Sus­tain­able travel: It’s not just about the en­vi­ron­ment

Tehran Times - - HERITAGE & TOURISM -

A look at tours and pro­grams that ad­dress the im­pact trav­el­ers have on the com­mu­ni­ties they visit.

The term “sus­tain­able travel” has a green glow to it, con­not­ing eco-friendly prac­tices and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity. But the hu­man side of sus­tain­abil­ity, as de­fined by the World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion, ad­dresses com­mu­nity im­pact, both so­cial and eco­nomic, and is newly gain­ing trac­tion among travel com­pa­nies.

So­cial im­pact travel aims to en­sure money spent on a tour or a trip stays in the com­mu­nity. A vi­tal source of in­come to de­vel­op­ing na­tions, travel is the first or sec­ond source of ex­port earn­ings in 20 of the 48 least de­vel­oped coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the W.T.O., yet a 2013 re­port from the or­ga­ni­za­tion noted that just $5 of ev­ery $100 spent in a de­vel­op­ing coun­try stayed in that des­ti­na­tion.

“There’s a lot of peo­ple who think ‘eco-tourism’ when they hear ‘sus­tain­able tourism,’ but that’s a piece of the puz­zle,” said Kel­ley Louise, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Im­pact Travel Alliance, an in­dus­try non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that fo­cuses on sus­tain­able travel. “Sus­tain­abil­ity has a pos­i­tive im­pact not only on the en­vi­ron­ment, but the cul­ture and the econ­omy of the des­ti­na­tion you’re vis­it­ing.”

Among new de­vel­op­ments, the Jor­dan Tourism Board cre­ated the Mean­ing­ful Travel Map of Jor­dan in March, high­light­ing 12 so­cial en­ter­prises in the coun­try, in­clud­ing a Be­douin camp stay, a women’s weav­ing group and vil­lage tours that sup­port lo­cal en­trepreneurs. Last fall, the tour com­pany Collette launched Im­pact Travel Tours, which spend half of the time sight­see­ing and the other half vis­it­ing com­mu­nity-based im­prove­ment projects. Ear­lier this year, the sa­fari com­pany andBeyond launched phil­an­thropic-fo­cused itin­er­ar­ies in Tan­za­nia, Kenya and South Africa.

Or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­mot­ing so­cial im­pact travel aim to em­pha­size not just big do-good trips, but to ed­u­cate trav­el­ers about their small­est de­ci­sions, such as eat­ing at a lo­cally owned restau­rant.

“Ev­ery time you have a meal, get ac­com­mo­da­tions or do ac­tiv­i­ties, you can have a pos­i­tive im­pact just by trav­el­ing,” said Paula Vlam­ings, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Tourism Cares, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing the tourism in­dus­try that, among other pro­grams, trains Good Trav­els ad­vis­ers, travel agents who spe­cial­ize in so­cially re­spon­si­ble travel ex­pe­ri­ences. “Leav­ing money in the com­mu­nity is such an im­por­tant way to have a huge im­pact. The rip­ple ef­fect, par­tic­u­larly for women, girls and the en­vi­ron­ment, demon­strates the power of travel.”

Some sus­tain­able trips are priced like lux­ury va­ca­tions, a fact that prompted the 2015 launch of Giv­ing Way, a plat­form link­ing vol­un­teers di­rectly with non­govern­men­tal agen­cies, cut­ting out in­ter­me­di­aries that link the two.

“Vol­un­teer­ing should be ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one, not just a rich man’s priv­i­lege,” said Orit Strauss, the founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Giv­ing Way, which now works with nearly 1,900 or­ga­ni­za­tions in more than 115 coun­tries. About half are free and the other half charge nom­i­nal fees to cover food and lodg­ing. Ac­tiv­i­ties range from work­ing on an or­ganic farm in Costa Rica to men­tor­ing youth in ru­ral South Africa.

As­sess­ing the claims of a so­cial im­pact travel com­pany re­quires ask­ing where the money goes. “That in­for­ma­tion isn’t read­ily avail­able now,” said Salli Fel­ton, of the non­profit Travel Foun­da­tion, which tests pro­grams that ben­e­fit lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. “What’s crit­i­cal is trac­ing the im­pact. If cus­tomers ask, they’ll start do­ing it. If they can’t an­swer that ques­tion, that should be a red flag.”

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