Normalizing responsible tourism: the difference our choices make

Photo by WTM

Photo by WTM

Some say that traveling can heal the soul, but at what cost for the environment? What would it take to normalize sustainable choices when we travel and how can we make tourists treat destinations as if they are at home?

Humans generally love being outdoors and connecting with the surrounding nature. We like our beloved local treasures, be it a body of water or a luscious park, to be free of pollution and expect tourists to treat our home turf in the same way that we do. But what is it that makes us forget this when we travel abroad and spend time in someone else’s backyard? Is it that some of us only feel a sense of attachment to what is familiar or that we feel more accustomed to act more responsibly at home?

While traveling, my responsible choices always tend to cause either looks of confusion, some stares or in the best case, smiles on people’s faces. Like when I go to a supermarket and try not to use a bag for my bread and have to hand the loose bread over to the cashier or when on the plane I ask the flight attendant to fill my reusable cup with water or juice instead of using a plastic cup like everyone else.

In moments like this, I definitely can see that my behavioral changes have yet to be normalized into society. I still have to ask the coffee barista twice not to put a plastic lid on my takeaway cup, continue to struggle to find convenience-store alternatives to plastic water bottles, nevermind finding recycling or a cigarette butt disposal bins. If you head to the beach, you’ll find plenty of happy people slathering on sunscreen unknowingly leaving a film of oily residue on the water.

Especially on vacation, I, like many others, admit to taking short cuts for added convenience. But, let’s think of it this way, what if we treated our travel destination as our home? Would we try a little harder to be as environmentally responsible, like using less water when we shower and refusing to buy items that contain single-use plastic?

If you look at it this way, that the whole world is our backyard, then that sense of belonging can be a tangible message to encourage tourists to act sustainably. The interconnectivity that we, as humans, have with the environment and wildlife shapes the ethics of environmental conservation. The lack of personal connection that tourists may have with a destination can lead to an imbalance of this connection. Therefore the best way to encourage responsible tourist behavior is to re-connect tourists with their surroundings and interactions with the environment and wildlife.

This can be put in place by sustainable businesses, tourism operators, transport companies, food producers and even the tourists themselves who can spread awareness on the impacts that tourism has on nature and what can be done to avoid causing harm. This can encourage sustainable behavior as a lifestyle, which is a lesson that tourists themselves can take home. 

Looking to travel sustainably, but don’t know where to start? Download our sustainable travel guide here.