In recent years, mass tourism has dominated the tourism sector and is still very much present. We see this mainly in the construction of ever more luxurious, energy-hungry hotels, which do not always respect the environment in which they were built. Mass tourism can also be seen in places that have received a great deal of media coverage, such as Maya Bay beach in Thailand, where the number of visitors has risen over the past two decades thanks to the release of the film The Beach. This prompted the Thai government to close the beach in 2018 for 4 years to restore the coral, which had been damaged over the years by the many boats dropping anchor on the coral and tourists swimming in the bay carelessly.
In response to mass tourism, responsible travel has emerged, proposing a different way of traveling and experiencing the area. With this type of tourism, travellers are invited to get closer to nature without harming it, by choosing accommodations and activities that are respectful of the environment. But how can you travel in an eco-responsible way when you don’t know what to consider?
In this article, we set out the main criteria for organising an eco-responsible trip. Our list is not exhaustive and may therefore be subject to change.
As we all know, accommodation is the first thing we look for when planning a trip, and in a sustainable travel, the type of accommodation is somewhat different.
Indeed, eco hotels are considered to have little impact on the environment in which they are located. As such, they must meet certain criteria to be considered sustainable.
Some of these criteria concern the type of materials used in the construction of the hotel, which must be natural and have no impact on the environment, such as cotton or cellulose for wall insulation, or the use of wood rather than concrete. The manufacture of concrete is very energy-intensive, producing a lot of CO2, and concrete requires the use of sand, a natural material that is running out.
Other criteria are considered when considering a hotel to be sustainable. These include the installation of solar panels, the use of bulk hygiene products in bathrooms, organic cooking with seasonal produce in hotel restaurants, ecological recycling of water and waste, etc.
In Europe, there are several labels that indicate whether a hotel is sustainable. These include the Ecolabel and the Clef verte. Hotels with these labels are sustainable because they meet the following criteria.
It’s difficult to opt for a sustainable mode of transport for long distances and difficult-to-reach locations, so airplanes and motor vehicles remain the most popular means of travel. However, some airlines are beginning to experiment with environmentally friendly fuels.
However, eco travel is perfectly feasible, especially in large cities where many infrastructures have been put in place, such as subways, streetcars, buses and bicycle hire (electric or otherwise), to enable visitors to get around with minimal impact on the environment.
The best way to get around cities by public transport at lower cost is to buy a pass. Not only will this avoid spending a lot of money on individual tickets, it will also allow you to visit the city in the company of locals. And if that’s not enough, walking is an inexpensive way to see a city in a different way. Although exhausting, it’s the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way. As you lose yourself in the streets of a city, you discover places, stores, and restaurants that you might not otherwise have discovered.
Eco travel means discovering local specialties, and there’s nothing better than visiting restaurants serving local dishes. This allows you to discover the country or region you’re visiting and immerse yourself in its culture through local cuisine. What’s more, meals are the best way to make friends with the locals.
By eating locally, you’re supporting the local economy, since the produce used to produce a meal will have been harvested by local farmers. In this way, the circular economy works, avoiding the need to buy meals from the big international restaurant chains.
Local fauna and flora
Eco travel means discovering the country’s endemic flora and fauna, i.e. those that are specific to the country and won’t be found elsewhere.
To discover nature, it is advisable to choose visits with local guides who know the area well and can provide information on the animals and vegetation found there. These tours are an excellent way of discovering and seeing nature in a different way, thanks to passionate naturalists who pass on their knowledge. The idea of such visits can help travellers realise the importance of preserving biodiversity, and understand how animals interact with each other, as well as with plants.
When on vacation, most people like to bring back souvenirs. However, most souvenirs found in high-street stores, especially in Asia, come from China. So, to avoid overcharging Chinese manufacturers and to get a truly local souvenir, it’s best to travel directly to the country’s handicraft region, where objects, fabrics, clothes, jewelry, sculptures or even artists’ canvases can be purchased.
In this way, local craftsmanship is promoted, and the local economy counteracted by Chinese companies who manufacture poor-quality souvenirs on an industrial scale, which are not at all environmentally friendly in terms of manufacture and transport. What’s more, it’s a unique and original souvenir.
The most difficult part is packing. It’s a real headache, because it’s always difficult to calculate how many clothes you’re going to wear and how many hygiene products you’re going to use. As a result, there’s always too much in the suitcase.
However, if you get organised, it’s perfectly possible to leave with fewer clothes and hygiene products by taking the essentials and calculating what you’ll need for the duration of your vacation.
For personal hygiene products, using containers of different sizes to avoid the original packaging, which is heavy and takes up space in the suitcase, is the solution to choose.
For clothes, it would be a good idea to take perhaps 2 pieces of each garment, except for underwear, and to take advantage of hotel cleaning services to wash your belongings, or to visit a laundry.
Travelling in an eco-responsible way means first and foremost getting to know nature and local populations. It’s a state of mind that everyone can adopt by changing their travel habits. This means consuming differently, choosing hotels that have a minimal impact on the environment, and taking part in nature-related activities that allow you to discover and understand how nature works, so that you can respect and protect it in your own way and on your own scale.