The concept of “eco-tourism” has evolved into sustainable tourism. There are ways today to be a responsible tourist by helping to alleviate the stress on our planet’s remaining biological habitats and unique cultures. Sustainable tourism is really an equal relationship between those that manage destinations like hotels and those of us that go to visit them.
In the early 1980’s, the concept of “eco-tourism” was introduced. This term generally refers to travel in fragile or pristine habitats, where a small human footprint helps to preserve these natural areas for generations to come. The focus of eco-tourism is on respecting local cultures as well as conserving the environment.
Yosemite in California is a prime example of tourism run amok. Too many people crowded into the Yosemite valley over the last century and disrupted the environment to the point that stringent measures had to be employed to save this wilderness. Congestion from vehicles frightened wildlife and also impacted the air quality. Too many hotel and campsites created a problem with waste management. Today, you have to literally make an appointment to see much of Yosemite and the number of annual visitors is regulated.
By the mid-1990’s UNESCO was spearheading an effort to support responsible tourism worldwide. UNESCO is an arm of the United Nations that “promotes collaboration among nations through education, science, culture and communication to further universal respect….” UNESCO sponsored an organization called ITR and they, in turn, created a responsible tourism system (STR). Since 1995, this organization has granted sustainable tourism awards to different hotels around the world.
The concept of eco-tourism has now reached new heights. Tourism is an enormous worldwide industry and its growth is expected to increase. The world’s remaining sensitive habitats and cultures can’t successfully tolerate too much more human impact. ITR believes that responsible tourism is the way of our future. Those that make a living from tourism like owners and operators, transportation companies and community services need to also support environmental integrity, social justice and economic development in these pristine areas.
Responsible tourism means supporting these entities. Eco-lodges are quite prevalent today and they don’t necessarily involved thatched roofed huts, recyclable towels and mosquito netting to keep the bugs at bay. Many of these lodges in the world are very luxurious and have managed to make a successful marriage between the needs of humans and the needs of the environment.
There are major hotel properties that have been designed by IRT as biosphere hotels. The Melia Hotel in Barcelona, Spain and the Four Seasons Resort Maldives are both recognized by the IRT for their conservation efforts. There are also hotels that have not been recognized but are doing their part to limit their impact on our resources. For example, The Trump Soho New York Hotel uses 100 percent renewable energy.
The next time you travel, consider shrinking your foot print. Before you travel, investigate your destination and select lodging that meets your needs but is a good neighbor to its community and country. You wield a lot of power in how you spend your dollars!