Is it possible to make a positive difference when we travel the world? The UN thinks so: it has declared 2017 the international year of sustainable tourism for development. But even if we’re committed to holidaying responsibly, how do we pack our principles when we go?
Among travel industry experts, the buzz is that the dawn of the ‘new tourism’ era is upon us – tourists have higher levels of environmental and cultural awareness than ever before. Partly due to technological advances and social networks, holidaymakers are, generally speaking, more demanding when it comes to evidence of real commitment to community, place and the environment.
The shift can be seen in the rise of nature-based tourism, which now accounts for about a fifth of total international travel and continues to grow, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. Change is particularly notable within the younger generation: research shows that millennial travellers are significantly more likely to pay extra for sustainable organisations or products than those in their parents’ generation.
“Travellers are coming to expect that tourism businesses will become sustainable in the same way they expect free wifi connectivity in hotels or online check-in for air travel,” reads a 2016 report about global travel trends by the Center for Responsible Travel.
With a bit of thought, there are ways to prepare for environmentally travel and minimise your footprint while enjoying yourself.
1) Be a traveller, not a tourist
As well as trying to give back to the community you’ve journeyed to through ‘voluntourism’, consider a simple mindset shift from being a traveller rather a tourist. Learning at least a bit of the language might have a big impact on how locals treat you, while researching local cultural traditions before you leave will reduce the chance of speaking or behaving inappropriately. Challenge yourself to get immersed in the local culture, from music to food, and always ask permission before taking a photo of someone. Some cultures consider taking a person’s picture as akin to stealing their soul.
2) Recycle as you would at home
Recycling is no panacea to the environmental challenges our planet faces, but it seems a good place to start. Data from ABTA, the association of travel agents and tour operators, suggests that one in five tourists fails to pay any attention to the environment once their holiday begins, even if they recycle diligently at home. Try to recycle the likes of toothpaste boxes or battery packaging before you leave. And if your holiday accommodation doesn’t offer recycling facilities, ask why not. Rather than ditching unused soap, shampoo, or toothpaste, take them with you when you leave.
3) Buy local produce to reduce food miles (and support local businesses)
Before you book, try to find out what local sources the hotels that you’ve shortlisted use. Do they hire local staff? Do they use local food, or locally sourced materials in their decor? Sampling the region’s cuisine can be one of the most exciting aspects of travelling, and helps keep your environmental impact to a minimum too. Research suggests that plant-based foods contain much more goodness when picked at the peak of their ripeness. And food that is grown naturally according to seasonal climate will usually have much more flavour than imported produce. Buying locally also helps support the community in your destination. Particularly where tourism is beginning to boom: help local grub stand its ground in the face of westernised fast food.
4) Travel light where you can
The more weight carried by planes, trains and cars, the more fuel they use and the greater the impact on the environment. Try to choose the most environmentally friendly form of transport: can you drive or train-it to your destination instead of flying? And if you need to fly, seek out airlines with higher occupancy rates and more efficient aircraft.
5) Match products with your principles
Choosing an eco-holiday will be of limited benefit if you use polluting products while you’re there. This dilemma sparked the beginning of an award-winning venture for Howard Carter, who contracted both malaria and dengue fever while wearing maximum concentration Deet-based products. The experience inspired him to find an effective, natural way to keep bugs at bay. He launched incognito in 2007 and has been busily developing new formulations and products ever since. “Incognito products allow people to travel safe in the knowledge that they are not polluting any fragile environments,” Carter tells Positive News.
“Deet is a pesticide that kills aquatic wildlife. Therefore, for every bottle of incognito a person brings with them on holiday, there is one fewer bottle of poison going into the local ecosystem.”
Deet has had its day, according to Carter. So many mosquitoes and other insects have now built up a certain tolerance and resistance to it, he says, that its efficacy is much-reduced. Incognito products on the other hand, effectively make you ‘invisible’.
“Incognito camouflages your kairomones – the bodily emissions that insects can easily detect up to a mile away, similar to pheromones person-to-person. Therefore, mosquitoes and other insects, cannot sense you: you are ‘incognito’ to them.”
The company continues its ethical thinking through to its 10 per cent profit pledge: every year a tenth of all profits are distributed among charities, often with an environmental focus, working both locally and internationally. In the past, the team has worked with carbon-sequestration charities, as well as projects helping bee populations recover in the UK. Others to have benefited include the Bethsaida Hermitage eco-lodge and orphanage, and entrepreneurial student group Enactus. “We like to give to charities who we know spend the majority of the funds on the people they’re helping,” says Carter.
Incognito’s 5 tips for avoiding mosquito bites
1) Cover up arms and legs whenever possible
2) Wearing light-coloured clothing is strongly advisable. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours, especially black and blue – so avoid the likes of jeans and black leggings
3) Odours – bodily emissions or otherwise, such as perfumes, shower gels and shampoos – can be strong attractants. Therefore, washing thoroughly, including exfoliating with a loofah if you are super-attractive to mosquitoes, and using incognito hair and body wash, is essential to minimise your attractiveness to biting and stinging insects
4) Apply an effective, biodegradable, natural insect repellent and reapply when necessary
5) Keep away from stagnant water where possible. If it is unavoidable, deter insects from coming into your building by burning citronella or opening a tub of incognito room refresher natural insect repellent