Aug 26, 2010

What if Sustainable Tourism?

Sustainable tourism is similar to ecotourism that tries to protect the area’s natural environment but goes a step further to include the culture and other aspects of a location. To me it means to keep my tourist dollar in the local community and supporting the various aspects of the place I am visiting.

We often forget that our holidays are spent in other people’s homes and sometimes give little thought to the impact we have on our destination, its people, culture, economy, and environment. There are several easy ways to ensure the destination benefits from tourism.

Here are some things John and I try to do. We try to learn about the culture, politics and economy before we leave home. It always amazes us how much people know about our country and how little we know about theirs. We try to learn a few words such as “Hello” and “Thank You.” People really appreciate our feeble attempts to speak their language.

There are many ways to participate in the culture of an area. We like to participate in cooking experiences. Most cooking experiences share historical or cultural aspects of the food. “This is what we make to take to a neighbor if they have a death in the family,” we were told during a recent cooking experience in Turkey. We like to stay in really nice hotels but rarely eat dinner at the hotel. Usually the food has been internationalize and is expensive. We prefer to go to the small local cafes. My favorite places to buy food are the delis where the food is visible and is what the locals eat.

I am not a shopper but visiting local craftspeople helps to learn about the local economy and traditional handicrafts. By purchasing in markets and from vendors it keeps the money in the local economy and helps people keep their job. Bargaining is expected in many cultures, but it is easy to get carried away trying to find the best deal. We try to remember that small amounts of money to us could equal the cost of an entire family’s meal that night.

When we purchase tours we try to do it locally. In Cambodia we had an excellent afternoon tour of Angkor Wat by a local guide from an agency that is working to be as sustainable as possible. The tour included a visit to a local village and orphanage. It is not recommended to give money to beggars but giving to the local orphanages is an excellent way to get money directly to those in need.

John and I favor the Slow Travel concept. Our hurried concept of time is not the same in other cultures and local people’s patterns differ from our own. Try to do like the locals if only for a day. We sit in the parks and talk to the locals.

Sustainable tourism includes ecotourism so we are aware of our ecological footprint. We try to reuse water bottles, don’t buy wildlife products, turn off lights, and air conditioners.

We try to respect local cultures and contribute to intercultural understanding and tolerance. It is important to preserve the very things that make travel so interesting. Remember: Everyone smiles in the same language. The world is a fascinating place.