By Noemi Portela Prol
The footprint left by mass tourism is difficult to mitigate but sustainable tourism is presented as a firm alternative that is gaining followers year after year. Ecological hotels integrated into the environment, sleeping in a room that uses renewable energies or simply enjoying a stay knowing that it will not harm the inhabitants of the place or the environment, are some of the experiences that make their way offering a different vacation and, above all, committed to the planet.
Tourism does not understand crisis. The bad economic situation does not prevent this sector from being among the most powerful year after year. According to the latest annual report of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in 2013 there were 1,087 million trips that generated revenues of 873,000 million euros. Encouraging figures for the world economy, but worrying at an environmental level, is that its negative impact is much greater: the coast dotted here and there with large masses of buildings, practices with great impact on the local population, abuse of the natural resources of the area, pollution of ecosystems, animals used as a tourist attraction ...
Given the worrying situation, alternatives have been created to avoid, or at least minimize, the impact. This is the case of ecotourism, which aims for travelers to enjoy their stay in tune with the nature and culture of the place without harming it. Some search engines with a wide reputation such as Expedia and TripAdvisor have joined this type of initiative by incorporating a filter in their search engines to be able to select only establishments that practice ecotourism or at least sustainable tourism; that is, that their practices comply with the principles of sustainable development. Hotels that use renewable energy, natural materials instead of plastics, organic food or food produced by local farmers are some of the activities that are included in this new market niche that is gaining followers daily.
The growth of this type of company was demonstrated in the Tourism for Tomorrow awards held at the World Travel and Tourism Council's (WTTC) World Tourism Summit, in which five recognitions were awarded. The previously mentioned TripAdvisor was one of the winners for its Green Leaders program. The Spanish company Confortel Hoteles was also one of the winners of the night for its commitment to employment for disabled people. The award for best tourist destination went to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, for offering numerous green spaces and innovative recycling systems. The work of the Soneva group, which has created a solar installation in the Maldives Islands and allocates a percentage of the proceeds from the rooms to reduce carbon emissions, was not exempt from recognition either. The last award went to Reality Tours & Travels which allows discovering tourism in slums of India by offering employment to its inhabitants. However, many more are added to these five examples. The tourist impact begins from the moment of travel and the choice of the means of transport is important to avoid unnecessary CO2 emissions. In addition, small gestures such as recycling or trying to adapt to the prevailing lifestyle in the destination and not imposing our own will avoid damage and allow you to enjoy a much more unique experience.
"I have lost the feeling of being at home." The speaker is Niwat Leekand, a member of the Asian Urak Lawoi tribe. His paradisiacal home has now been invaded by hordes of tourists hungry for peace and quiet. The same that the locals lost twenty years ago when that was seen as a way to prosper. A permanent journey into slavery.