… WHAT ARE WE STILL GETTING WRONG ABOUT THE WAY WE TRAVEL?
We hear a lot these days about being eco, bio, natural, organic and sustainable in many aspects of our lives. People seem to have realized that their small actions do have a huge impact on our environment and that this impact, globally, is mostly negative.
Travel and tourism, being one of the world’s largest industries, play a role in this destruction, too. Thanks to an increasing awareness, the ecotourism sector has emerged, but it is still a niche. Look at the ‘paradise’ destinations and pristine nature: not that pristine and heavenly anymore.
Tons of garbage and plastic on the land and in the oceans, vanishing rainforests and endangered species all remind me of the quote from Michael Jackson’s Earth song: “where did we go wrong?”
We all want to be responsible travelers, go off the beaten track and leave a positive impact out there, but do we really understand a beautiful ecotourism motto that says: “take only photos, leave only footprints”?
Do we all have a clear conscience? I must say I do not and in a several occasions I did not realize I was doing wrong at the time.
These are 5 ideas, which might seem just fine, while in fact they are not!
1. GET AS CLOSE TO NATURE AS POSSIBLE
It might seem you cannot get more eco than that…
We all know that zoos and circuses do not serve animal well being, but when we find ourselves in some exotic destination, there are many attractions involving interaction with the wild species, which at first sight seem quite innocent. Animals are not caged, they are kept in conditions similar to their natural environment plus we are being told our money goes toward their conservation.
These may involve: elephant riding, tiger cuddling, petting newborn cubs, lion walking, visiting cheetah parks, dolphin watching, a photo session with monkey on your shoulder, snake around your neck or even some volunteer work with animals.
We will never be that close to a ‘wild’ species in the wild, so it’s a tempting opportunity for all nature lovers.
But natural instinct of wildlife is to stay away from humans, so this kind of encounter, although exciting for us, is always a source of stress for an animal. Especially when money is involved, it is highly likely that some suspicious business is going on behind the scenes with animal tortures involved.
Walk with a lion:
- Lion farms lure tourists and volunteers with a promise of a close interaction with the cubs. Their ‘conservation program’ is supposedly intended to save the species and the public is led to believe that, once full-grown, cats will be released into the wild and people’s money will go toward conservation.
- Captives lionesses are forced to breed as often as possible, so that tourists can enjoy a close encounter with a cute baby lion. Wild lions are also captured to meet a demand.
- Lions raised by humans are more likely to get close to human habitats and attack both livestock and people. Although it sounds nice, it is not a good idea to free hand-reared cats as they do not have the skills to survive safely in the wild away from humans. Adult lions are being sold to the private game parks instead. That means tourists are funding canned hunting – a new ‘sport’ for wealthy and a big business in Africa (remember Cecil the lion?)
- Wild elephants will not let anyone to ride on top of them, which means the captive ones are being tortured as young to break their spirit
- Adult elephants are being stabbed with hooks on a daily basis (even with a tourist on their back), to keep them afraid and disciplined
- Elephant spines are not made to support the weight of humans, so riding them can cause a serious injury in a long term
A dolphin show:
- Wild dolphins swim 100 miles a day, so they can’t be happy in a 28 feet tank of water (don’t be deceived by the shape of their mouth, which makes us think they are always smiling!)
- Over 20.000 dolphins are slaughtered in Japan every year to support the industry; bottlenose dolphins are pre-selected and sold off to parks around the world
ECO alternative: Go for a photographic safari with some local travel agency and experienced guide or a biologist who will tell you a real conservation story. You may go to the African bush, take a boat on the Portuguese coast, or just go for a walk to your nearest park or forest.
You will not have an animal interaction offered up to you (in fact, you may not see them at all) but if you do get lucky and spot a wild animal in its natural environment, that experience will stay with you forever!
Support well known organizations who can prove your money goes for real conservation!
2. FEEL AT HOME AND SEND YOUR MONEY… HOME
On the one hand – you manage to travel to the other side of the planet, on the other you somehow end up at McDonalds (local food not safe or not good), sipping a coke (easier to get than a drinking water – true), signing up for all-inclusive (why not) or spending a whole day in a 5-star resort belonging to an international hotel corporation with a beautiful private beach and cold drinks served on a silver plate (oh, yes!)
It looks like we have it all – a little dose of exoticism, well deserved rest and some luxury. We managed to keep well inside the safety of our comfort zone because we are still surrounded by the things we are familiar with. A hotel belonging to a globally recognized hotel chain seems to be the best choice – who can we trust more than the brand we know?
- We don’t hear much about it but the construction of new mega resorts along undisturbed coastal areas is a great threat to the natural environment.
- In many areas of the world economic growth takes priority over environmental issues. Any kind of development requires some interference with nature but building giant resorts – enclaves for mass tourism – lead to massive destruction.
- Communities in the travel destinations need to receive a fair share of revenue from tourism; wildlife and habitats will be protected only when they bring income to local communities.
ECO alternative: Stay with local communities, buy local products, eat local food and try local attractions. It might be a simple wooden hut or a luxurious lodge run by the natives; doesn’t matter. What matters is that your money goes to locals, creates job for them and makes them aware that environment preservation is in their best interest.
3. TAKE A ROUND THE WORLD TOUR IN A SHORTEST POSSIBLE PERIOD OF TIME
A round the world tour is easier and more convenient than ever before and who doesn’t dream about taking it!?
There are many travel agencies who offer relatively cheap RTW tickets and construct packages, which allow you see ‘the whole world’ in just 2 weeks or even during a long weekend… how cool is that?
In theory there’s nothing wrong with it, but I have to admit I have a problem with understanding what can be exciting about seeing the world through an airplane window.
If you want to visit every single country on the planet in one year, will you be able to relate an experience with a specific location?
If one is focusing on breaking another world record and spending most of their time at the customs, is there any time to have moment of reflection?
- According to UNWTO; tourism is responsible for about 5% of global carbon emissions.
- The transport sector (mostly air and cars) generates the largest proportion – 75% – of these emissions.
- Air travel is the main tourism-related contributor to global warming.
ECO alternative: Decrease air travel frequency or choose a direct flight when you can. Focus on quality over quantity and instead of seeing everything in a short period of time, take a few months in one region or country. You’ll have fewer stamps in your passport but a much better understanding of local culture and more time to enjoy the natural beauty of your destination.
Take a train and public transport when possible; it is more economical and energy-efficient than planes and cars. Hire a bike or walk if you can; is even more economical and super eco-friendly!
4. YOU HAVE THE MONEY, SO YOU ARE THE BOSS
We don’t usually think about the social and cultural impact on the local communities of our destination countries, as they are difficult to measure.
People travel to a new society without an understanding of their local culture. If they come from a more developed country with different consumption patterns and stronger currency, they will be able to afford much more luxurious lifestyle abroad than they normally do. They also think that if they pay, they have the right to behave in a way which would be unacceptable even in their homeland.
A pressure to meet tourists’ high expectations is put on the local communities, who need to balance preservation of their own moral values with generating an income.
Tourists have a tendency to perceive local people as a pool of waiters, hotel keepers, laundresses or performers, who are supposed to serve them and keep them entertained.
For local communities on the other hand, visitors can be a badly-behaved and arrogant mass, with the only valuable asset they bring being money.
When stereotypes win the battle, both groups are deprived of their humanity.
- In many developing countries tourism related jobs performed by locals are those of lower level, while management positions are offered mostly to foreigners.
- A hotel worker in a resort in Jamaica or Brazil would earn approx. 1500$ per year, while the guest of the same hotel – at least 80,000$.
- Child begging and exploitation is involved as an easy gain for local communities.
- Rising accommodation, food and services prices are affordable for tourists but they might be not accessible for locals anymore (even citizens of rich cities like Rome, Venice, Barcelona and Madrid complain that the cost of rent and crowds are forcing them to move out of the city center).
ECO alternative: Show respect to the people and their values.
Pay fairy for local goods and services – don’t be overgenerous paying 10 times the price because next client may not afford to pay that much.
I think giving away anything – not only money but even pens and sweets to kids in developing countries creates bad habits. Local communities get used to receiving gifts and travelers are not perceived as human beings anymore but ‘walking wallets’ instead. It is a terrible feeling when the first words you hear from a stranger are “give me something”. And this “give me something” is not coming from a real need or poverty but a conviction that they will get lucky this time, as well.
What can we give instead? How about a smile, our time to have a simple chat about life and our real interest in local culture? How about showing that in spite of economic differences we all share the same values globally and we do respect one another? Travelling is the best learning experience!
5. SOMEBODY WILL CLEAN AFTER YOU, SO JUST RELAX
“Mount Everest – world’s highest garbage dump” , “Thilafushi, Maldives; the world’s biggest rubbish island”, “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, “Garbage season in Bali”, “Trash islands off Central America”. These are just a few of the headlines I’ve recently came across. Our waste problem is global and it has been called an environmental disaster.
- Typically, one tourist produces approximately 1-2 kg of trash per day.
- More tourists equals more rubbish, so it accumulates to thousands of tons of waste annually.
- Lack of technology to support an effective waste handling and inefficient solid waste management causes a huge environmental impact, especially in developing countries.
ECO alternative: Be a minimalist when you travel; in 99% of your destinations you will be able to buy groceries and commodities without any problem and much cheaper! Unless you go for a jungle survival trip, there is no need to carry all that stuff. It will eventually end up in a bin when you realize your bag is too heavy for your shoulders.
Always use the rubbish bin, don’t count on local stuff to clean after you and resist a temptation that says; “it’s already dirty so why I should bother…?”
Look up “10 Pieces Litter Collection Initiative” that encourages travelers to make a positive impact on the environment by taking out more than they take in; so yes, that involves cleaning after others, too!
“Take only photos and 10 pieces of litter, leave only footprints”.
That will make you a real ECO traveler!
- The article has been published in May, 2018 on EcoCompanion
- More on the need of the conservation in the article about cheetahs