Sun, Sea and Sustainability

By Beth Raffell, Guest Blogger

Picture this.

It’s 6am and you wake up fresh-faced and bubbling with excitement. You are filled with anticipation as you head to catch your flight where sunshine and adventure await…

Who doesn’t love to travel? Nothing feels better than boarding that plane to a new place where you can relax on a beach, tour new cities and explore an abundance of diverse cultures. It’s difficult to see any issues with the idea of travel and tourism, right?

Tourism has boomed over the last few years, with over 1.4 billion tourists arriving at a destination of their choice every year. With the possibility of travelling to a vast amount of countries at our fingertips and tourist numbers rapidly increasing, our environment and natural resources are falling under immense pressure like never before. Negative impacts on our environment occur when the level of visitors exceeds the environment’s ability to cope with this, posing potential threats to many natural areas around the world.

Large quantities of tourists can cause immense strain on all aspects of our environment such as the land, natural habitats, our oceans, endangered species and water resources. Our planet is suffering and here are some of the ways that tourism is causing this.

Green House gases/Carbon footprint

Tourism is responsible for approximately 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, with tourism transport-related emissions expected to account for 5.3% of all manmade emissions by 2030. Travelling through methods such as air travel and any other transport that functions through the use of fossil fuels is directly contributing to climate change. Planes are particularly bad as they release greenhouse gases directly into the higher regions of the atmosphere and one transcontinental, long-haul flight can leave a carbon footprint that equates to a quarter of an average Western person’s yearly carbon emission in one journey. It is predicted that by 2030, there will be a 25% increase in CO2 emissions from the tourism industry compared to 2016.

Plane vapour trail Photo by Allyson Souza on Unsplash

Water

Water is an essential, natural resource that the planet cannot survive without. However, the tourism industry is known to overuse water resources – especially in peak season – for hotels, swimming pools, golf courses and personal water use for tourists. For example, an average golf course in a tropical country uses as much water as 60 000 rural villagers!

Local resources

An influx of tourists can put an intense strain on local resources such as energy, food and other raw materials, especially in areas where resources may already be scarce. A high demand of resources such as hot water, heating and food occurs even more rapidly during peak season in order to meet the demands of tourists visiting the area. Land resources like minerals, fossil fuels, forests and fertile soils are also put under pressure due to an increased construction need for tourist and recreational facilities. Tourism can lead to soil erosion, increased pollution and natural habitat loss. The degradation of these natural resources and landscapes can also cause the animals that live there to become displaced when their habitats are destroyed or disturbed by the noise. Forests also suffer the negative impacts of tourism in the form of deforestation due to land clearing and fuel wood collection.

Pollution

Transport is one of the largest contributing factors to pollution within the tourism industry through modes of air, rail and road travel, which is increasing in response to the rising number of travellers. Emissions from energy production and energy use are said to be linked to acid rain, global warming and photochemical pollution and transportation energy use can also cause severe local air pollution.

Additional impacts stem from noise pollution from aeroplanes, cars and buses as well as recreational vehicles such as jet skis. Noise pollution not only causes annoyance, hearing loss and stress to the wildlife but to the locals as well. Noise pollution can also cause animals to alter their natural activity patterns which could have serious negative implications for how they survive in the wild.

Waste

Waste disposal has proven to be a serious problem in areas with appealing natural attractions such as popular hiking spots and areas with a high concentration of tourist activities. For example, cruise ships in the Caribbean are estimated to produce more than 70,000 tonnes of waste per year. Trekking areas in the mountains can be left with discarded rubbish and camping equipment by tourists. These actions in areas that are ill-equipped to deal with large amounts of waste/litter can degrade the environment as well as its physical appearance, whilst also being harmful to the local wildlife.

Thai beach photo by Siobhan Flannery on Unsplash

Enter ecotourism

Despite the problematic effects that tourism can have on our environment, there is a way to travel responsibly. Eco tourism is an alternative to our typical way of travelling. Its focus is on travelling responsibly and sustainably, in a way that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and raises awareness of conservation and sustainability. Eco-tourists will usually travel to an unspoiled environment with the goal of connecting with the local ecosystem where tourist facilities are made to blend with the natural environment, food is sourced locally, and waste is managed on-site. Usually, the number of tourists permitted to visit is kept low in order to ensure minimal disturbance to the environment.

So, when thinking of booking your next vacation, why not consider an eco-tourism activity where you can visit unspoilt environments, learn and grow while also giving something back to that destination. If you’re not quite ready to transform into an ecotourist just yet, have a go at adjusting your travelling style to become more responsible and go as green as possible.

A few top tips for travelling green are:

  • Stay in an eco-friendly hotel or resort. This is a great step to do something good for the environment while also experiencing that destination in a way you may never have gotten to see. Options such as glamping, tree-house cabins or glass igloos can be a fantastic and unusual way to spend your time without having to sacrifice your comfort.
  • Be transport-savvy. Unless going on a hiking trip, it is inevitable that you will have to use a few different transport options to get from point A to point B. However, there are transport options that will help to reduce your carbon footprint. For short-haul trips, buses and trains will be your greenest options. Avoid cars and planes when you can, especially if you are travelling solo as one occupant. For longer trips further away, try to take direct flights when available as the biggest carbon emissions occur when taking off and landing. Once on holiday, think green when it comes to your transport choices when exploring. Instead of taxis or cars, opt for public transport, rental bikes or simply opt for a walk and enjoy the local scenery if safe to do so.
  • Say no to single-use! To avoid the unnecessary use of single-use plastics at the airport or while on vacation, bring your own refillable containers for shampoo and other toiletries, prep snacks to take with you on the journey, and you can even take your own set of reusable utensils that you can use when out and about!
  • When you can, keep it local. Choose to shop with local businesses and stay in local hotels. Ditch the large supermarket shop and visit the nearby farmers’ markets, full of fresh produce. This is also a great way to give back to the community.   
  • Be considerate of your natural surroundings. Your presence has an impact, whether hiking through a forest, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef or relaxing on a golden beach. Try not to pick the local flowers and fauna, stick to highlighted paths and walkways to prevent trail degradation, respect the wildlife, and don’t forget to take all your rubbish with you when you leave. Also, when lathering up in sunscreen, why not opt for a sunscreen that will protect the coral reefs as well. Go for a sunscreen that is ‘reef safe’ and free of chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate.
  • “Honey, did you unplug the hairdryer?” Don’t forget to unplug everything in your home and switch off all the lights that could be consuming “phantom” electricity while you’re away or away from the hotel room. This is a great little tip to conserve energy while also saving you some pennies from your electricity bill!

We do not have to stop travelling completely in order to save the environment. Choosing to travel closer to home or on an eco-tourist trip, swapping for more sustainable options while away and being more conscious of our carbon footprint are just a handful of suggestions you can try to make your holiday greener. 

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