Certainly one of the buzzwords in tourism today is “sustainable tourism.” Sustainable tourism is often combined with ecotourism, although the two terms are different. To add to the difficulties there is no one definition of sustainable tourism. Sustainable urban tourism then is different from sustainable rural tourism, aquatic tourism or beach tourism. For the most part we can define sustainable tourism as a form of travel and tourism that permits outsiders to visit a place and not create a harmful impact on the locale’s culture, environment, economy or way of life. If this goal is attainable is very much an open question.
Certainly many sociologists and anthropologists would argue that the moment a “foreign” body or substance has entered into the eco-bio system, then that system is changed forever. Eco-tourism seems a bit easier to define. Eco-tourism (often spelt ecotourism as one word) is a form of tourism that focuses on such things as local cultures, wilderness experiences, or learning new ways to live on the planet. Some people define it as travel to destinations where the primary attractions are the locale’s flora, fauna, or even its cultural heritage. Both sustainable tourism and ecotourism attempt to minimize the adverse effects of what these tourism professionals believe is the harmful impact of traditional tourism. As such many who work in sustainable tourism or ecotourism will argue that they are not trying to stop tourism but rather package it in such a way that the tourism’s impact on the local physical and cultural environment will be the most minimal possible. For this reason sustainable and ecotourism specialists seek to find ways to recycle waste as efficiently as possible, to use water resources sparingly, to control trash locations and to prevent under noise, light and water pollution.
People who are concerned about tourism’s impact on the social and physical environment point to the following data. It should be noted that there is no one definition of tourism and that records are often dependent on local methodologies so all data presented is merely a guestimate. There is no doubt that tourism is not only big business but any industry that moves over a billion people from one place to another is going to have a major impact. Many people again guestimate that the average tourist spends at least US$700 per trip. A conservative estimate than of the impact of travel is around 700 billion dollars per year. Assuming these figures are correct then a fair estimate is that tourism produces about 10% of all of the world’s jobs.
Considering the size of the travel and tourism industry, it is essential that it maintain itself and provide the type of environment which will allow travel and tourism to continue.
Here are some things that we all can do to assure that travel and tourism are both sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Watch water and how it is used. Tourism is beginning to make some long needed strides in this area. From asking guests at hotels to use their towels for more than one day to changing bed sheets every three days (during prolonged stays) instead of one, the amounts of detergents and other toxics entering into the water systems has been reduced. Much more however can and should be done. Innovations such as the Israeli model of drip irrigation can be applied to golf courses and outdoor stadiums. New forms of detergents need to be developed. Showers and toilets need to have water saving devices and visitors need to be rewarded rather than castigated for making ecologically sound decisions.
Promote local products. The use of local products is not only good for the ecology but it is the basis of tourism. Local products are fresher and provide a local flavor. Some ecologists believe that they also reduce emissions into the atmosphere by at least 4%. Local products are less costly to transport and their transportation uses less energy. Local products then are not only good for the environment but they are also good for your tourism product.
Protect and promote your local flora and fauna and promote. Just as in the case of food local flora and fauna help to distinguish your location from other locations. Even urban environments have plants and flowers that are (or were) native to their soil. Plants not only add a sense of beautification to the environment, but they increase the supply of oxygen, and beautification is one of the least expensive ways to lower crime rates.
Plant and replenish your locale’s tree population. Trees not only add shade and beauty to a locale, but also are a major source in absorbing carbon pollutants. Make sure to plant trees that are compatible with your environment and use the tress to add not only beauty but also local flavor to your community. The need for urban tree planting is especially essential when we consider that half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. In some parts of the world, such as in Latin America the figures may be as high as 70& and many Latin American cities lack parks and green areas.
If your tourism locale is by the sea or oceans, take care of not only the land but also your aquatic areas. Too many parts of the world’s oceans have become dumping grounds impacting not only beaches but also fishing. For example, many of the Caribbean’s coral reefs are either threatened or poorly protected. Once these resources are lost, they may be lost forever. Over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water and what happens in the aquatic world will impact the terrestrial world.