Jan 10, 2014

Sustainable tourism is about more than being “green”


In a brief article on iOL Travel, Claire Allison, the marketing manager of Open Africa, insists that travelers must go beyond booking an eco-lodge or enviro-tour if they are truly concerned with sustainable travel.  While there is certainly a strong argument that travel in itself goes against the goals of sustainability, if we (as travelers) are aiming to make the least amount of negative impact and, better still, looking to find ways to positively support the places we visit, we must consider the environment and the local people, economy, and cultures.  “Sustainable travel,” Allison states, “is about environmental, economic and socio-cultural sustainability and tourism needs to be sustainable in these three areas to be considered ‘sustainable tourism.'”  I tend to agree with this overall sentiment, but what I find problematic with the article is that it is still written from a tourist-centric perspective.  Allison writes that, “Socio-cultural sustainability is about including the local people in a tourist venture by employing them and minimising the negative impacts of increased tourist traffic. It’s also about preserving the local traditions, which offers travelers an authentic experience.”  Rather than suggesting that local people be included by being employed by a tourist venture, how about suggesting that local people be in control of the tourist venture, or at minimum, that they are consulted?  And perhaps better than “preserving local traditions” with the goal of offering “travelers an authentic experience,” shouldn’t the goal again be less about the traveler and more about leaving decisions – regarding what and how traditions are preserved – in the hands of the practitioners?

In the article, Allison offers a few tips many of us are familiar with, including purchasing items from local artists and eating foods sourced locally.  How do you define “sustainable travel?”  What tips do you have for other travelers, as well as those engaged in the business of sustainable tourism, and/or communities that are frequented by travelers interested in environmental and cultural tourism?


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Goucher's MA in Cultural Sustainability provides students with the training to identify, protect, enhance and work effectively with communities around what makes them unique: their traditions, ways of life, cherished spaces, and vital relationships to each other and the world. Read More

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