“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

Imagine this — holiday vacations in the year 2030: no planes, no luggage, no showers, no air-conditioning, no souvenirs, and suddenly, everyone is vegan.

Quite on the extreme end of the spectrum, and yet over and over travel blogs continue to promote the idea that smaller is better, and that less is more. That is how sustainability ought to be — right? At least that’s what we’ve been told.

Unfortunately, not everyone can live the way the cross-country backpackers do. Perhaps in an ideal world, yes, but in a time of commercialism, conflict, uncertainty, and convenience, the Utopian way is highly impracticable.

Being mindful is as easy as remembering the ABCs, yet somehow, efforts are quickly thrown out the window once out of the comforts of our own communities. 

However, the concept of sustainability has evolved from yet another far-fetched idea, turned buzzword, to an essential way of being in today’s contemporary society. Industries worldwide have made this a focal point, continually improving and changing to adapt and operate in harmony with everyday routines, particularly permeating the trillion-dollar industry that is tourism.

Travel and Tourism as an Industry

The tourism sector, with its several moving parts involving stakeholders of opposing interests, has stolen the show under the global spotlight. In recent years, the industry risks have magnified with its rapid growth and the increasing amount of resources it requires. Thus, local government institutions and organizations worldwide have consciously shifted their focus as they recognize the urgency to improve further and sustain its impacts economically, environmentally and socially.

While the list of dream destinations continues to lengthen, the trend towards eco-friendly practices has simultaneously caught the attention of seasoned and first-time travelers alike. This has influenced their decisions towards choosing the right partners to help guide and facilitate an experience that is both worthwhile and responsible. From sustainably-focused tour operators, hotel accommodations, transportation and more, cities from Europe, stretching all the way to Latin America, have stepped up their game in incorporating eco-friendly practices in all facets of business as an engine for long-term growth and development. 

bay with blue water in Greece

Sustainable Travel and Tourism

According to the World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism is “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.”

Primarily, it aims to minimize the sector’s negative impact while maximizing its benefits. Achieving and promoting sustainable tourism, more commonly known as responsible tourism, is a continuous process of education. If done right, it will reap high rewards that will only further improve overall tourist experiences.

There are feasible ways to curb the consequences of tourism without compromising memorable and meaningful adventures. From preserving cultural heritage in Chile and Peru, to the protection of wildlife in Kenya, learning more about the impacts of tourism has led people to make smarter and more responsible choices during their travels. 

Wildlife Travel and Tourism

While seeking animal encounters can be a fun and educational experience, it doesn’t always have the animals’ best interests.

According to World Animal Protection, more than half a million animal species are held captive and suffer at the hands of animal tourism. Thanks to social media, more tourists are lured into getting the picture-perfect National Geographic-worthy selfie with creatures they only dream of getting up close and personal with.

However, behind the glamour of it all is the grueling process a wild animal goes through for one to be able to pose, hug, ride, or even take a photo with it. What seems to be a harmless cultural experience is the abuse and exploitation of wildlife for entertainment purposes. 

In Phuket, Thailand, spectators can take rides on the elephants for as low as 600 Baht — that is roughly $20.

No matter how well-intentioned the premises for animal tourism are, no amount of money can deny the unacceptable living and working conditions compared to their natural habitats, especially the harsh methods inflicted upon them to dance, jump and stay still.

As early as two months old, calves are shackled and whipped to exhaustion to take orders from their handlers. The same goes for other wildlife creatures such as tigers, lions, rhinos, gorillas, and snakes.

On one end, these animals are being held captive to extinction, while on the other, tourists fail to understand that years of painful discipline still does not ensure their safety.

In China, 2016, a zoo visitor was dragged and drowned by a walrus after attempting to pet and take a selfie with it.

In Bangkok 2017, a tour guide was stomped to death by an elephant after yanking its tail.

In South Africa 2018, a 22-year-old woman was attacked and killed by a lion as she was taking photos at a fenced camp.

These incidents are just a few of the many accidents that happen each year due to careless tourists. Fortunately, countries like Cambodia and Costa Rica are banning the use of animals in circuses and close contact (selfies, petting, feeding, etc.) at zoos or parks. 

Ultimately, taking part in irresponsible animal encounters further encourages abuse, and simply put, with less demand from tourists to engage with animals, the need to continue shows or exhibitions decreases.

More responsible options would be to observe animals from afar in a more natural setting.

Conservatory-types of facilities that allow their animals to roam freely are aimed to sustain the lives and care for their inhabitants, which certainly is a better option for you to check out on your next animal adventure. So, the next time you wish to pull off a Sigmund and Freud, think again — put the cameras down and awe at their beauty from a distance instead.

Conservation of Cultural Heritage 

While wildlife organizations work to bring animal tourism to an end, cultural tourism is a sure-fire way to help boost the local economy. It employs local people and further preserves world heritage sites.

As more people are drawn to authentic experiences during their travels, tourists must be well-informed on how to maximize their trips while being able to do so responsibly and respectfully.  

In 2018, UNESCO (in partnership with National Geographic) launched a new travel platform called World Heritage Journeys to promote sustainable tourism across the European Union. Director of the World Heritage Centre, Mechtild Rössler explains: “Our goal is to change how people travel. Staying longer in destinations, experiencing the local culture and its environment, and gaining a deeper knowledge and appreciation of World Heritage values.”

The initiative encourages tourists to veer away from major tourist hubs and extend their vacation stays to embrace further and immerse themselves into local sceneries. 

As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In a new place, it’s best to get down to the basics and take the road less traveled. For starters, try learning the language and ever