To some, the idea of responsible travel is an oxymoron.
Travel requires energy, mass travel requires mass energy, mass energy is currently produced unsustainably.
The world would be a sad place if, in the name of travelling sustainably, we must simply daydream from our armchairs. To promote this would also be madness: who would listen?
People will travel. People should travel. But we’re going to be in trouble if we don’t do it sustainably.
So what on earth is responsible travel?
Responsible travel can act as a cover-all term for two flavours of travel, socially responsible travel and environmentally-sustainable travel.
The socially responsible bit refers to the communities we visit when we travel. Do we stay in all-inclusive resorts which exploit local resources and then export the vast majority of what we spend out of the community? Is the very reason we travel there – the local culture or environment – being protected, or destroyed by us going there?
Environmentally-sustainable travel, as mentioned earlier, is easier to pigeonhole. Can I travel without a huge carbon footprint, or mitigate this, and how can I avoid my trip causing problems for the host environment?
Is it possible?
Is Mallorca overrun with British and German tourists? Having posed so many questions, here’s one answer:
Yes, it is possible.
I probably come at this from a different perspective from industry professionals. My experience with responsible travel comes largely from having travelled on a relatively-meagre budget for a first-world tripper. It’s often involved hitch-hiking, sleeping on the couches of hometown heroes, finding the cheapest places where the locals eat and going there and soaking up all of that lovely, costs nothing-zip-nada-free foreign culture.
No matter how much it suited me, this is not a model for sustainable travel. Commercial reality and personal preferences of comfort guarantee that.
Let’s break that responsible travel experience down further:
Environmentally-friendly mode of travel. Staying with locals. Eating and shopping locally. Experiencing and supporting host culture.
The good thing is that there is actually a commercial alternative for each of my budget tenets of responsible travel, alternatives which cater for the comfort-loving traveller and leave (more) money in local economies.
Where does one find this responsible travel, then?
There’s no shortage of options, but there’s the problem.
People are intrinsically rather lazy.
Even if someone wants to make a sustainable choice, how much time will they be willing to spend figuring it all out before they say, “bugger it” and get a cheap package deal off one of the major travel websites?
Something is still missing.
So now what?
One could argue that a solution exists through all-inclusive package tour companies like G Adventures.
This company takes travellers on a sustainable ride from arrival to departure: the tour stays with local providers, guests connect with people en route via public transport, dining and through cultural activities and the company creates social enterprise projects to give back to host communities.
They are not the only ones, but they do provide a very clear example of a company making it easy to choose responsible travel.
The options are increasingly there for choosing socially responsible and environmentally-conscious travel, whether it be through packaged tours or individual choices.
But I argue we still need to make it simpler for to people to choose it.
Do you agree? How do you think we can make sustainable travel an easily-accessible commercial reality?