Sustainable Travel. It’s a term we see everywhere, emblazoned across the websites of everything from hotels to car hire. But what does sustainable travel actually mean? If you’ve ever pondered this, then you’re certainly not alone.
A National Geographic survey in 2019 found that of 3,500 people surveyed, 42% would be willing to prioritise sustainable travel in the future, however, 15% of these travellers were unfamiliar with what sustainable travel actually looked like.
It’s heartening to think that even though we aren’t quite sure what sustainable travel is, we know it’s the right thing to do. A hard and fast definition is not easy to come by and academically it continues to be debated. But strap in and let’s see if we can clear up some of that confusion.
Sustainable development, as a term, first hit the public consciousness back in 1987 in the Brundtland Report produced for the UN. It defined sustainable development as:
“…development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Lofty right? It’s like a giant umbrella term under which thousands of industries sit. Essentially, it’s the academic version of ‘think of the children’.
When we peep under this umbrella of sustainable development and look specially at sustainable travel you can be forgiven for thinking it’s all about carbon footprints. However, it is an umbrella of its very own under which we can find three categories of preservation and protection: environmental socio-cultural and economic; or planet, people and profit.
IN LAYMAN’S TERMS
Under these terms, you can classify all the buzzwords that have made their way into mainstream advertising and some words that encompass all three:
It’s overlapping, it’s interwoven and it’s imperfect. But hey, we’re humans. Most of what we do is imperfect. The aim of the game with sustainable travel is not perfection; instead it’s back at that original definition that Brundtland gave us. Not preserving destinations as if in a museum, but instead moving with the future generations in mind.
In travelling the world our impact will never truly be zero, whether we like it or not, tourism changes a place. As soon as an explorer/traveller/tourist steps onto new soil, interacts with the local community and participates in the economy, the destination is altered. Change is inevitable but changes can be hopeful and positive, or they can have devastating consequences.
EXAMPLES OF NEGATIVE CHANGE
- Mass produced souvenirs out price local artisans and increase land-fill waste
- Multinational development, where the majority or all profits are shifted off-shore rather than stimulating local economy
- “Feels like home” eateries (think Starbucks and McDonalds) push out smaller ma and pa establishments
- Pollution and habitat destruction
- A sole dependency on tourism for jobs and wealth
EXAMPLES OF POSITIVE CHANGE
- Job creation in developed and under-developed communities
- Improvements to local infrastructure
- Economic stimulation
- Increased awareness of environmental issues like rainforest deforestation and animal protection
- Cultural preservation of art, language, buildings and history through education
It’s a big concept with big consequences but when you think about it, it’s actually kind of simple. It’s about balancing thirst for experience with our inevitable impact.
We need to ask ourselves one simple question when planning our next trip – can I minimise my negative impact and dial up my positive impact with my choices?
Sure, it won’t be perfect and we might not always make the very best decision but even engaging this way of thinking is a step in the right direction. After all, for sustainable travel to make an impact we don’t need a few people doing it perfectly, we need everyone doing it imperfectly.
For examples of world-leading sustainable tourism operators from in our portfolio, check out: Soneva, Bawah Reserve, Resplendent Ceylon, Sinalai Reef Resort and Spa, and Nihi Sumba. For regular updates about their endeavours and sustainability-minded initiatives, follow us on Instagram.
- Stone, G. (2019). For travelers, sustainability is the word—but there are many definitions of it. Retrieved from: www.nationalgeographic.com
- Brundtland, G. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future