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Responsible tourism in the age of budget airlines & accommodations

Man shares a delicate relationship with the environment
Image courtesy: ©Nitin Gairola

Travellers have noticed that for the past decade or so, jet fuel prices have gone down significantly with oversupply of crude oil.  We also have had rapid globalisation which has led to a lot of people knowing a lot more of our world and wanting to see it first-hand. You add these two together and you have budget airlines and cheap accommodations popping up everywhere.

In the age of the cheap jumbo & Instagram, everyone can be a traveller, and that’s a good thing. I believe travel opens your mind to new realities, you learn about different cultures, your understanding of the planet increases and you begin to respect people different from you in appearance, beliefs and customs. It truly brings the world closer.

However, we can’t deny that there are now 7.5 billion of us, more than ever before in the history of Earth and we are adding a billion people every 11 years. The UN predicts the humans will number 10 billion by 2050 and India itself will move from 1.3 billion to 1.65. On top of it, we now have access to resources as no other generation has had. With these resources, most can travel to wherever they want and many are setting out for the first time, this means that the ‘top tourist draws’ are (naturally) topping the ‘bucket list’. Everyone wants their photographs there, majorly for bragging rights. These ‘trends’ don’t bode well for our planet.

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Paris is a victim of overtourism
Paris is a victim of overtourism
Image courtesy: ©Nitin Gairola

Now to feed on this tourism frenzy, we have locals who don’t want to miss any part of the action as they also need to take care of their families. With that, once a place is noticed, you have hotel chains dotting the streets, pushy tourist operators everywhere, booking offices, noisy buses, litter on streets etc. This can either take away the beauty of a scenic point (Eg ; Phi Phi islands in Thailand), destroy a fragile ecosystem or the crowds can spoil the travel experience (long queues at city hotspots like Palace of Versailles near Paris, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona etc).

So then what are the solutions? Who can we blame for this mess? I believe it’s the ones who buy (in this case the tourists) need to be more conscious of their choices than the ones who sell. Hence we need to be more responsible tourists.

Even Iceland is not spared from long queues
Even Iceland is not spared from long queues
Image courtesy: ©Nitin Gairola

Some of the possible solutions which you as a traveller/tourist can implement are:

-Knowledge: know more about your world, a particular place’s history, customs and its ecosystem. This will make you both appreciate the place more and ensure that you are careful of your actions.
-Ditching the hotspots: The experience of random travel into unfamiliar places not only gives you bragging rights but also an experience which is more authentic and personal. Instead of standing in long queues along with folks who got out of tourist buses, you can create something of your own, and if many people spread their travels like this, it takes away the burden from one particular ‘popular’ destination.
-Change your travel season: You can get some amazing bargains if you travel during the shoulder seasons i.e. few months before or after the main season. You also get lighter crowds which improves your experience. It’s a win-win!
-Choose your tour companies carefully: Do online research on hotel chains’ environment records, choose tour operators which are ecologically conscious and select destinations that are not overdeveloped etc. Also be careful not to be conned by ‘greenwashing’, a term coined for companies that pretend to be engaged in environmentally friendly activities-it’s rampant in the tourism industry
-Environmentally conscious actions: Don’t waste a destination’s limited resources such as water (refer Cape Town, South Africa), electricity etc. or don’t litter a place.
-Show respect: Respect doesn’t just mean superficial politeness, but also respect for a culture, the local people, their resources etc. Remember that you are a guest in their home. It will put things in perspective.
-Spread your learning: It has never been easier to spread anything around the world these days – good or bad. We can use the social media to the advantage of the world in spreading such messages through our actions. Don’t underestimate the willingness of most people to do good for others, only if they understand the supply chains and cause-effect relationships linked to their actions.

So spread joy to all by being a responsible traveller.

The author’s views are his own and do not reflect those of Lonely Planet India.

AUTHOR'S BIO: Nitin Gairola is an adventurer & travel writer who loves the educative side of travel relating to earth science, environment, history and world cultures. He has travelled to many parts of the Earth, across the 6 continents & over 80 countries in his personal quest to know more about the planet & peoples. Besides Lonely Planet, his works have been released in Economic Times- Travel. More on: