It would not be quixotic to say that globalization has indeed made the world a smaller place. And if there is one sector which has fully reaped the benefits of the same, it is the ‘travel economy’. With huge investments being made in airplane and rail transportation, the world is shrinking and countries or places which were inaccessible a few years back, now have direct flights landing each day. With rising disposable incomes, an increased urge among the youth to lead a digital nomad life and the popularization of tourism by various countries of the world have all culminated to one thing: increased travel.
It has been rightly side that ‘to travel is to live’. Travel makes one a mentally stronger person, you enrich your experiences by getting exposed to different cultures and a varied community of people, it makes you learn a lot more about yourself and at the end, you are left with beautiful memories and experiences to be cherished forever.
But as with any other economic activity, one has to be conscious of the carbon footprint caused due to millions of dollars worth of travel each year. High greenhouse gas emissions due to increasing use of airplanes, destruction of natural ecosystems for creation of hotel properties or conducting tourist activities and increased accessibility to sensitive, previously inaccessible ecosystems has rung alarm bells and the concept of green or responsible travel has gained high value.
Sustainability is the buzzword of the day. But is sustainable or green travel a mere Instagram hash tag trend or is responsible tourism a realistic goal to achieve?
Before one delves deeper into it, it is useful to assess the carbon footprint of an average traveler. Firstly, frequent transport, particularly by modes which have high fossil fuel consumption such as flights has a direct negative impact on the environment. Two, the place one decides to live in has a lot of impact on the environment: the waste that is generated, the food and water that is wasted and the more luxurious the resort, more is the energy consumption of the place. The third important factor is how the traveler himself or herself impacts the ecosystem of the place.
Many popular tourist spots have lost their pristine beauty due to garbage disposal and over exploitation of the place due to a burgeoning conduct of tourist activities like safari explorations or snow sports which disturbs the natural habitat of the flora and fauna and steals the natural beauty of the place. The fourth key area for consideration is how travel today is breaking boundaries and extending to unknown areas and undiscovered localities. While this kind of cultural interaction is healthy and makes one sensitive of the vast diversity of cultures present in the world, this also brings with it the dangers of intrusion to some degrees as many local tribes prefer to remain aloof from the common people and value their privacy.
Responsible travel can seem daunting at first, since it requires one to think about certain aspects before deciding on issues like mode of transport to use, where to stay, what activities to do etc. But the 3 golden principles of sustainable resource use i.e. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are the key factors to be taken into account while making travel decisions.
Another key pillar of responsible tourism is ‘Respect’: respect for a nation’s heritage structures and natural resources and respect for the indigenous communities and their resources. Making certain travel choices can contribute a lot to preserving the natural ecosystems of the place, for example, taking public transport for travelling locally rather than private cabs can reduce carbon footprint, refilling your own water bottles rather than buying plastic bottles each new day. Plastic should be a big no-no: avoiding use of plastic straws, plastic bags and plastic in general, can contribute a lot in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
Starting with small steps like these can contribute a big deal to the responsible travel movement and do not require you to think like an environmentalist: just small conscious steps can make a lot of difference. Mother Nature has a ton of spectacular natural beauty to offer and while one travels to such gorgeous places, it is essential to not just appreciate and be amazed by the natural beauty but also respect the places by not damaging the sensitive ecosystem or disposing waste so that even the future generations can be enthralled by their beauty. Governments also have a critical role to play in promoting responsible travel. Appropriate rules and regulations are required for tour operators, travel agencies, resort owners, etc. so that their tourism promoting activities are not over-exploitative of the natural environment of the area and nature is not kept at stake in order to mint money.
Over-Tourism is a coming reality and it is in the interest of all the stakeholders to understand the impact their travel decisions have on the local societies and their environment. Many regular travelers are in fact highly supportive of sustainable tourism since they have been exposed to the beauty of Mother Nature and this inspires them to do something to ensure that this pristine beauty is preserved for years to come. Making green travel a possible reality is now in the hands of the global travel community, otherwise this concept, like many others will remain a mere Instagram trend.