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Eco-responsible travel: our guide for 2024
Blog...Eco-responsible travel: our guide for 2024

Eco-responsible travel: our guide for 2024

Green News
Tourism can cause some negative impacts on the environment. But how can we still have fun traveling while respecting the environment in 2024?
Green News

The tourism industry is set to reach pre-pandemic heights in 2024, which is great news for businesses and those who work within the sector, however, it’s not such good news when it comes to the environment. Accounting for approximately 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the tourism sector is exacerbating climate change. Additionally, cheaper flights and ease of travel mean that mass tourism is placing undue pressure on local ecosystems and communities.

With global warming an increasing problem across the globe, and even threatening some of the destinations that tourists flock to, this has us wondering: Can eco-responsible travel help mitigate the environmental footprint of tourism?

👉 In this article we explore the environmental effects of mass tourism, and how eco-responsible travel can help to lessen some of the damaging impacts.

What are the two major forms of tourism?

Mass tourism 

Mass tourism, also known as over-tourism, is referred to as “the movement of a large number of organised tourists to popular holiday destinations for recreational purposes”. Often associated with the traditional holiday package, it describes the use of standardised travel products and mass consumption that is typically associated with other sectors, such as the fashion industry. Despite the relatively minor impact of tourists on an individual level, when it comes to mass tourism it is the sheer volume of visitors in popular destinations that results in a negative impact on the environment.

💡 Did you know? 95% of the world's tourists flock to just 5% of its land area. This places a huge strain on a select number of popular tourist locations. 

The root of this mass tourism can be traced back to the democratisation of travel, boosted by more affordable transport and cheaper resort accommodation. The growth within the travel sector has risen steadily since the 1950s, generating huge revenues and providing jobs in many countries and communities. According to Statista the number of international tourist arrivals in 2023 totalled just under 1.3 billion, not too far off the peak of over 1.4 billion tourists in 2019. 

And while this might be good news for the economy, with tourism receipts reaching USD 1.4 trillion in 2023, this form of travel can unfortunately have a negative impact on local communities, environments, and historical sites. Less desirable impacts of mass tourism include: 

Increased consumption of water, raw materials, and food products

Mass tourism exerts enormous pressure on local resources. In many popular destinations, the influx of tourists leads to a significant spike in water usage, often in areas where water is already a scarce commodity. This increased demand can lead to water shortages for local communities. Additionally, the need for construction materials to build hotels, resorts, and other tourist facilities often leads to overexploitation of natural resources. The food industry, too, faces a surge in demand, which can result in overfishing and other unsustainable practices to cater to the varied tastes of international tourists.

A rise in greenhouse gas emissions

The carbon footprint of mass tourism is substantial. Air travel, one of the primary modes of transport for international tourists, is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the energy consumption of large hotels and resorts, often powered by fossil fuels, adds to the environmental impact. Recreational activities, such as cruises and leisure flights, further exacerbate these emissions, significantly contributing to global climate change and also increasing air pollution.

Inflation in housing and food prices

The local economy in popular tourist destinations often gets skewed towards tourism. This can lead to inflated property values and rent, making housing unaffordable for local residents. Similarly, as businesses cater more to tourists, food prices can rise, driven by increased demand and the introduction of products tailored to tourist preferences. This economic shift can make a living in tourism-centric areas prohibitively expensive for locals.

Degradation of natural and cultural heritage

Tourism can lead to a variety of environmental problems including the physical degradation of natural sites due to overuse and lack of proper maintenance. Sensitive ecosystems, like coral reefs and mountain trails, are particularly vulnerable. Cultural heritage sites also suffer from over-tourism, with historical landmarks and monuments facing wear and tear from excessive foot traffic. Additionally, the commercialisation of cultural practices and artefacts can dilute their authenticity and significance, leading to a loss of cultural heritage.

The situation has escalated to the point where the experience of vacationing is often marred by excessive crowds and noise. While tourism generates economic benefits, some destinations are becoming increasingly un-liveable and less appealing to both residents and visitors.

👉 Learn more about the impacts of tourism on the environment in our article.

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Sustainable travel 

Sustainable tourism on the other hand is the antithesis to mass tourism. It's an approach that integrates the principles of sustainable development to travel. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities”.  

Essentially this encompasses:

  • Economic sustainability - Ensuring that tourism contributes positively to the economic well-being of host destinations while ensuring fair distribution of benefits among all stakeholders.
  • Social sustainability - Focusing on the well-being of local communities, respecting their cultures and traditions, and ensuring that tourism does not lead to social displacement or exploitation.
  • Environmental sustainability - Minimising the ecological footprint of tourism activities, conserving natural resources, and promoting the preservation of biodiversity and natural habitats.
A key aspect of sustainable tourism is the active role played by tourists. It calls for travellers to be conscious of their impact and to make choices that support the sustainability of the destinations they visit. This involves understanding the social and environmental consequences of their travel and actively seeking to reduce negative impacts.
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Mass tourism, a threat for some cities

Mass tourism is becoming an increasingly big concern for many tourist locations around the world. These destinations, while benefiting economically, are facing severe environmental and cultural threats that are also exacerbated by global warming. 

Not only is this having a negative effect on the local populations within the impacted areas, but it’s also negatively impacting the experience of visitors to such locations. Let’s take a closer look at some of the world's most iconic tourist destinations that are suffering under the pressures of mass tourism: 

Tulum, Mexico

Tulum's transformation from a hidden gem to a major tourist hotspot is a textbook example of the double-edged sword of mass tourism. The influx of millions annually, drawn by its pristine beaches, clear waters, and Mayan ruins, has led to significant environmental and infrastructural strains, for example: 

  • Rapid urbanisation has led to the destruction of vital forests and mangroves
  • Overwhelmed wastewater systems are causing pollution, affecting both the underground water table and the Caribbean Sea
  • The construction boom, including hotels and roads, has dramatically altered the natural landscape
  • The spread of open-air dumps poses serious environmental and health hazards
  • Growth has seen Tulum's population triple in less than a decade, raising concerns about its future sustainability

Venice, Italy

Venice is another world-famous tourist location that is struggling with mass tourism. The influx of huge visitor numbers, including large cruise ships entering the lagoon highlights the delicate balance between preserving cultural heritage and accommodating the needs of its tourist-driven economy. The daily influx of tourists, outnumbering the local population, has prompted the city to implement significant measures in an effort to counter the effects of mass tourism, including:

  • A ban on large boats to protect the historic centre’s foundations
  • Restrictions on new souvenir shops to maintain local culture
  • An entrance fee for day-trippers to manage visitor numbers and promote off-season tourism

It’s hoped that these measures will help safeguard Venice's status as a World Heritage site and ensure its viability for future generations.

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, famed for its stunning sunsets and unique architecture, is another victim of its own success. The island, particularly during the peak summer months, struggles under the weight of tourist demand:

  • The infrastructure of the small island is stretched to its limits, struggling to accommodate the sheer number of visitors
  • Local resources, such as water and energy, are under immense pressure, leading to sustainability concerns
  • The charm and tranquillity that draw people to Santorini are at risk, as overcrowding and noise pollution increase
  • Measures to control the flow of tourists, especially from cruise ships, are being considered to preserve the island's unique character and environment

Like Tulum and Venice, Santorini's experience underscores the urgent need for a sustainable approach to tourism. Balancing economic benefits with environmental preservation and local community well-being is essential for the survival of these destinations.

👉 Discover how climate change is impacting your favourite holiday destinations in our article.

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‍‍How to travel eco-responsibly in 2024

Travelling, by its very nature, has an environmental impact, but it's possible to significantly reduce this footprint. The focus isn't on stopping tourism altogether but on embracing a more mindful and sustainable way of travelling.

Upholding the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism

The Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, established by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), sets out a series of principles aimed at minimising tourism's negative impacts on the environment and cultural heritage. This framework, adopted in 1999, encourages responsible and sustainable tourism development worldwide. It is a non-binding set of guidelines comprising ten core principles, which emphasise:

  • Fostering mutual respect - Tourism should promote understanding and respect among different cultures and societies
  • Encouraging fulfilment - Travel should serve as a means for individual and collective fulfilment
  • Sustainable development - Tourism must be a driving force for sustainable development
  • Preserving cultural heritage - Tourism should respect and contribute to the preservation and enhancement of cultural heritage.
  • Benefiting local communities - Host countries and communities should benefit from tourism activities
  • Stakeholder responsibilities - All parties involved in tourism development must uphold their respective obligations
  • Right to tourism - Everyone has the right to access tourism experiences
  • Freedom of movement - Tourists should have the liberty to move freely, provided they respect local regulations and customs.
  • Workers' Rights - The rights of workers and entrepreneurs in the tourism industry must be protected.
  • Implementing ethical principles - The principles of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism should be actively implemented and promoted

Adapting to current trends and challenges

As we move through 2024, the principles of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism are more relevant than ever. The tourism industry faces new challenges, such as adapting to post-pandemic travel norms, addressing climate change more aggressively, and ensuring that technological advancements in travel remain aligned with ethical and sustainable practices.

Travellers, industry professionals, and policymakers must work together to adapt these principles to the current landscape, ensuring that tourism continues to be a force for good, contributing positively to both the planet and its inhabitants. 

In the next section, we outline some of the steps that you can take on an individual level to support eco-tourism and minimise the negative impact of your travel.


Embracing off-the-beaten-path destinations in 2024

The world is filled with hidden gems beyond the usual capital cities and famed tourist spots. Why limit your travels when there are countless lesser-known locations offering unique experiences, cultural richness, and tranquillity? Venturing into these less crowded areas not only offers an escape from the hustle and bustle but also allows you to discover authentic local experiences and contribute to the economies of places that don’t typically benefit from tourism money.

Timing your visit to popular destinations

For those who still wish to visit more popular destinations, why not consider travelling during the off-season? Imagine wandering through the streets of a usually packed city or exploring famous landmarks without the usual throngs of tourists. Off-season travel can provide a more peaceful experience, allowing for a deeper connection with the place and its people.

The merit of slow travel

As we move through 2024, sustainable tourism increasingly emphasises the concept of 'slow travel.' This approach involves travelling less frequently but staying longer at each destination. It’s about immersing yourself in the local culture, environment, and community, rather than hopping quickly from one tourist spot to another. Slow travel allows for a more meaningful and enriching experience, giving travellers the opportunity to truly absorb and appreciate the nuances of different cultures and places - while also reducing carbon emissions!

💡 By adopting these practices, travellers in 2024 can contribute to a more sustainable and responsible tourism culture and one that values the quality of experience over quantity of destinations.

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Opting for eco-certified accommodation in 2024

The environmental impact of your travel accommodation can be significant, which is why choosing eco-certified accommodation is a key step in travelling sustainably. Moving away from large hotel chains, travellers now have the opportunity to connect with nature and contribute to its preservation by staying in establishments that prioritise environmental responsibility. These accommodations should adhere to strict standards, focusing on several critical areas:

Optimised heating and cooling systems

Emphasis is placed on prioritising energy efficiency to maintain ideal temperatures while minimising energy consumption. This might include adopting eco-friendly energy solutions like heat pumps or solar panels or using an electricity plan that utilises renewable sources.

Sustainable choices in food and textiles

Commitment to using locally sourced, organic products alongside environmentally friendly textiles helps significantly in cutting down on textile waste.

Efficient water and energy conservation

Incorporation of systems designed to lower both water and energy usage, such as through the utilisation of energy-efficient appliances and LED light bulbs.

Responsible waste management

Implementation of robust waste reduction and recycling strategies coupled with appropriate disposal practices to ensure environmental responsibility.

Eco-conscious construction practices

Focus on construction techniques that are designed to reduce environmental impact and engage local communities, demonstrating a commitment to ecological sustainability and community involvement.

In 2024, there are a number of prominent eco-certification labels that travellers can look for to ensure that their accommodation selection is sustainable:

  • The European Ecolabel - Recognised across Europe, this label signifies high environmental standards
  • The Green Key - An international standard of excellence in the field of environmental responsibility and sustainable operation
  • The Green Globe - A global certification for sustainable tourism

❗Choosing a labelled establishment, however, doesn't absolve guests of personal responsibility. There are a number of other sustainability considerations that you should also take into account. For example, tourists can enhance their eco-friendly impact and reduce the energy consumed by:

  • Taking cooler shorter showers
  • Practice energy conservation by turning off lights when leaving a room
  • Minimising the use of air conditioners
  • Reducing towel and linen changes

💡 For a truly unique experience, why not consider staying in an eco-lodge? These accommodations are designed with minimal environmental impact, and constructed to blend harmoniously with nature. Ecolodges not only protect the surrounding environment but also involve local communities, offering tourists an immersive and eco-conscious experience.

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Embracing green transportation in 2024

Transportation is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, with 75% of the sector's greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, to align with eco-responsible travel goals, it's crucial to consider more sustainable modes of transportation.

Alternatives to air travel

While aeroplanes are often the fastest way to travel long distances, they are also among the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the tourism sector. This is why reducing reliance on air travel is a key step towards sustainable tourism. 

For longer distances, trains have emerged as a favoured option for eco-conscious travellers. They offer a more environmentally friendly alternative, significantly reducing the carbon footprint per passenger compared to flights.

Local transportation options

While it might not always be possible to avoid flying, usually once you reach your destination the choices for green transportation become more accessible:

  • Cycling - An excellent way to explore while staying active and minimising emissions.
  • Walking - Ideal for short distances and immersing oneself in the local environment.
  • Public transportation - Buses, subways, and trams are efficient and reduce the per-person environmental impact when compared to taking a taxi.
  • Carpooling - A viable option for reducing the number of vehicles on the road, especially in areas where public transport is limited. Electric vehicles are also helping to make this even more eco-responsible.

Sustainable travel is often economical too

Governments and local authorities are increasingly recognising the importance of promoting sustainable transportation. Many countries and regions have introduced affordable public transport passes to encourage tourists and locals alike to opt for greener travel options. These initiatives not only make sustainable travel more accessible but also significantly contribute to reducing CO2 emissions.

👉 Discover why the transportation industry is so harmful to the environment in our blog.

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Consume local products

One of the most enriching aspects of travel is the culinary experiences that it offers. In 2024, the emphasis on consuming local products remains a vital part of sustainable tourism. When you indulge in local specialties, you're not just treating your taste buds you're also playing a role in preserving and supporting:

  • Culinary traditions - Choosing small, local eateries over international chains helps maintain culinary diversity, reduce food waste, and supports small business owners
  • The environment - Opting for fresh, locally sourced, seasonal produce reduces the carbon footprint associated with long-distance food transportation.

Artisanal souvenirs

Bringing home souvenirs is a timeless tradition of travel. In the context of sustainable tourism, selecting artisanal products is a way to contribute positively to the local economy. These items, handcrafted by local artists, are not only unique but also offer an insight into the region's cultural heritage. 

❗ In 2024, it’s increasingly important to be discerning about the origins of the souvenirs you choose. Always check the labels to ensure that the products are genuinely made in the region you are visiting. Avoid souvenirs that are misleadingly tagged with the location's name but are actually produced elsewhere, like the common ‘Made in China’ items found in many tourist destinations.

By consciously choosing to consume local products and souvenirs, travellers contribute to a more sustainable and equitable tourism model. This approach helps preserve local cultures, supports small businesses, and reduces environmental impact, making it a win-win for both the traveller and the host community.

farmer in remote location

Avoid waste production

In the spirit of eco-responsible travel, one of the key objectives in 2024 is to explore destinations without leaving a detrimental ecological impact. This approach involves blending seamlessly into new environments, absorbing cultures, and appreciating landscapes without contributing to their degradation.

Responsible waste management is a crucial aspect of this approach. It's essential to avoid littering in nature or public spaces. The practice of carrying your waste until you can dispose of it properly is not just respectful but necessary to preserve the beauty and cleanliness of the places you visit.

Eco-conscious travellers are increasingly adopting the use of durable and reusable items, actionable tips include: 

  • Water bottles and coffee cups - Use reusable water bottles and coffee cups instead of disposable ones. This not only reduces plastic waste but also encourages the consumption of local water and beverages, reducing the carbon footprint associated with transporting bottled drinks.
  • Eco-friendly travel gear - Choose travel gear made from sustainable materials by sustainable brands. This includes backpacks, luggage, and clothing made from recycled or organic materials, which reduces the demand for new resources and supports a circular economy.
  • Solar-powered devices - Use solar-powered chargers and gadgets to charge electronic devices reduce energy demand and limit greenhouse gases. These devices harness renewable energy, reducing the reliance on electricity generated from fossil fuels when travelling.
  • Solid toiletries - Switch to solid toiletries like shampoo bars, soap bars, and toothpaste tablets. These products often come in minimal or biodegradable packaging and are more lightweight and travel-friendly than their liquid counterparts.
  • Reusable shopping bags - Carry foldable reusable shopping bags to avoid the need for single-use plastic bags when shopping for groceries or souvenirs.
  • Bamboo or metal straws - Use bamboo or metal straws instead of plastic straws, which are a significant source of plastic pollution in oceans and waterways. You could even consider travelling with your own. 
  • Digital tickets and check-ins - Opt for digital boarding passes, tickets, and hotel check-ins to reduce paper waste.
  • Portable water filters - For travellers visiting destinations where tap water is not drinkable, using portable water filters or purifying tablets can be a sustainable alternative to buying bottled water.
  • Eco-friendly sunscreen - Choose reef-safe sunscreen that doesn't contain harmful chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can damage coral reefs and marine life.
  • Cloth towels and napkins - Carrying a small cloth towel or napkin can reduce reliance on disposable paper towels and napkins.

👉 Learn more about recycling and waste in our blog.

Travelling far from home is no excuse for forgetting basic etiquette regarding environmental responsibility. For example, a WWF report highlighted that beach tourism contributed to 52% of the waste found in the Mediterranean Sea. Such statistics underscore the importance of individual actions in combating waste production during travel.

Embracing the future of responsible travel

As we look towards a more sustainable future, the importance of eco-responsible tourism in 2024 cannot be overstated. By adopting practices such as supporting local economies, choosing green transportation, consuming local products, and minimising waste production, we as travellers can have a huge impact when it comes to preserving the cultural and natural heritage of our destinations. This shift in travel behaviour not only enriches our own experiences but also ensures that the wonders of the world remain intact for future generations to explore and cherish.

What about Greenly?

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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