The Ecotricity Guide to sustainable tourism

8 January 2019

The tourism industry is booming. With cheap air travel making it easier than ever before to see the world, travel is becoming one of the world’s largest industries. In 2017, 1.3 billion foreign trips were made, and that figure is set to grow even more over the next few years.

As the tourism industry grows, so does its impact on the environment. The industry now accounts for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions. But you don’t have to stop travelling completely and never go on holiday again to save the planet. Here’s our guide to ecotourism and travelling in the most sustainable way possible.

What is ecotourism?

Ecotourism is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.’ Put simply, it’s about keeping your impact to a minimum, protecting biodiversity, being aware of the environment and respecting local cultures.

Is ecotourism the same as green tourism?

No, green tourism is a phrase coined by researchers in the 1980s during a study about the hotel industry’s practise of leaving placards in hotel rooms to encourage guests to reuse their towels. The study found that most hotels made no effort to be green and sustainable, and highlighted how careful you need to be when choosing a hotel to stay in.

What effect does tourism have on the planet?

The most obvious impact that air travel has on the planet is the carbon emissions that come from even the shortest of flights. But there are actually lots of other factors that impact the environment when it comes to travel.

Travellers often have a higher carbon footprint when they’re away than they would if they were at home. They’ll often take a taxi rather than getting the bus or walking, and will eat out at places where the food has been imported.

It’s really important that we all make an effort to choose responsible travel options, because the tourism industry and climate change are having an irreversible effect on some of the world’s best destinations.

For example, global warming is contributing to changing weather conditions in places where the weather is the main draw, such as snow resorts. Rising sea levels are also impacting tropical island resorts and even natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef.

How can you travel more sustainably?

It’s not difficult to keep your carbon footprint to a minimum while you’re travelling. Here are our top tips on how you can be a true eco tourist:

Choosing where to go

  • Try and go somewhere that isn’t too far away, and avoid tourist hotspots that have been damaged by the number of people visiting it.
  • Choose a hotel with good green credentials – you can usually find plenty of information on the hotel’s website, because if they’ve got good green credentials, they’ll be shouting about it! You can also check to see if they have any accreditation from an organisation such as Green Tourism or the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
  • Don’t travel around lots – stay in one place and get to know it really well.
Womad looking out to sea on bench

Get to know one place really well to save on carbon emissions during your holiday.

Getting there

  • If possible, go somewhere you don’t have to fly toyou can reach plenty of European cities by train, or even stay in Britain – there are plenty of amazing places to visit right on your doorstep.
  • If you do have to fly, sit in economy. Sitting in first class can increase your carbon footprint by up to five times.
  • You can also choose a daytime flight. It’s thought that a plane’s contrails (the white exhaust plumes you see trailing behind a plane) can reflect some sunlight away from the earth. At night, the contrails trap heat in that would escape the atmosphere normally.
  • Fly non-stop, because most of the carbon emissions from flying come from the take-off and landing. A direct flight will generate far less emissions than a connecting flight.
  • Choose an airline that is as efficient as possible. In a 2016 study, British Airways were found to be the least efficient airline, and Norwegian Airlines the most efficient in Europe.
Man sitting in economy on an aeroplane with headphones in, looking down the aisle.

Sit in economy to minimise your carbon footprint.

Stay green

Just because you’re away from home, it doesn’t mean you should forget about your good green habits. When you’re away, take reusables with you such as a travel cup, water bottle, a shopping bag and a metal straw.

Eat local

Trying out the local grub will not only give you a more authentic experience, but it’ll also help you keep costs down because local food doesn’t have to be imported – something which also isn’t very good for the environment. Pick up snacks from the local markets rather than going to a supermarket and sample as much local cuisine as you can.

Don’t drink the (bottled) water!

Take a reusable water bottle with you, and ask for a refill of filtered water when you go to restaurants. You can also ask for filtered water in your hotel room.

To save you buying endless plastic bottles, use water purifying tablets, or get a water bottle with a built-in filter. You could even try a Life Straw – a portable straw that filters out contaminants as you drink through it.

While you’re away

Keep your carbon footprint low by taking public transport, and walking and cycling rather than hiring a car or taking a taxi.

And why not use your time off to do some good? There are plenty of great volunteering projects you can take part in all over the world that will help make a difference to people, wildlife and the planet. Plus, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people. Check out The Great Projects and Pod Volunteer for some amazing opportunities. 

 

So the answer to travelling more sustainably isn’t just not to travel at all. There are loads of small ways you can be greener when you’re seeing the world – and combined they can make a big difference.

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