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Sustainable Tourism – What it Really Means!

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In the last decade or so, the terms ‘sustainable tourism‘, ‘eco tourism’ or ‘green travel’ have popped up a lot (when I mean green travel, I’m talking about environmental issues here, not green grass in Nimbin or growing weed in Amsterdam) – relating to how the world can handle the increased numbers of travellers circulating the globe, and how this might impact on the planet.

Air Travel And Environmental Impact

Travel en masse has been a relatively recent phenomena, thanks to the advent of the Jumbo Jet which revolutionised global travel. However, there are consequences of this.

Firstly, the carbon emissions from the transport required to move people around, contributing to climate change.

Secondly, some destinations are flooded with too many people and the local infrastructure cannot handle the influx of people wanting to trample all over the attraction(s).

Thirdly, the production of those damn plastic bottles that have been discarded by tourists because they don’t want to drink the local water, even if it is safe to do so. Okay, there are a few more things than that, but you get the idea.

Just by living, everyone on the planet produces an environmental impact. Fact! I know because I have a background in Environmental Science, Impact Assessment, Management and Auditing.

But I can’t see anyone wanting to give up electricity or their gadgets any time soon to live in a cave, so this means we all have to find better and more efficient ways to use what we have now. Technology and development are playing a big part in achieving this, but things could be better!

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Just think of this. The world has a current population of over 7 billion people. However, planet Earth only has enough resources to support 1.5 billion people if everyone had the same lifestyle as Americans, Australians or Europeans (check out this post about ‘Miniature Earth‘ to put things into perspective).

Many companies have taken sustainable tourism on board. Airlines now offer an option where you can offset the carbon emissions of your flight by paying them to pay someone to plant a few trees to soak up that extra carbon. Hotels ask you to use the same towel for a couple of days they don’t have to use as much washing powder and water. It all adds up, especially now where there are a lot more people trying to share the same amount of resources of the planet.

Sustainable Earth

On the other hand, some companies have unscrupulously  ‘green washed’ their activities, meaning they’ve used the term ‘sustainable’ as a marketing tool, rather than actually work out on how to reduce their environmental footprint. If it looks like a turd, and if it smells like a turd… it doesn’t matter how hard you polish a turd, it’s still a turd!

For me, if something is sustainable, this should mean that this activity should be able to occur forever without exhausting a resource, or trashing the place that makes people want to go there. So when you see any activity, ask yourself this question – ‘if it keeps going like this, can it happen forever?’

The term ‘sustainable’ is creeping into all sorts of documents these days, and ironically this reporting is produced in large annual reports which probably took a few hectares of Amazon rainforest to produce!

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However, I came across a funny graph which pokes a bit of fun at the term ‘sustainable’.

Sustainable Tourism! Ha ha, too funny because it’s true!

This graph that I’ve come across isn’t specifically related to sustainable tourism, but I think it’s a great tongue in cheek interpretation of how the word ‘sustainable’ has crept into almost every corporate document known to man!

Sustainable Tourism Definition And Meaining

So in about 100 years, this post will evolve to only have the word ‘sustainable’ as the only word in the entire article. Awesome. Not!

So the next time you see the world ‘sustainable’ used in any sentence, have a think out it first – things may not be what they seem!


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