By Jennifer Birch, Writer
For many explorers who thrive on wanderlust, the current state of travel and tourism today is a disappointing outlook. As COVID-19 persists along with restrictions in place to curb its spread, tourist businesses have struggled. Across Asia, some countries were hit harder than others at the peak of the pandemic. Countries like the Philippines rely heavily on tourism with a whopping 12.7% of its GDP in 2018 coming from that industry alone. Between February and April of last year, the Philippines lost Php 42.9 billion, spelling disaster for the tourism industry. Other countries in the region suffered similar fates, with Indonesia losing as much as 13.5% of tourist arrivals in 2020.
While these losses are devastating, they have also shed light on the excessive and unsustainable practices that come from the tourism industry. As we slowly anticipate more travel opportunities in the coming months, the question of how to make travel more sustainable is also being considered.
The Effect of Travel and Tourism on Climate Change
In the last couple of years prior to the pandemic, international tourism had grown exponentially. This contributed to climate change significantly as the UNTWO predicts carbon emissions from travel to rise by 25% by the end of the decade. Most of these emissions come from aviation as more people are enticed to explore different parts of the world.
While tourism is generally good for a nation’s economy, recent years have shown an oversaturation of people and activities in tourist destinations. Attractions such as whale shark watching in Oslob are oversaturated with tourists that it has caused adverse effects on the animals’ natural feeding and migration patterns. There have also been reports of elephants being abused in Thailand to sit still for photographs.
These detrimental effects on climate, animals, and the environment highlights how the status quo of tourism cannot be sustainable for the future.
Tips on Making Travel More Sustainable
Given the current state of tourism now, more sustainable ways of traveling have to be implemented to ensure no social or environmental damage occurs.
1. Reducing Carbon
Offsetting emissions is one of the most immediate solutions that can address climate change due to travel. Travel agencies and airlines need to make major adjustments to accomplish this, such as offering more cost-effective routes, swapping flights for train trips, and investing in clean energy.
People are also encouraged to fly less, spend longer times in destinations, support eco-friendly tourist attractions, and enjoy locally sourced food and other products. While it isn’t a permanent solution, these efforts can go a long way in reducing one’s carbon footprint when traveling.
2. Choose Sustainable Accommodations
Hotels used to be the default choice for accommodations when traveling, but that is no longer the case. Not only are there sustainable hotels across Asia, but travelers are also spoiled for choice with short-term rentals, bed and breakfasts, hostels, homestays, and more. Some of these places feed into their natural ecosystem while others offer ecotourism programs for visitors. Minor Hotels Group Director of Sustainability and Conservation John Roberts has even said that outdoor-centric activities provide safer, low-risk environments, putting ecotourism at a greater advantage. With a little bit of research, travelers can find comfort and luxury in places other than hotels for a fraction of the price and with more sustainable practices to boot!
3. Save Resources
Each traveler plays a part in contributing to the sustainable growth of the tourist destination. By being mindful of your consumption of water and reducing plastic and food waste, you can make a big difference. Bring or purchase a reusable water jug and food container, and try to keep showers short. These are also habits you can continue once you’re home to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
A reinvigorated tourism industry will be a very welcome change after months of being shut in. The ITB Community’s feature on the Travel Economy in 2022 details some of the changes to be expected as people start traveling again, including an emphasis on health and hygiene, a preference for point-to-point flights, and unique stays and experiences. Many more of these changes can support the movement for sustainable travel, so we can experience it for many more generations to come.