Tourism for Tomorrow: Will you help redefine tourism? | Amanda's Wanderlust

Will you help redefine tourism?

One of my greatest pleasures is travel. It has helped make me who I am; a global citizen, open and tolerant to difference (I hope). It has helped me to cope with bereavement and divorce, made me more compassionate, and inspired a career dedicated to reducing our impact on the environment. But as an environmental practitioner I face a significant dilemma about travel – I am passionate about wanting to explore the world but increasingly concerned about the impact of tourism. That’s why I’m reaching out to you today to ask you to join a conversation about how we can redefine tourism …

Previously a luxury preserved for the wealthy, tourism is now more accessible than ever. And that is a wonderful thing. Travel helps us become good global citizens, aware of global processes and environmental issues, sensitive to other belief systems, and able to contribute positively to environments, communities and cultures beyond our own.

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The tourism industry offers meaningful employment to 1 in 11 people around the world and is a vital source of income for emerging nations. Tourism can be a mechanism for combatting poverty and aiding human development. It can help protect the environment from damaging developments, like logging or mining. Income from tourism can fund nature conservation programmes and lead to the protection of endangered species, because tourists will pay to see them.

The freedom to travel is a wonderful thing. I’m not knocking it and I don’t take it for granted, especially as a British passport holder, with one of the most powerful passports in the world (for now at least). The ‘right’ to travel is even enshrined in international law as a human right, thanks to the United Nations.

But if we want to go on enjoying the benefits of travel and tourism it is time for a wake-up call. We need to redefine tourism…

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The global reach and expansion of tourism has led to a deepening of its environmental impacts. The rapid growth in aviation, as flights became more affordable, has led to a massive increase in greenhouse gas emissions associated with travel. This presents a major challenge to any claim from the tourism industry to be environmentally sustainable.

Tourism can and does have negative impacts on the environment at every scale, from the local to the global. Alongside climate change, concerns include resource use, pollution, and waste. We have even seen a growth in types of tourism that can only be described as consuming nature, from the commodification of wilderness to the more sinister slaying of Cecil the Lion and the rise of trophy hunting.

The sector’s environmental impact has begun to pose a risk to its own future and the livelihoods of those who depend upon it. This is indeed a critical moment in the development of travel and tourism.

Tourism for Tomorrow: Will you help redefine tourism?

Tourism for Tomorrow

The industry is starting to respond. Environmental responsibility is now firmly on the agenda at major tourism conferences like World Travel Market. Many travel organisations are working to find and share solutions to these complex issues, such as the World Travel and Tourism Council, The International Ecotourism Society, the World Legacy Awards, and Responsible Travel.

Travel companies are putting measures in place to reduce the footprint of their tours or to provide added value to host communities. But the degree of importance they place on it, and the extent to which it really influences operational practices, is still varied. Until consumers start to demand real improvements, some companies will be reluctant to make the investments required, as it does impact on their profit margins to do so.

There is also a danger that some of the claims made by travel companies could be superficial, what we might call ‘green-washing’. Or that without independent auditing they don’t fulfill their aims to reduce impact on the natural environment, but merely serve to improve the public image of the industry.

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Role of consumers

Until we as consumers demand the industry cleans up its act, the sustainability of travel and tourism will continue to hang in the balance. The future of tourism depends on the environmental and ethical demands of us as consumers. That is what will push the green agenda forward. The extent to which we are willing to purchase on the basis of genuine environmental policies, action and certifications (even if it costs more) will be what defines tourism for tomorrow.

And sustainable tourism may need to cost more. So far much of the industry has failed to internalise negative environmental externalities into the cost of travel services. That is to say, we are not paying the true cost of travel. As long as this continues, it is not in the best interests of travel companies to minimise their environmental impact or maximise efficiency.

In 2011, the United Nations emphasised that increased consumer awareness about responsible travel was a key driver for greening the tourism industry (UNEP, 2011) and there is plenty of evidence that tourists are increasingly aware of the impact of travel. A survey by the Energy Saving Trust showed that while 80% of households recognised that climate change would impact on them, and was already taking effect, only 22% were prepared to fly less often (Energy Saving Trust, 2007). There continues to be this gap between acceptance and action. A kind of cognitive dissonance.

Merlin Farm | SW Sustainable Tourism

Time to reflect

Maybe it is time to ask ourselves some hard questions.

How do we give back to the communities we visit?

How often do the environmental credentials of the company you are purchasing a flight, holiday or hotel room from, actually inform your purchasing decision?

Do you ask to see an organisation’s environmental policy before you book?

When did you last ask an airline what efforts they are making to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Are you prepared to take longer to travel by sea or train?

Do you check out those eco-claims to make sure they really are robust and supported by evidence? Do you ask if they have been independently audited or look for the presence of certifications?

Are we prepared to pay more so the price reflects the true costs of travel, including the costs to the environment?  Are we prepared to travel less?

Sailing in Poole Harbour

Change is coming, it has to, and we can choose either to lead change or have it forced upon us. Only by working together, can the industry and consumers ensure tourism can develop responsibly while safeguarding the environment.

Will you help redefine tourism?

I’d love to know your views and ideas. Will you join the conversation and help redefine tourism?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Will you help redefine tourism? | Amanda's Wanderlust

This post contains branded video content from the World Travel & Tourism Council and is therefore a sponsored post. However, the views expressed are my own.

Feature image from NASA / National Space Science Data Center via Free Images.


100 thoughts on “Will you help redefine tourism?”

  1. What a great thought provoking post! We hope now that we are able to slow travel that we will have more opportunities to focus on giving back to the communities we visit. After reading this we will also start to think about the environmental impact as well!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your honest thoughts on this and getting us as travelers to think about the impact that our lifestyle has on local communities and the environment. When I travel I make the conscious decision to purchase local products only and try to stay in locally owned & run accommodation. I think it’s so important that the profits go to the local community where possible, to ensure that our visit benefits the region. The other advantage is that buying locally actually helps you learn about local produce and cuisine, which is something I really enjoy.

  3. I do believe that more people are aware of their impact on the world as they travel which is why there are so many more options for consumers to choose. They can choose the one that gives back, they can choose to go to a real elephant sanctuary and not a farm where they aren’t treated well. It is definitely a societal thing that can only change from awareness. So, thank you for posting this!

  4. A lot of really great thought provoking questions here. It can be so easy to just go along with the flow and enjoy things in the moment without really thinking about its impact. I know I’ve definitely done it in my travels but is something I strive to be more aware of moving forward because you’re right. We vote with our dollar and if consumers aren’t willing to put their money where their mouth is then nothing can change.

  5. I attended the Social Good Summit last weekend here in New York City and your post brings up a lot of similar concerns discussed in the summit especially about the environment. I can do a better job with looking more into the environmental credentials of the companies I’m thinking of booking with, but I have no idea what exactly to look for. Would you write about post this? Maybe a guide to help travelers think consciously?

  6. I think this is SO important. We as travellers have a voice we need to put out there and raise awareness of the impact of tourism on local environments. Ive been trying to find tour companies and brands that strive to reduce the impact we leave on this world because I think it’s really important. Great article and thank you for shining light on the subject!

  7. Thought-provoking post. Interesting to see how in the past few years the concept of responsible travel (in terms of the environment and benefit to communities) has been given a huge boost in South Africa. I also recently spent 5 weeks in Botswana, where eco-tourism is big business in a high-value, low-impact model. Of course there are no quick fixes, but it’s great to see so many people becoming aware of it.

  8. Very thought provoking! I noticed recently when I booked a flight that I was asked if I wanted to pay more to help the company become more sustainable. I thought that seemed noble but flawed. For one thing, how many consumers are actually going to choose to spend more on a flight when they already feel that airlines are charging them for every aspect? We are already charged more based on how much luggage we take, where we sit, and which order we board the plane. Secondly, there wasn’t any information provided as to how the company was becoming green. So, while I’m happy some companies are thinking about their environmental impact, it doesn’t seem very well thought out just yet. Definitely a step in the right direction though if companies really are following through!

    1. Thanks Erin. That’s interesting. The company really needed to explain what you were getting for that little bit extra cash and how they were going to spend it, then you would be more likely to agree to pay it.

  9. Excellent article! I feel fortunate to be able to travel as much as I do and I am mindful of the environmental impact. This is something we talk about as a family and wherever we go, we try and leave a destination better than when we arrived. It can be as simple as collecting plastic waste from the ocean in Thailand, garbage on the beach in Hawaii, or contributing to a local reforestation initiative.

  10. What a thoughtful blog post. I think it’s so important to think of the environment, especially when traveling such a long ways to see something unspoiled. I will definitely be using your tips to book tours in the future!

  11. I totally understand what you mean by being conflicted by travelling. It seems everywhere I go, I gain a new appreciation for it but subsequently recognize that I am often contributing to that place’s downfall, whether that be through dilution of the culture or the environmental impact. It is such a catch 22 scenario. Thankfully however, I can see now many travelers making a concerted effort to lessen the negative impacts of their adventuring although I often feel that, however well intentioned, these can be misplaced. A very insightful post.

  12. Your consistent commitment to sustainable travel is inspiring, and I hope to see this become a mainstream conversation in the travel community (bloggers, tourism boards, transportation) and beyond. Sustainability and travel are two of my passions as well, and environmental justice in tourism is something I think about daily while living in Dubrovnik.

    I think “slow travel” and “staycations” can be great alternatives to taking international flights regularly. This also allows you to better connect with the community.

    Keep using your voice, and let me know anything I can do to further get involved in this cause :).


    1. Thanks Tara. Yes sadly it does. But hopefully we can all start to raise a little more awareness about this. I even had to challenge somebody online a few weeks ago who was marketing an attraction that included lion cub petting as eco-tourism!! Not on.

  13. Great article. As someone who has been running a non-profit organization in Uganda since 2005, I’ve seen a big change in consumer behaviour. They do indeed want to use reputable travel companies, but don’t want to pay the premiums that requires. International certifications take resources the local companies don’t have. So the big boys continue to win. Further, with my volunteer placement organization, people used to easily commit to 10-12 weeks stay. Now they want only 1 and 2 week adventures. Carbon emissions (air travel) are the same for both!

    1. Thanks Leslie. That is really frustrating to hear. It is good that consumers are starting to want responsible tourism, but they need to be prepared to pay for it too! That’s a really good point about the volunteer placements too. I hadn’t realised that was the trend. Thanks for raising this.

  14. What a though provoking post – we do need to change our way of thinking and how we impact the environment… thank you for sharing this. Certainly a lot to think about if we all want to continue to enjoy our adventures!

  15. Thank you for putting your views out so beautifully. Thankfully more and more people are beginning to understand the implications of their actions when they travel. Let’s hope that trend continues.

  16. A crucial topic that doesn’t get enough attention! I will keep your food for thought in mind when booking more trips around this beautiful planet. Shared this one around, as it’s so important!

  17. Environmentally, I’m not very sure if I’m really doing my part because one flight alone costs a lot in terms of environmental effects of it. However, I do consciously help the local communities whenever I travel. Restaurants and hotels, I only go to the locally-owned to help the community I’m visiting. I really don’t get it when tourists would rather have a starbucks coffee than a cup from cute, little, familly-run coffeshops. :p

    1. Thanks for your comment Noemi and good to hear that you support local communities that you visit. I totally agree about using family-run coffee shops. If you’re concerned about the emissions associated with your flights you could consider carbon offsetting with a reputable scheme such as Climate Care.

  18. It’s a tough one this and I guess being a little cynical hotels when hotel say ‘please reuse your towels as we are trying to preserve the environment’ I don’t really come feel they come across as genuine as they don’t appear to be doing anything else to encourage sustainability. More companies are starting to have ecopolicies but I feel it is driven more by legislation than a genuine desire to protect. Or am I just too cynical by far?

  19. You bring up some very valid points about the side effects of the worlds increased access to tourism. There are a lot of questions to be answered and sustainability practices that need to be regulated globally in order to ensure that these sites that we all want to experience aren’t destroyed by the very people who want to see them.

  20. This is indeed a very stimulating post. It is always a Catch 22 situation. The World needs tourism, because there are so many stakes involved, But at the same time the beautiful heritage of the world needs to be protected and preserved. This is a mammoth task and all stakeholders including individuals, NGO’s, Government agencies and others need to do their part, so that the balance is maintained.

  21. Great reminder, travel is a wonderful privilege and comes with responsibilities. Tourists often forget that people live in the places that “let loose”, and better care needs to be taken.

  22. Very thought provoking! I take buses or trains, rather than planes, whenever possible (it’s often less stressful anyways!). We also try to as well as staying in eco-friendly accommodations if available and never ask for our linen or towels to be changed on short trips. These are just small things and I am sure that we can do more. This has given me something to think about and work on.

  23. I love this so much! I think for many of us, we just want to inspire people to travel, but it’s so easy to forget the how of it all. How can we visit these different countries and leave a positive, not negative impact ethically and environmentally. Sometimes it’s trickier, like making sure how we get there, where we stay, what we choose to eat are environmentally friendly. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking a tourist to stop smoking in a temple area!

  24. Responsible tourism is a hot topic at the moment and you raise some interesting points Amanda. I know so many people who will only take tours that consciously care for the environment. It’s becoming more and more of an issue as the world becomes smaller.

  25. Really interesting post. Tourism is a double edged sword, and those who are lucky enough to travel have a responsibility to ensure we are having as little negative impact on our destination as possible. I was in the Galapagos Islands last year, and increased tourism is a big problem for the fragile eco-system. I decided to volunteer there for a couple of weeks to help the communities there and to try to tackle some of the invasive plant species that are taking over the native countryside. It is still changing too fast though 🙁

  26. What an incredibly thought provoking article, Amanda! You raise some important points and ask some hard-hitting questions. It really showed me how much I lacked an awareness for the complexity of the issue at hand – hopefully by thinking seriously about this we can translate it into actionable steps.

  27. This is a great reminder that, not only are we very ‘lucky’ to be able to travel but that also that privilege is something we need to respect. Moving forward as travellers, we need to think about how to address the negatives it raises. Thanks for the reminder!

  28. Thanks for such a thought provoking post! This is something I thought a lot about while traveling through Asia because there the environmental impact of the tourism boom of the last decade is so sadly visible. I saw so many bleached reefs and beaches filled with trash all caused by too many tourists and not enough resources to manage. I now try to always take the people and the environment of the location I’m visiting into consideration before I go. Thanks for the reminder!

  29. Preservation of the natural reserves we enjoy these days has got to be our top priority when we travel. It actually makes me sad to see famous tourist spots littered and filled with rubbish. 🙁 Thanks for this eye-opener. I hope more tourists will read this and somehow, do their fair share. Travel responsibly!

  30. This is a fantastic post! I think it’s really important that we as travellers help make travel more sustainable for the future. We are impacting so many different societies and sometimes, not for the better. That video was definitely worth a watch.

    I always thought I was quite a mindful traveller but it looks like I’ve still got a long way to go! Sometimes I forget that having the ability to travel so freely is a privilege.. always good to be reminded. I think your reflection questions are really important, I’m going to try use them when planning my up coming trips.

  31. This is fantastic Amanda. I will absolutely be sharing this plea across my social media channels as I think mindful travel should be more on EVERYONE’s radar, and there isn’t a lot of literature yet out there on the environmental impact of travel. It’s usually dominated by the social impact. Some of these things were already in my conscience but there are other important questions you posed that I haven’t considered like what kind of negative influence my budget traveling ways may have on the world at large. For starters, I love staying at hotels that leave the notecards about not needing to wash all the linens everyday. I think that’s one easy way to reduce emissions!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts Izzy. I’m really pleased you found the post thought provoking. Budget travel is an area that we need to consider for sure, especially cheap flights.

  32. Very interesting post. My reading this is very timely as I was just reflecting on how I wished our current lifestyle allowed us more time for slow travel. Since this is not the case, I was thinking how we can change some of the aspects of our travels now so that we are making a positive impact. I am going to be reading more about this as it is a mind frame I want to pass on to my children. Thanks for sharing!

  33. Something I often think about when I travel.
    A great post and food for thought for everyone.

    On each trip I make I always look out for local bars and craft shops to buy things rather than tacky souvenirs from china and multinational coffee shops. I try to make larger purchases in these places to leave a mark where I tread with local small businesses. Unfortunately I don´t feel that others have the same sensibilities.

  34. Indeed, we are so excited to discover new places that we forget or we don’t realize the impact it has on the planet. I think one of the causes is the fact that we are (generally speaking) looking at ways to make travel cheaper rather than paying more for “green” services. I’m hopeful that the market will evolve and that it won’t be too late…


  35. Not sure I have ever been “ecologically conscious” or necessarily a “green traveler” I have though been a responsible traveler and visitor. More people traveling throughout the world means more impact on various locations. Wherever I travel to, whether on foreign soil or locally I try to leave the place the way I found it. I think this is probably the first step. Too many people traveling these days don’t respect the local customs and practices of the places they visit. From trampling over places and disturbing the wildlife to damaging structure and landmarks, too many tourists or travelers or whatever you want to call them want to leave their mark. They climb on things they shouldn’t, trample on grounds they shouldn’t, carve or write their names on things they shouldn’t, generally act like asshats and leave the places they visit worse than they were. Thirty percent of the Great wall of China is closed due to erosion and tourist damage, Angor Wat is overwhelmed by tourists climbing on fragile ancient structures in an attempt to get a perfect selfie, Millions of tourists sneak flash photos of the Sistine Chapel damaging the paintings and fresco’s, Caves with ancient drawing are damaged, thousands of tourists leaning, touching, “exploring” on their own ancient structures and buildings have damaged and in some cases caused to be permanently close locations. From trampling over turtle nesting beds, damaging underwater reefs, getting that perfect camera closeup of endangered species and generally disrupting everything around them, tourists, travelers, bloggers and selfie takers need to be a little more responsible.

    1. Thanks for your comment Bob. This is a really good summary of exactly the kind of thing we need to challenge. We must always try to leave the place exactly as we found it, unless we can leave it better (by picking up litter for example).

  36. This is a very interesting topic to tackle. I haven’t really thought about it before. I naturally tend to fly from continent to continent and I use other means of transportation to travel within it. But I think redefining tourism is as important as redefining our consumerism in general. Thanks for bringing up the subject though : )

  37. Greenhouse gas emissions are a huge issue and I believe airlines should look for new ways to reduce the impact. Good food for thought.

  38. I really enjoyed this post Amanda, and I agree 100% that we HAVE to start asking those hard questions. As do all who are involved in tourism and travel today, including the policy makers, Destinations, Governments, Hotels… the list goes on. Thanks for bringing additional visibility to this very important topic!!

  39. I’ve just found your page and it is really inspiring. This post is so important. We really need to start thinking of how we travel and the footprints we leave. I also try to stay at locally owned hotels, I prefer to travel by train (when possible).
    I’m a master student of service management and tourism and I really hope to be part of building a more sustainable future. Tourism is such an important activity cause it makes people more open-minded to other cultures, and one learns so much from travelling. It such a shame that we often forget about the future… Thanks again for a great post.

    1. Thank you Cecilia, that is great feedback. Good to hear you are a masters student of service management and tourism. I am interested to know whether the theme of sustainable tourism is very high profile in University programmes today?

      1. Thank you.
        Well, in my Bachelor degree, which I studied in Spain, contained very little sustainable studies. However, my master which I study in Sweden will have a course dedicated to sustainability. I am not sure exactly what we will learn, but I hope (and think) it has a holistic approach and includes every part of sustainability.

        Personally, I look very much forward to this course. Even though I read a lot about the subject in my spare time, I still have a lot to learn. Sustainability should be included in all tourism studies. Supposedly we are the future of this sector and we aren’t prepared, tourism will never change…

        1. Thanks Cecilia and I completely agree! It sounds really promising that you will have a course dedicated to sustainability as part of your masters programme. Once you have got stuck in to it, bear in mind that I am always open to publishing guest posts on sustainable travel here on Amanda’s Wanderlust.

  40. You raise some really important points here Amanda. I will definitely think carefully about how I travel in future. For starters, I think it is going to need to take more time to travel, by rail or sea rather than by air.

  41. Awesome share. Sustainable travel is something that weighs heavily on my mind and how I can travel with a smaller footprint. A lot of times, I operate on the small scale. As in, I bring a water bottle with me everywhere. I try not to consume things that involve unnecessary waste. Less air travel. Things like that. But it is a topic that I would love to be discussed more. So thank you for the post. The more this knowledge and these resources (new to me to explore – thanks!) get out there, the more it weighs on peoples minds every time they plan a trip.

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