Being an environmentally friendly tourist can be challenging. Tourism is an industry that brings many negative environmental impacts – our pleasure often comes at the expense of local habitats or wildlife.
Maya Bay on Thailand’s uninhabited Phi Phi Leh island became famous as the location of the 2000 Hollywood movie The Beach. But this led to rapid growth in visitors to the bay – as many as 8,000 a day at its peak – and put enormous strain on the bay’s natural habitats.
In 2018, the bay was closed to tourists for four years to let its coral reefs and wildlife recover.
But tourism can also be an inspiring way to connect with oneself, with others and with new places. As tourists, we can learn, share and contribute to positive environmental practices. As a tourist, you also have influence. The money you spend, the social interactions you have and the resources you consume all help to shape an area.
So here are four pieces of advice for making your next holiday better for the environment.
We’ve all heard variations on the mantra “take only memories, leave only footprints”. This message of less consumption and lower impact is a good ethos for environmentally sensitive tourism. The first thing to do is think about how you can leave more positive footprints behind.
An excellent way to make the most of your economic footprint is to stay and shop in independent businesses. These businesses tend to pay local taxes and are owned by and employ local people. More of the money you spend stays in the immediate area as a result.
Where tourist money directly benefits local people and businesses, their support for conservation is often encouraged. Tourists visiting rhino sanctuaries in Botswana, for example, bring income and support jobs. In 2010, the country’s Khama Rhino Sanctuary employed 26 permanent staff and many more casual labourers.
This economic security can, in turn, prompt local people to appreciate the importance of protecting vulnerable animal species like rhinos. Separate research on people living around Kenya’s Maasai Mara nature reserve found that people whose livelihoods were dependent on tourism were more likely to support efforts to conserve local wildlife.