elephants, to kayaks, hitchhiking and cycling. Making use of our feet seemed the most popular suggestion and certainly within a destination walking should become the first choice.
“More people are looking for an “authentic” travel experience, travellers are becoming more discerning, and tourism needs to satisfy this”
The savvy community accepted that whilst sustainability is extremely important to tourism the industry faces many challenges to achieve it.
Balancing the requirements of travellers with the needs of the local community, the culture of the region and the eco-systems were recognised as important challenges by many participants. Preserving the traditional way of life, retaining the ‘authenticity’ of a culture and the wildlife of a destination so it remained an attractive travel option for future generations was another.
Most accepted that education is of paramount importance, with all involved needing to understand the challenges and implications. Governments, industry, tour operators, accommodation providers, local communities but possibly most of all tourists need educating to adjust their expectations.
It was also heartening to hear that there are initiatives currently being discussed which will provide a ‘code of practice’ for sustainable tourism operators to adhere to. The hope is that those fulfilling the stipulated requirements will become certified providing travellers with a list of approved operators.
“Ask yourself why you travel; your answers may then help you rethink the way you travel”
When asked to provide some basic ways in which individual travellers can support sustainable travel, the community surpassed itself.
The underlying advice was that we should all take responsibility for ourselves, our actions and travel choices. There are genuine eco-friendly options available and merely carbon-offsetting a flight is not one of them.
Supporting local projects and spending money within the community and not just in a resort hotel were popular suggestions. Making smart decisions, doing some thorough research into the ‘green’ credentials of travel operators was another. Encouraging those that are making genuine efforts to become sustainable through bookings was well supported within the community.
Whilst there maybe a need for a luxury segment of the sustainable tourism market, where possible opting for homestays would be more beneficial to the community.
Inevitably flying, especially short-haul flights again came in for some adverse comments. Many accepted however that the alternatives also need to reduce fares so they are can compete with budget airlines. Travellers are prepared to spend a little more for more environmentally friendly options, but most probably cannot afford to if the difference is too great.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the TToT community for providing such a stimulating and thought provoking discussion. It was thoroughly enjoyable and provided plenty to consider. Please do not be offended if you feel your comments have been hijacked for this post, it is not my intention to do so as it would not be possible without your combined input.
I certainly learned a great deal but despite this realised my sustainable travel education has only just begun.
The topic maybe summarised as:
“Research, question, think but eventually the talking must stop, take responsibility and act, become an engager not just consumer”