It is no secret to most that I am just as much an environmentalist social-justice advocate as I am a globetrotter. However, these identities can easily contradict each other.
As I discussed in my guide to sustainable travel, tourism is a powerful industry, yet it is without a doubt responsible for widespread wildlife, cultural, and environmental destruction. As travel is now becoming more affordable and accessible, it is crucial that we address this now.
As the United Nations just declared 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism and Development, it couldn’t be more timely that I’ve partnered with Visit.org, an organization dedicated to the sustainable empowerment of local communities. I am so excited to be a part of a team of ambassadors dedicated to responsible tourism on an individual and systemic level.
Why Sustainable Tourism and Development Matters
At the end of 2016, the UN’s general assembly declared 2017 was the year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. But how do sustainability and tourism connect, you may ask?
Well, first of all, the tourism industry addresses the three pillars of sustainability: economic, social, and environmental. So sustainability is just as much about culture and communities as it environment.
Currently, sustainability accounts for nearly 10 percent of GDP, generating $7.2 trillion. In a perfect world, tourism profit would further strengthen local communities. Sadly, leakage occurs when profits leave communities after outsourced expenditures (ex: UK company based in Thailand, and money goes back to UK instead of local community).
Tourism plays an important role in the UN’s sustainable development goals, and especially with the recent Paris Agreement becoming international law. The UN states this year will promote:
- “Inclusive and sustainable economic growth;
- Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction;
- Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change;
- Cultural values, diversity and heritage; and
- Mutual understanding, peace and security.”
The UN will meet in Madrid on Jan. 18 to further discuss issues such as promoting environmentally-friendly guidelines for hotels, reducing carbon emissions from airlines and cruises, and protecting natural and cultural heritage.
Now, this is a step in the right direction on a systemic level, individuals need to act to. It’s time for travelers to take responsibility.
I even have to call myself out a bit here. It’s time to match my values with my actions, and truly make the effort to be a more sustainable traveler. As I previously stated in a piece for Amanda’s Wanderlust:
“Going forward, I am committed to holding hotels more accountable by asking them about their environmental policies, ensuring that they are thoughtful and robust. I will continue to use my purchasing power to support local economies. As a proponent of “slow travel” I will continue to travel less, and utilize more eco-friendly forms of transportation. Lastly, I will use my blog as a platform to promote this commitment and paradigm shift in the tourism industry.”.
There are several other ways to reduce your environmental footprint while on the road, including carbon offsetting for flying, buying local, and reducing plastic.
What Visit.Org Does
However, is simply carrying a water bottle around and taking the bus every so often really all that impactful? Well, not so much if travelers do nothing to interact with the local community.
That’s why I find the work at Visit.org so important. The company connects travelers to “do-good” organizations around the world for a mutually beneficial experience. Travelers get to experience a slice of authentic culture, while 100 percent of host revenue is invested back into the local community.
I heard of Visit.org from a few different friends, which was why I was really excited they took me on as a travel ambassador. I will be helping adding to their global network of organizations, which must a meaningful and sustainable set of criteria.
From local artistic and music workshops in Brazil to exploring Green spaces in New York City, Visit.org’s network stretches across 60 countries. I’m hoping to contribute to that number by bringing more organizations on board, especially as I’m about to return to Europe.
So if you’re still in need of a New Year’s resolution, join me in committing to sustainable tourism and empowering local communities. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a community far from home; it could be finding how to be a more sustainable citizen in your own neighborhood.
I’m excited to be working with Visit.org to show that travel and sustainability can coexist.
*I am part of the ambassador program with Visit.org. As always, opinions are genuine and my own.