The United Nations 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.” The term promotes harmony between hosts, visitors, and the natural world. Sustainable tourism reminds us we’re all in this together.
Travelling sustainably as a family is an opportunity to bond and teach children how to be responsible participants in the global economy, and protectors of the natural world. Here’s what to look for in a sustainable travel destination, how to get where you need to go in an eco-friendly way, tips to get the kids involved, and other ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
For starters, being a tourist in your backyard greatly reduces your carbon footprint and stimulates your local economy. And consider travelling by rail. A train emits between 66 and 75 percent fewer carbon emissions than a car or plane and carries far more passengers per trip. If you’re travelling abroad, try to minimize air miles by travelling to fewer places and staying longer.
Do your research by visiting a nation’s tourism board website to read up on their sustainable tourism initiatives. For example, the Kingdom of Bhutan, known for its winding trails and Buddhist Temples high in the Himalayas, charges tourists a Sustainable Development Fee that goes toward healthcare and education, youth opportunities, infrastructure improvements, electrifying the transportation sector, tree planting to reduce the carbon footprint of tourists, and more initiatives. (Fun fact: By law, at least 60 percent of the land in Bhutan must stay forested for future generations.)
You should also go where you are needed most. Places in the process of rebuilding after a natural disaster desperately need your tourism dollars. For example, Puerto Rico worked to attract tourism following a devastating hurricane in 2017. Travellers can further assist these fragile places by volunteering for environmental and social projects.
If you love vacationing by the sea, be sure to visit nations with Marine Protected Areas, or sections of the ocean where a government has placed limits on human activity for the benefit of wildlife. And if you’re travelling to any popular natural area, try to do so in the off season to mitigate the damage of heavy use.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, be sure to utilize public transportation and train travel. Better yet, let your feet pound the pavement or hop on a bike, which has the added benefit of letting you take in scenes you may not have noticed in a car. Did you know that Utrecht, Netherlands is ranked as the most bike friendly city in the world?
Use an eco-friendly booking site to find sustainable accommodations and when possible, go for an establishment that is locally owned to keep the most money within the community.
Also, beware of greenwashing, which is the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound, when booking popular hotel chains. Make sure to check and see if the company follows any recognized systems of verification. And don’t forget the little things. Bring your own refillable water bottle. Pick up litter while hiking and stay on trail.
Try seeking out local experiences as much as possible – restaurants, guides, bed & breakfasts and more. You’ll also have a more authentic experience and avoid the tourist traps. If you find yourself in need of supplies or a quick snack, shop at local mom and pops. Try to purchase local art instead of mass-produced souvenirs. When you return from your travels, donate to the country that hosted you to keep that spirit of goodwill.
Explain to your kids the positive impact of sustainable travel and let them take some of the lead in planning. Let older children do their own research on sustainable destinations and activities and present some alternatives to you, or curate a list and let them choose. Spend some time in nature or visiting local historical sites and teach your kids how to respect and preserve these places.
And to protect your family’s health all year, invest in annual travel insurance. Annual medical plans by Allianz Global Assistance provide emergency coverage for multiple trips a year. Travel insurance is essential for every trip. If you’re planning a vacation outside of your home province, you should know that your Government Health Insurance Plan (GHIP) may not cover all your health needs.
As a world leader in travel protection, Allianz Global Assistance helps more than 8 million Canadians annually answer the call of adventure with confidence every year. Millions of travellers rely on us for help when they need it most. Let us be there for you too.
Travel insurance is underwritten by CUMIS General Insurance Company, a member of The Co-operators Group of Companies, administered by Allianz Global Assistance, which is a registered business name of AZGA Service Canada Inc.