Sustainable Tourism… How We Can Travel Smarter

By: Jackie Jonczyk

The first question we have to ask ourselves is, what is sustainable travel? According to the World Tourism Organization, sustainable travel is defined as, “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”[1] In recent decades, tourism has progressively grown. Reasons for the increase in travel can be attributed to affordability and accessibility.[2] The surge of international tourism rose “from fewer than 300 million trips in 1980 to some 500 million in 1995, before exploding to 1.3 billion trips in 2017 – a number that’s expected to rise to 1.8 billion in 2030.”[3] With this rise of tourism, it is vital that travelers take into account the potential environmental impact traveling can cause. Environmental impacts consist of “our carbon footprint, especially from air travel, water usage, packaging and plastic waste, and not disturbing wildlife.”[4]

Some ways we, as travelers, can take responsibility and advocate for sustainable tourism include:

  1. Avoid the plane and take the train.[5] Depending on where you are going, there may be multiple options for the form of travel you may choose to take. Taking the train rather than flying is often referred to as “slow travel,” – “going to fewer places and spending more time in each.”[6] Taking the train allows you not only to decrease your carbon footprint, but ultimately allows you to experience the location on a deeper and local level.[7]
  2. Stay in locally owned accommodation.[8] Supporting local business owners by staying in Airbnb’s and guesthouses “contributes to the local economy, rather than being redirected out of the local economy by foreign-owned hotels and resorts.”[9] If Airbnb’s are not your thing, then checking for green certifications at hotels and hostels can also promote sustainable initiatives. Many hotels will include certifications such as “solar power, energy-efficient lighting, recycling and so on.”[10] Either one of these options can truly make a difference on your environmental impact.
  3. Research your tour operators.[11] If you are not exploring on your own and opt to use a tourism company, it is important to ask them certain questions relating to their practices. For example, asking questions such as, “what are some of your tour company’s environmentally friendly practices? Can you give me an example of how your trips help to protect and support wildlife or cultural heritage? [and] do you employ local guides on your trips?”[12] These simple questions can help in choosing the right tour company. Make sure to also read reviews on these companies and see what previous tourists had to say.

Taking these simple steps when planning to travel and partake in tourism can have a major impact on the future of the environment. With the influx of travel, our carbon footprint is continuing to increase. By following travel guidelines and encouraging others to do the same we can make a big step in the right direction.

Featured Image from Elevate Limited.

[1] Making Tourism More Sustainable, A Guide for Policy Makers, United Nations Environment Programme and World Tourism Organization, 2018, at 12.

[2] Richard Florida, The Global Tourism Backlash (Aug. 7, 2018),

[3] Id.

[4] Charlie Marchant, What is Sustainable Travel? (And How to be A Sustainable Traveler) (Mar. 26, 2009),

[5] Costas Christ, 6 Ways to Be a More Sustainable Traveler, National Geographic (Jul. 11, 2017),

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Marchant, supra note 4.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Christ, supra note 5.

[12] Id.


  1. Interesting read Jackie! It is definitely tough to take a step back while traveling and focus on the impact that your travels may have. Supporting local businesses and buying locally-sourced products while traveling seems like a great way to offset some of these negative impacts, and taking the initiative ahead of time to identify sustainable practices of tourism agencies can be incredibly useful. Thanks for the tips and reminders!

  2. Thanks for the tips, Jackie! I’ve never considered asking hotels about their green certifications but will definitely do so going forward! These are all small steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint.

  3. Interesting article! Having stayed at an eco lodge only to see them burying our recyclables & trash in the rainforest w/ an excavator, it is important to do your due diligence if trying to support sustainability and not just greenwashing.

  4. Great tips and suggestions! I know my carbon footprint is often on my mind when I decide to travel. It is important that people are aware of these key tips for when they decide to plan their next vacations. It is great to know that it is possible to reconcile our desire to travel with our desire to live sustainably.

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