Globally, it will be impossible to achieve 100% sustainable tourism, as every industry has an impact (even a sustainable one). But the good news is we can do better. We can achieve a sustainable tourism model that takes into account tourist satisfaction while prioritizing the environment, communities, and the economy.
Yes, collectively we have come a long way since the world’s first Earth Day in promoting sustainability and environmental consciousness in all areas of society; tourism, economics, development, social institutions, organizations, etc. But there’s more work to do to raise awareness of sustainable tourism.
The problems we face today from mass tourism, such as plastic pollution, biodiversity loss, damage to communities and natural resources, etc., cannot be resolved from one organization alone, nor it cannot be achieved overnight. To achieve long-lasting, sustainable tourism we first need to promote sustainable tourism globally across all levels and sectors. And it starts with you!
If you would like to help out, here are 9 ways to promote sustainable tourism whether you’re an individual or business.
9 Ways to Promote Sustainable Tourism
1. Travel Responsibly to Less-Visited Destinations
Of all the places to see in the world, about 80% of people visit only 20% of destinations, leading to huge rises in overtourism. Venice alone receives over 30+ million tourists per year and is struggling immensely for it. And it’s not just Venice, but dozens of destinations suffering from overtourism:
- Bruges, Belgium stopped advertising day trips to lighten the weekend rush.
- Cities like Paris, Barcelona, Rome, and Amsterdam (along with a dozen other European cities) are fighting Airbnb and limiting the number of beds available in licensed hotels/hostels in order to decrease overtourism.
- Mount Everest, Nepal airlifted out 100 tonnes of waste from receiving over 100,000+ visitors to the region with over 40,000 trekkers.
The sad reality is that our impact doesn’t have a stopping point. It extends to destinations that don’t receive millions of visitors each year. Even extremely remote islands that are uninhabited like Henderson Island are becoming a toxic wasteland polluted because of the effects of overtourism and overconsumption around the world.
Bottom line: Overtourism places such massive pressures on the local populations and the environment that soon there will be irrevocable damage to the places we love.
So how do we combat this?
For starters, we can travel to less-visited destinations around the world. This doesn’t mean we have to stop visiting iconic cities like Venice or Paris. But we can encourage ourselves and others to explore more off-the-beaten-track!
2. Lead by Example
The best way to promote sustainable tourism is to lead by example! When it comes to raising awareness of an issue, it’s always good to take a look at what actionable steps we can take as individuals (or businesses).
To promote sustainable travel and lead by example you should at least practice sustainable tourism yourself. When we want to see change on a big scale, we should focus on starting small!
Here are a few examples of how you can lead by example:
- Say no to fast fashion –> thrift or buy sustainable or recycled clothing instead
- Support the little guys –> instead of giving your money to the $ giants, support your local shops, farms, vendors, etc.
- Reduce your meat consumption or slowly switch to a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle
- Don’t throw out food –> start an organic compost instead
- Avoid plastic packaging and processed foods –> seek out ways to reduce plastic consumption in your life (try going zero waste for 1 month as a trial)
- Don’t drive alone –> when you can, carpool, walk, bike, or take public transport to reduce emissions
- Travel more locally –> take advantage of local travel in your state or country
3. Spread Awareness of Regulations & Laws that Support Sustainable Tourism
While we might have to start and lead the sustainable tourism revolution as individuals, it’s eventually up to governments and policymakers that can enable long-term change on a systematic level.
To lead the world tourism toward a sustainable model, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has created the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Program which, through multi-stakeholder partnerships, aims to mainstream sustainable consumption and production in tourism.
“When responsibly planned and managed, tourism has demonstrated its capacity to support job creation, promote inclusive social integration, protect natural and cultural heritage, conserve biodiversity, generate sustainable livelihoods and improve human wellbeing. As the sector is experiencing tremendous growth, collective efforts to ensure its long-term sustainability are essential.”
-UNTWO One Planet
One Planet is a part of a larger effort under the One Planet network and the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production. One Planet cooperates with over 150 organizations globally. And along with the UN Economic and Social Council, they routinely share detailed reports about their progress in advancing sustainable practices in the tourism sector.
As businesses, we should abide by the policies laid out by these leading institutions and not try to “play the system” or find loopholes in order to turn a profit.
As individuals, this means abiding by the policies and not justifying or partaking in activities while on vacation that are detrimental to the environment, local populations, or wildlife.
Key resources for further reading and reference:
- Making Tourism More Sustainable: A Guide for Policy Makers
- Compendium of Best Practices in Sustainable Tourism
4. Drive the Demand Up!
It’s us – the consumers – who drive the demand up. So when you travel, where you choose to stay, what you buy, and what type of activities you do all determine your “demand.”
Remember when organic produce and dairy in the grocery store was a rarity once upon a time? Now, there’s hardly any market that doesn’t have a dedicated organic aisle.
Just one example of how demand can alter the global market is the increase in demand for organic and dairy milk alternatives. The consumers began purchasing organic milk and its plant-based alternatives so much that standard dairy farmers across the US are increasingly filing for bankruptcy (and that’s in large part thanks to the rise of organic dairy alternatives and veganism).
The market – aka the consumer – is changing. Service providers must change along with trends or they get left behind. The same applies to sustainable products and, yes, even sustainable tourism.
In order to drive demand up for sustainable travel, we have to put our money where it’s most valuable – into sustainable businesses, hotels, activities, and goods and services.
5. Promote Sustainable Tourism with Your Inner Circle
How do you go about sharing “sustainable tourism” with your friends and family? Although it might not be such a sensitive topic as religious differences or political views, it can still become an awkward topic; especially because going from “regular” tourism to sustainable tourism requires a behavioral change at the individual level. And people aren’t always so ready to change their habits.
To do this gently, try to make suggestions and share your personal experiences with whomever you’re talking to. Share small yet impactful insights about what you care about.
So for example, if you care about reducing plastic waste, you might start carrying sustainable straws to use while dining out with family or bringing reusable bags with you to the grocery store to help bag groceries instead of using plastic bags. These little actions can influence the people around you in subtle, yet impactful ways. Instead of arguing about it, you can share the benefits of sustainable tourism as you act with intention.
Sustainable tourism is centralized around these three main pillars:
- Environmental preservation
- Socio-cultural support of local populations/communities
- Economic good standing
There is much more that plays into the meaning of sustainable tourism, but those three are at the heart of its purpose. With that said, if you always get lost about how to share with your inner circle, you can tie these pillars into how sustainable tourism is beneficial for all involved.
6. Donate to Sustainable Tourism Businesses & Organizations
Donating to or financially supporting your favorite sustainable businesses or organizations is a great way to help them continue in their efforts to attain a greener world for all of us.
There are HUNDREDS of sustainable businesses and organizations you can support by donating or joining their cause. I’ll name just a few of my favorites here:
- Patagonia — a sustainable clothing and outdoor brand who led the sustainable fashion revolution.
- The Jane Goodall Institute — an organization dedicated to global education of environmental conservation, founded by my heroine Jane Goodall.
- Coral Gardeners — a French Tahitian organization fighting for coral reef restoration and conservation. You can support their efforts by adopting your own little coral!
- 4ocean — a socially and environmentally-responsible business that makes recycled bracelets from ocean plastic. Every purchase funds the removal of one pound of trash from the ocean and coastlines.
- Sierra Club — founded by environmentalist John Muir, Sierra Club advocates for clean air, water, national parks, and wildlife conservation. You can add your voice to support causes or give a financial donation.
- Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) — an international marine wildlife conservation organization dedicated to tracking down illegal fishing boats, enforcing laws around deep-sea fishing, and exposing and preventing the unlawful killing of whales.
- tentree — a Vancouver-based “Earth-First Lifestyle Apparel” brand that donates 10 trees for every 1 purchase. They have an awesome sustainable backpack I want to buy!
- Allbirds — a sustainable shoe brand that creates their earth-friendly shoes out of New Zealand Merino Wool, castor oil, eucalyptus tree, and sugarcane. I’ve had their women’s tree runners for 3 years and love them!!
- Want more? Click here for an awesome list for more environmentally-friendly organizations & nonprofits.
7. Encourage Business Owners to Be a Part of 1% for the Planet (or Become an Individual Member!)
1% for the Planet is an international organization co-founded by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and outdoorsman Craig Mathews. The goal for 1%FTP is to bring together “dollars and doers” that goes toward funding thousands of environmental programs around the world. Thanks to the 1%FTP community, over $250 million dollars have been donated to environmental nonprofits!
“We’re in business to save our home planet. We aim to use the resources we have – our business, our investments, our voice and our imaginations – to do something about it.”
— YVON CHOUINARD, PATAGONIA FOUNDER
Businesses that join 1% for the Planet commit to giving 1% of gross sales each year to approved nonprofit partners (here’s their member directory). Why is this attractive for businesses? Members can then use the 1%FTP logo on their products to proudly show-off their dedication to environmental causes.
Individuals without a business can also become a part of the movement by donating 1% of their salary or volunteering.
Members around the world can partake in 1% for the Planet so it’s another great way to promote sustainability even in the tourism sector, as brands and businesses will want to be a part of the movement and those that do, often receive a little extra love from the sustainable travel community!
8. Get Involved, Volunteer, & Share Real-Life Examples
By getting involved in sustainable travel you become a direct participant in its global growth and awareness. One of the best ways I like to get involved is through volunteering.
Volunteering is an awesome way to promote sustainable tourism, even on your travels.
You can volunteer for beach and river clean-ups, pick up trash on hikes (inspired by Jackson’s Adventure Bag movement), help inspire recycling programs in local communities, volunteer for environmental programs, community centers, and more!
Ever since we moved to our small beach town in Mexico, we have learned so much more about sustainability and the power it has to transform a community. We’ve attended beach clean-ups, educational workshops, and environmental fairs and have become a part of the sustainable tourism movement.
Whenever you travel, seek out similar community centers and volunteer opportunities that promote environmental awareness! There are even opportunities to get involved in your hometown!
9. Make Sustainable Tourism the New ‘Normal’
Right now, mass tourism is the norm. Anything sustainable has an indication that it is so. Isn’t that interesting? It has to identify itself as different from the norm – because the norm is unsustainable.
Moving forward, we have to start making sustainable travel – and all that it entails – our new ‘normal.’ This implies a few things…
- Refusing to partake in paid activities with animals in captivity.
- Supporting local businesses, shops, vendors, and indigenous populations while traveling.
- Ending our single-use plastic consumption and replacing with reusable/sustainable alternatives.
- Eating at restaurants that source locally from local, regional, and organic farmers.
- Reducing/stopping our consumption of meat products, especially in developing nations where meat consumption is rising exponentially due to foreign demand.
- Supporting eco-tourism and environmentally-conscious tour operators and companies.
- Ending fast fashion.
- Putting a stop to the illegal trade of animals, goods, and products (i.e. refusing to buy animal souvenirs like tortoiseshell bowls…).
- and MORE!
Lastly, try your best! Sustainable travel will not happen overnight. But if we all continue to do our part, eventually we will get there.
There are many more ways to promote sustainable tourism. I hope these 9 can already inspire you to get involved and promote sustainability and responsible travel. You can do these both at home or while you’re on your next trip!
Are there other ways to promote sustainable tourism not mentioned here? Drop your thoughts and suggestions down below!