Sustainable tourism... great term isn't it? What does it mean? We think it's different from eco-travel... different from "green" travel.
Green travel implies that you're protecting the environment...
We're the first to support that...
We've written about and advocated that too.
Sustainable tourism is more about protecting the cultures we're visiting as well.
We need to respect local cultures....
You're traveling to experience something different, so embrace the "differentness".
What I'm trying to say is you don't want to "screw up" the cultures that you traveled to see.
Or I guess it would be better asked... How do you practice it? Here's what we think.
Don't just go and observe in places you visit. Chat with the locals. You are going to meet new and friendly people that way.
Treat locals with respect. You went there to learn about their culture!
Learn a few words... at least hello, good-bye and thank you. You'll be surprised how far that goes.
Be open to our cultural differences.
...so you don't offend anyone.
You don't have to wear a shalwar camise like I did in Pakistan...
But when I did, all the ladies at the wedding loved it.
They even gave me a special shawl to wear.
There are some that will offed your hosts if you're not careful.
Hand gestures vary greatly in their meaning around the world.
What means "A - OK" in one country can have a very rude or vulgar meaning in another.
Pointing at religious or burial sites was rude in Madagascar...
And we couldn't always tell what we shouldn't be pointing at... so we "knuckle pointed" at everything... that way we wouldn't forget.
In developing countries, arts and crafts are sometimes the only way to make a little extra. Tourism is a main source of income. Support the local people so they profit from your being there.
Buy Local Not Imported - If you go someplace and find wonderful native handicrafts, buy some of those handicrafts from locals so they get the money.
Look in Co-ops, government sponsored stores or even the woman selling things on the side of the road.
We found these in the Central Market in Maputo and met the artist. How special is that?
Employ Locals - If you're visiting a national park to see wildlife, employ locals as guides and porters so they will continue to value and protect the park.
When we went to see Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, the local people wanted to carry our day packs for us.
We didn't need to have anyone carry these light packs... but we hired them anyway.
Making money from tourists who came to see gorillas made the gorillas more important to them.
Maybe they could make more from protecting the gorillas and their habitat than buy cutting down the rain forest.
If we all try to make these small efforts, they add up!
Stay at a hotel that is locally owned and operated if possible.
That way the profits stay in the community. If not, is it at least staffed by local employees? Does the hotel buy local produce for their restaurant?
The bottom line is, to have sustainable tourism, the local community needs to benefit.
Do they have a strong connection with local companies?
Have they helped local communities?
Are the groups small?
Smaller group sizes make less of an impact... and make for a more enjoyable tour for you!
Is the group lead by a local guide?
Does the tour company contribute to the local community in some way?
When we take tours, they are usually custom tours, and we often try to set the tour up with a local tour operator.... not only does this save us money, but it ensures that more of the money stays local.
It's a little more work because it involves more e-mailing, and it generally means we have to wire money to them, but we think when we can do this it has benefited everyone.
These get back to all those green travel, eco-friendly tips...
When hiking, stay on marked trails.
Maintain safe distances from any wildlife you encounter... for your safety AND for theirs.
"Leave only footprints"... carry your trash out or use trash bins.
If you're snorkeling or diving, don't touch the coral.
Be careful with your fins, it's easy to kick the coral if you're not paying attention or to stir up sediment. Either way you can damage the reef's fragile ecosystem... and most reefs are in trouble now, so they need all of our help.
Our favorite dive resort will not let you wear gloves... they think that even responsible divers might forget and touch something with gloves, but not bare hands.
Don't buy souvenirs or other products made from endangered animals or plants. You probably can't get it through customs, and if you believe in sustainable tourism, you don't want to contribute to the extinction of another species!
Show the people you are visiting that they are important.
In Kenya, we once had the pleasure of visiting a school.
Little did we know that there would be a whole school program in our honor, and that we would be asked to speak.
Mark took the opportunity of telling the children what a great county they lived in and how much the whole world valued the amazing animals that they were lucky enough to live with.
Everyone wants to know that you think their culture is important,
--what they make is important and
--the animals they live near are important.
Support all of this, and you’ll be contributing to sustainable tourism.