“What are you passionate about?” – whenever I was asked this question in the past, it never took me long to respond: “Travelling”. Living abroad and enjoying visiting new places, I book flights almost as frequently as I book trains – don’t worry, I don’t take the train every day! However, less than one week before heading off to the annual meeting of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Singapore, I caught myself thinking: Is my passion for exploring the world we live in even compatible with trying to sustain it?
Being one of the world’s largest industries contributing to economic wealth, it is little surprising that global tourism makes up around 8% of carbon emissions. This number does not only include the emissions produced by air travel but also other tourism expenditure relating to food, accommodation and shopping.
Comparing the carbon footprints between different countries, studies also have shown that tourists from affluent countries tend to have higher per capita emissions whilst travelling than those from low income countries. The reason for this seems to be that wealthier people are more likely to participate in travel activities with a higher carbon output. So, speaking for us students, does this mean we have higher chances of travelling sustainably as we tend to have less money available than full-time workers? Well, not necessarily. Just as with many other things in life, it depends on each individual’s travel habits.
At this point, it is time that I draw attention to the fact that the United Nations declared 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. By this, the UN recognizes the potential the tourism industry actually has to bring sustainability forward. This can be done in terms of sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction, environmental protection as well as the promotion of cultural values and mutual understanding. In other words, it does seem to be possible to make a positive impact on the world and the environment without giving up travelling completely. This is often referred to as “green tourism”, “ecotourism” or “sustainable tourism”.
More precisely, travellers can take different steps in order to ensure they are contributing positively to the environment: The first step towards achieving that is the choice of the destination as well as how to get there. Especially for shorter trips, it is often possible as well as recommendable to take the train instead of flying to minimise the carbon emissions produced. Once arrived to the destination, travelling green can mean staying in an eco-friendly accommodation, walking or using public transport instead of renting a car or avoiding the use of plastic bottles when necessary. Furthermore, by buying local food and interacting with the local population, travellers also support the environment as well as local communities. These are not only simple but also effective steps everyone can take to enable fellow travellers to find the beautiful cities and landscapes in the same condition in the future as we have been able to experience them ourselves: We don’t need to stop travelling, we just need to start travelling wiser.