I participated in my first #ExpChat, a weekly Twitter chat hosted by Expedia on different travel topics, last week. The topic was “sustainable travel”. Admittedly, I was a bit taken aback by what I heard.
“Q1 What comes to mind when you think of sustainable travel?”
Some replied with honest ignorance, like —
“I’m not sure.”
“I’m here to find out!”
Many others centered on another theme —
“Using the same towels and linens for more than one day at my hotel.”
“Yes! I’m annoyed that more hotels don’t offer a discount for reusing your towels!”
That’s when I realized something. I haven’t been doing my job properly. If the travel community does not have a sense of what sustainable travel truly means, I need to help get everyone up to speed.
Sustainable Travel is not the same thing as “green travel” or “eco-tourism”. Absolutely, YES — environmental stewardship is a very important component, but there is a reason why it is not lumped together. The environmental piece is only half of the picture.
Sustainable Travel is just as concerned with cultural preservation as it is with environmental preservation. Without discounting the important of biodiversity, habitat restoration and the like, sustainable travel is about making tourism work for host communities in the long run. It views the traditional culture and beliefs as equally important to protect as the natural setting these communities call home.
Sustainability means “the capacity to endure“. This is where the conversation MUST be elevated beyond reusing linens.
How do we give communities the capacity to endure, and even thrive, in the face of tourism? What broad-spectrum benefits must be built-in for locals to embrace and grow with tourism? A large part of looking at sustainable tourism is the benefit that local communities see – economically, for sure, but also on an emotional/spiritual level. How do indigenous communities who now deal with tourism on a daily basis relate to it and all it brings? Does it promote cultural pride rather that erode at traditional values? Does it bring new opportunities for prosperity, new access to beneficial technologies and overall, a better way of life? And who determines that?
To me, sustainable travel seeks to answer questions like these, and in the process, create lasting, meaningful tourism structures that preserve and promote the cultural and environmental treasures of the world.
I have no intention of shaming my fellow tweeters on #ExpChat; I gained a lot of insight from the discussion and came away with a feeling of great hope. Even with the limits of definition, there was a genuine interest to learn more, and a couple of very valid concepts and ideas being volleyed around. It’s discussions like this which will move things forward.
So, let’s talk! How do you see sustainable tourism defining itself today? What do we need to focus on to elevate the conversation about sustainability in travel?
Hotel linens photo by violarenate via creative commons