Which destinations are more sustainable than others, and how have they achieved this?
The first step occurs in the trip planning stage, i.e. choosing your destination. How do you go about finding a sustainable destination that’ll ensure the visit isn’t going to leave it in lesser condition than before you arrived?
The destination decision is one the hardest. Will it be Brazil, Japan, Europe, or Africa? While there are no continents nor countries that are fully sustainable destinations as a whole, there are handfuls of parks, cities and towns.
The last thing you want to do when taking a well-earned holiday is opting for a destination that is not only going to be a nightmare to spend time in but also one where your arrival is only going to make the situation worse because it isn’t geared up to absorb any more travellers.
When looking into sustainable destinations, there are three things to think about: the environmental impact, the economic impact and the cultural impact.
What is the destination doing to reduce the environmental impact of tourism on the destination?
Are the hotel and tour operators in the destination encouraged to provide visitors with ways to reduce their impact on the environment?
How is the destination promoting respectful interactions with natural habitats and wildlife?
How is the destination providing the local communities impacted by tourism?
Do the local tourism operators hire local staff and work on furthering their skills and education?
What is happening to protect the rich cultural heritage of the destination?
Travellers and tourism professionals want to know where sustainable tourist destinations are. Such destinations are sometimes referred to as eco-destinations (or eco-tourist destinations), although the environment is only one aspect of sustainable tourism according to the GSTC Criteria.
The map below features destinations which have been certified as sustainable tourist destinations by a GSTC-Accredited Certification Body.
The management organisations at these destinations know that “sustainability” is a journey and that work to implement the GSTC Criteria is never complete. Sustainable destination management requires continuing commitment and ongoing collaboration among wide-ranging stakeholders in everyday decision-making.
Let’s take a look at some of the places we like, why we like them and what they are doing:
Republic of Palau
Talk about forward-thinking. This Micronesian archipelago makes visitors think about actions before they even take them. When you arrive in Palau, you must sign a pledge that’s stamped into your passport and declares to the nation’s children that you will help preserve and protect their island home. As for the island country itself, this sustainable destination was designated the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, covered 80% of its territorial waters as a marine sanctuary in 2015, and just this year Palau put into effect a ban on sunscreen that contains any one of ten ingredients that are environmental pollutants and toxic to coral reefs.
Slovenia’s capital and largest city has been far ahead of the curve when it comes to eco-friendly and sustainable practices. Since 2008, the city centre has been a traffic-free pedestrian zone that is also bike-friendly. There are many parks and green areas around Ljubljana, as well as an urban bee path that cares for 4,500 beehives. And to relieve pressure on the city, Ljubljana Tourism is working to de-seasonalize tourism by creating alluring events and experiences throughout the year. It’s no shock that Ljubljana was awarded as the European Green Capital in 2016.
Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
The Galapagos archipelago and surrounding waters are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and more than 95% protected under the status of conservation. But that doesn’t mean that the flora, fauna, and waters are off-limits to travellers. Flights from Quito and Guayaquil land each day, and when you arrive on the islands from mainland Ecuador, you’ll pay a visitation fee that goes towards the park’s preservation efforts. The Galapagos National Park closely regulates tours and itineraries so that there are visitor caps for protected areas.
Chumbe Island, Tanzania
Just off the coast of Zanzibar lies Chumbe Island, a stunning protected tropical paradise and one of the top sustainable destinations. This private nature reserve is home to a fully protected Coral Reef Sanctuary and Forest Reserve where visitors can snorkel with hundreds of reef fish and spot rare wildlife like the small Aders’s duiker and the enormous coconut crab.
Buildings on Chumbe Island–including eco-bungalows that overlook the water–are run sustainably without impact on the environment through innovative efforts such as composting toilets, solar water heating and the capture and utilization of rainwater.
Just an hour south of Porto, Águeda is leading the way with many sustainability initiatives to improve everything from air quality to how travelers experience the local culture.
Águeda is working to reduce air pollution by essentially optimizing its public transportation system to use energy more efficiently. For tourists and locals, the city is creating urban bicycle lanes, encouraging the use of public e-bikes and creating car-free zones.
For native English speakers this ‘place’ is hard to say (hear it here) but easy on the eyes. This island in South Holland carries an excellent reputation of sustainable living among its residents, which has naturally extended to industries that touch tourism. Goeree-Overflakkee’s goal for 2020 is to become completely energy-neutral. It’s taking advantage of natural resources like water, sun, and wind to develop sustainable-energy projects that support this goal. There are heaps of accommodation options that focus on sustainability by using recycled or organic building materials, minimizing water usage, and even generating their energy.
Bardia National Park, Nepal
Bardia National Park is the largest protected area in Nepal’s Terai region. It’s home to several endangered species, like the Bengal tiger, wild Asian elephant and great one-horned rhinoceros. As a sustainable destination, Bardia National Park is working together with neighbouring Banke National Park on the Tiger Conservation Unit to help protect the endangered Bengal tiger population. Bardia is also focused on conserving the unique local culture of the Tharu, who are indigenous to Nepal’s Terai region.
This is just a handful of the many options out there, so remember, if you are tired of holidaying in the same old destinations or want to steer clear of the influencer hot spots, it’s definitely worth broadening your horizons. create your path and do so research into sustainable destinations before you decide on your next trip.
Are there any sustainable countries?
The simple answer to this question is no. The main reason being is that we all exist in the same little bubble. If one country isn’t sustainable, then no one is. It is, however, possible for counties to become sustainable, hypothetically speaking, if we could isolate them, without outside factors.
However, don’t get discouraged…
While countries themselves can’t be 100% sustainable, some are doing it better than others.
Here’s the list:
Finland’s has an untouched and pristine nature at the core of Finnish life and its sanctity is paramount. Living sustainably whilst in harmony with the environment is deep-rooted and is an essential part of responsible travel. This includes a respect for nature and wildlife and also their age-old customs.
Offering an honourable provenance and a local supply chain that’s made up of local producers is, and always has been, the Greek way of doing things.
In almost a ten year period, 95% of Uruguay’s electricity has been sourced from renewable energy – primarily wind and hydro – and it didn’t require any government funding. It has universal access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation, and roughly 65% of the wastewater collected by the national utility is treated. In 2015, the Government passed a law, establishing clear frameworks for the development of a tourism industry guided by the principles of sustainable tourism.
And even some parts of the USA e.g. California
The state of California is the leader in solar energy use in the US, and it takes recycling equally as seriously. San Francisco was the first city in the country to ban plastic bags, and throughout the state, locals are known for using recycled items in their art to inspire others to do the same. There’s also a push to establish the partnerships needed to meet the goals set for the future and empower the youth of the future.
The future is what it is all about!
Without looking to support sustainable destinations, likely, any trip we get the opportunity to go on in the years to come will become pointless and detrimental. Current excess tourism to only a handful of top spots or to places that don’t practice any form of ecotourism and sustainability means we are only exacerbating the already prevalent issue and keeping much-needed funds from supporting the destinations that are working on becoming sustainable. The long-term loser is us, the human race, as there will be no destinations to travel to!
So the next time you’re planning a trip, consider the future of the planet and all the people on it, by implementing the simple step we’ve discussed in this post and spend some time working out which sustainable destination is for you.
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