eco tourism

5 Ways That Responsible Travel Is a Cure for Overtourism

eco tourism

A new era: Eco-tourism and responsible travel

With the growth of ecotourism increasingly outpacing that of traditional sun and sand tourism, responsible travel has become a recognizable effort these days. For those of us looking to travel more sustainably, it’s important to understand what that means and why we do it.

Broken down to its most basic elements, responsible tourism is travel that works to curtail the negative impacts of tourism while also promoting the positive contributions it can have. This effort has grown rapidly in recent years, largely in response to mass tourism and its negative consequences, which are collectively known as over tourism.

Overtourism is what happens when destinations become too popular to be sustainable in the long-term. Hordes of tourists come in to take advantage of low prices and wonderful weather, then leave a mess in their wake. There are negative impacts on the local environment, the local economy (budget travelers don’t spend much money), and the local people (who lose affordable housing opportunities). The experience is not appreciative, but exploitative.

eco tourism

As examples of over tourism have grown, responsible travel has developed into a positive alternative. As travelers, we now have the choice to protect the environment and uplift the communities that welcome us. We can be the cure for the ills that mass tourism has caused. Here’s how:

Responsible Travel Minimizes Negative Impacts on the Environment

Mass tourism has traditionally had little regard for its damaging effects. Ship anchors broke coral reefs. Unchecked development destroyed ecosystems. Pollution amassed on the outskirts of pristine locations. The tourism strategy was focused on maximum revenue at any environmental cost, and unaware tourists came by the droves.

But responsible travel has turned that approach on its head. Now, responsible tour companies participate (and often lead) in protecting local environments. Eco-lodges strive to blend in with the environment, with minimal footprint and maximum exposure to nature. Profits have taken a backseat to sustainability, yet companies thrive because upscale travelers will pay more for exclusive, immersive experiences.

Without these ongoing changes, travel as an industry will prove unsustainable. The pressures of our modern lifestyle on the planet have already proven too great. So it only makes sense that those of us who appreciate the world should move about as respectfully as we can. True responsible travel outfits have made doing that easy.

Responsible Travel Stops the Exploitation of Local Communities

Any type of tourism in which locals represent cheap labor and cultural voyeurism is not okay. Unfortunately, mass tourism destinations often involve the exploitation of humans and animals alike.

Through responsible tourism, locals have begun to truly be the face of the places in which they live. They lead the tours. They give workshops, lectures, and demonstrations of traditional practices. They help to create conservation initiatives, and actively participate in the visitor experience. In turn, a sense of pride and self-determination enlivens local communities.

If people are treated unfairly, then our tourist dollars are spent in vain, and our international experiences are inevitably destructive. Travel needs to be a celebration of both people and place. Responsible travel is a movement towards recognizing the value of those communities who are kind enough to share themselves and their homes.

eco tourism

Responsible Travel Embraces the World’s Leading Employer

It is important to recognize that tourism is the planet’s most prominent employer, accounting for over 10% of jobs globally. The industry is especially pertinent in developing nations, where foreign money can potentially strengthen local economies.

Traveling responsibly helps to make tourism a constructive force that benefits the ecology and economy. Rather than visitors misusing wealth advantages, money is invested into real infrastructure improvements on a local level. Homegrown businesses are supported, impoverished communities are empowered, and truly beneficial trade takes place.

Vilifying tourism as an industry won’t put the ills of the world any closer to being resolved. Instead, with responsible tourism, there is an opportunity to set an example for what sustainable, ethical business practices can be. Responsible travel creates winning results for everyone involved.

Responsible Travel Develops the Right Kind of Infrastructure

Developing infrastructure is typically viewed as positive. But, as with most things, there are good and bad ways of going about it. Unchecked development causes environmental damage, both through site demolition and material importation. It’s exclusive rather than inclusive. It’s short-sighted as opposed to forward-thinking.

Tourism built around the idea of respecting people and places intrinsically moves towards the right kind of infrastructure. The environment is treated as a treasure to protect, not an obstacle. Materials are sourced sustainably and locally. Local people are valued as contributors and leaders in the development, rather than voiceless bystanders.

When infrastructure is developed this way, over tourism is inherently thwarted. Rainforests aren’t bulldozed to put up concrete resorts that serve imported food. People aren’t marginalized into characters of themselves but are active accomplices in development efforts. Growth occurs slowly, organically, and non-invasively. 

eco tourism

Responsible Travel Provides Travelers with Authentic Experiences

Tourism was once synonymous with “vacationing.” It usually involved a half-day drive to the nearest beach town with the family for some fun in the sun. It involved all-inclusive resorts, tacky gift shops, and all-you-can-eat buffets. Experiencing the local flavor was never the point.

Mass tourism has always isolated the traveler from the resident. But responsible travel strives for the exact opposite. Nowadays, travelers can truly see nature as it is, meet people as they are, and delve deeply into local customs and traditions. Through this immersive approach, travelers grow in their knowledge of place and culture, and they leave with far more than just a tan and a souvenir t-shirt.

Overtourism ultimately creates a divide between foreign and native cultures. Relationships are based on needful interaction—a drink order, a taxi ride—rather than meaningful cultural exchanges. In this regard, responsible travel provides participants with much more relevant vacations. There can still be fun in the sun, but it comes with a side of enlightenment!  –Jonathon Engels

BIO: Jonathon Engels is a traveler, writer, and vegan gardener. Born and raised in Louisiana, he has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in between. His interests include permaculture, cooking, and music. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.