If you’ve planned an overseas holiday in the last few years, you would have noticed that the marketing pitch on everything from tours and activities, to hotels and car hire now includes the label ‘eco’, ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ somewhere on the page.
A National Geographic survey in 2019 found that of 3,500 people surveyed, 42% would be willing to prioritise sustainable travel in the future, however, 15% of these travellers were unfamiliar with what the term realistically involves.
Sustainable travel is a big concept with big outcomes, but when you think about it, it’s actually kind of simple: it’s about balancing our thirst for experience and exploration with our inevitable impact.
Is it just more greenwash to get us to buy a holiday we’re told is good for the planet? Or is it a necessary shift in awareness? If you’ve ever pondered this, then you’re certainly not alone.
The impacts of tourism on planet, people and profit
Whether we like it or not, tourism changes a destination. As soon as a traveller steps onto new soil, interacts with the local community and participates in the economy, the destination is altered. Change is inevitable, but as conscious travellers, we do have the power to ensure it is hopeful and positive instead of devastating.
Unfortunately, the way the tourism industry currently operates means that the impact of our travels cannot truly be zero. For example, air travel alone has a hugely detrimental impact on the environment and there are plenty of sustainable travel operators across other sectors who don’t concern themselves with the consequences of their actions.
If you’re wondering how your holiday can affect a destination, there are both negative and positive impacts of tourism over time:
Examples of positive change:
- Job creation in developed and under-developed communities
- Improvements to local infrastructure
- Economic stimulation
- Increased awareness of environmental issues like rainforest deforestation and animal protection
- Cultural preservation of art, language, buildings and history through education
Examples of negative change:
- Mass produced souvenirs that out-price local artisans and increase land-fill waste
- Multinational developments that shift profits off-shore rather than stimulating local economy
- “Feels like home” eateries (think Starbucks and McDonalds) push out smaller family-owned and operated establishments
- Pollution and habitat destruction
- A sole dependency on tourism for jobs and wealth
A simple guide to sustainable travel
Whenever we’re planning to travel, we all need to ask ourselves one simple question: how can I minimise my negative impact, and dial up my positive impact with my choices?
Before you go
From an individual perspective there’s a myriad of things we can do to leave a lighter footprint when we travel. For example, shifting to a ‘quality over quantity’ mentality; packing more sustainably; and learning how to offset our flight carbon footprint – either directly with the airline, through a reliable offsetting organisation, or both.
Research sustainable travel alternatives
The most effective way to travel sustainably, however, is to research tourism operators – including airlines, tour providers, hotels and resorts – and choose those who are standing proudly at the forefront of change, providing hope, education and responsible travel options. There are plenty of innovative businesses around the world that meet this criteria and prioritise sustainability, of the local environment and community, over all else, including profit.
Balancing luxury with sustainability (it’s easier than you think!)
From resorts that offer farm-to-table dining, to those powered by their own microgrid or constructed entirely from recycled materials; there are plenty of inspiring earth-loving examples to choose from.
But If you’re thinking sustainable travel means roughing it, think again. Soneva and Bawah Reserve are two resorts that operate in the sustainable-luxury space, and are considered world leaders when it comes to co-existing with the natural environment.
Read more: The Essential Guide To Sustainable Travel
Offsetting carbon emissions
The Soneva Group has been carbon neutral since 2008. They were the first hotel group to measure all three scopes of carbon. The industry standard is to measure scopes one and two, which are carbon footprints from energy consumption. Whereas Soneva also measures air travel, freight, ground travel, food, waste, paper and water consumption.
To offset all three scopes and direct and indirect C02 emissions across its operations, including carbon created by visitors using air travel to reach its resorts, Soneva applies a 2% carbon levy to all bookings.
The carbon tax levy has directed roughly $8 million into various projects that include building wind turbines in India, planting trees in northern Thailand and providing fuel-efficient cook stoves in war-torn Darfur and rural Myanmar.
Sustainable resort design
Situated 300km north-east of Singapore at the southern end of Indonesia’s Anambas Archipelago, Bawah Reserve is an intimate, luxuriously-sustainable retreat that has been designed with the preservation of their local habitat in mind.
The resort team worked alongside renowned architect, Sim Boon Yang (founder partner and director of eco.id), to create a design that strikes a harmonious balance luxury and modernity, while upholding its strong and sustainable approach towards the resort and its natural surroundings.
Bawah Reserve is the first island group in Indonesia to be powered by a microgrid that sources energy from renewable sources on the island. Every mechanical process, from recycling stones to breaking boulders, has been done by hand. Water is sourced on the island and recycled as drinking water, and the entire resort was hand-built from sustainable bamboo and other recycled material such as driftwood and copper.
Reducing plastic pollution
Eight million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year, killing marine life, entering the human food chain, and costing $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. According to the UN, if current rates of pollution continue, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
Bawah Reserve bans single-use plastic on the island, including straws, and offers guests handmade bamboo straws instead. Their dedicated eco-committee has also implemented a waste management program that includes recycling, filtering and bottling all water onsite in reusable glass bottles, and running a beach clean-up once a week.
Soneva has a target of zero waste and already recycles 90% of its solid waste, with glass, food waste, jungle trimmings and polystyrene all processed onsite. Now the focus is on tackling the last 10%, which includes small amounts of plastic, paper, cloth and Tetra Pak packaging.
As part of their ‘Soneva Maker Programme’ and in partnership with global grass-roots initiative, ‘Precious Plastic’. Soneva recycles plastic that washes onto the resorts’ pristine shores, inviting guests to get creative by making a range of useful products like flower pots and even surfboards.
Read more: 6 Lifestyle Hacks For Going Plastic Free
People are always going to want to explore the wonders of the planet. Sustainable travel allows us to do so without wreaking havoc on the environment, so we can preserve the planet for future generations.
Opening our awareness is a step in the right direction, and after all, for sustainable travel to make an impact we don’t need a few people doing it perfectly. We need everyone playing their part, each in their own small way.