Sunday, November 04, 2007

Becoming a 'greener' traveler: A worthy challenge


Next month much world attention will focus on Bali as representatives of national governments from around the world gather there for a climate-change summit which, it can only be hoped, will result in substantive new treaties (that will also be implemented) to address the increasing woes the world is facing from changes occurring to our climate.

There is some irony in the summit being held on Bali as, after all, Bali does effectively stimulate a lot of air travel (with numerous flights to and from the island daily) and an abundance of tourists that are generally not thought of as particularly good friends of the earth.

Also, the island of Bali could become a victim of climate change with rising sea levels, and so increasing flood risks and the subsequent depletion of marine and also land biodiversity. Bali as a venue for such a summit could therefore be seen as both ironic but also apposite. Bali makes us think of travel and tourism but in this age of climate change, how can we make our travel and tourism more environmentally friendly? Anyone that has experienced the joys of travel knows that it can be a wonder and an education, but how do we avoid feelings of guilt about travel when thinking about our environment?

There are now all kinds of titles given to tourism and travel, such as ecotourism, adventure tours, sustainable tours and even reality and cultural tours. But these titles may not always be used legitimately and with full respect for what they ought to be engendering and encouraging.

Tourism is, after all, a highly lucrative industry and titles like ecotourism may prove just to be labels that tour operators use in the interests of capitalizing on an expanding and so profitable market. We should, therefore, think carefully about what titles like ecotourism and sustainable tourism really should represent.

Ecotourism may be thought of as nature-based tours that allow tourists to see, observe, witness and appreciate the natural environments of our world and the traditional cultures that exist within those environments in a sustainable manner. It may even be the case that eco tourists engage in projects to help the environments that they are visiting and so they are increasing the sustainability of such places. We then logically need to define the term "sustainable tourism"; it is a term that can be used interchangeably with ecotourism but emphasizes projects and programs that protect natural resources and sustain the local community, both currently and for their futures. This means that large transnational corporations, which run so much of the tourist industry, are not allowed to profit at the expense of local communities and also the local and world environment.

Ecotourism is then substantively aimed at those that like to travel to and experience "the great outdoors". This though is not everyone or indeed everyone's motivation for travel. There are, however, more generalized ways in which our travel and tourism may become more environmentally friendly and so there are ways in which we may all become green travelers. Even though we may not be communing with the great outdoors and may in fact be spending most of our travel and tour time in urban or city settings, we can still do things that help to preserve the environment generally, conserve energy and avoid unnecessary wastage. For example, we should all be familiar by now with avoiding unnecessary laundry in hotel rooms. Savings of water and detergents can easily be made by not having hotel towels and bed linens unnecessarily laundered. This means that any and every traveler can easily contribute by not unnecessarily and wastefully using room-service.

Expecting room-service to make up one's room every day can be wasteful for other items too. Disposable items may thoughtlessly be disregarded, half used bars of soap may be trashed when they could still be used and generally daily room-service is an excess that could easily be cut. Similarly, thoughtless and excessive food consumption can easily be avoided. Tourism has quite notoriously brought with it the excesses and so wastages incurred by fast food. But again excess does not have to be the order of the day. The fast food customer can request less packaging for carryout food and too many ketchup or chili sachets can also be avoided. Responsible disposal of any fast food trash is an automatic too.

The very act of travel can be made more environmentally friendly as well. Choosing to walk when possible is widely promoted as indeed is the option of using a bicycle when on holiday. The use of hotel pickup/drop-off services instead of renting a car can be considered as can the sharing of taxis. All of these are more economical for the traveler and more environmentally friendly.

Also offering greater economy and eco-friendliness are alternatively fueled vehicles. The rental of vehicles while traveling or touring is quite commonplace and increasingly vehicles that create less pollution can and should be sought. The renter of a vehicle can look for vehicles that run on natural gas, electricity, or are hybrid-electric and clean air gasoline-powered. Car rental companies may not yet have them but more and more do and the more customers that request and pressure for them, the more these companies will need to offer them. This is one key way in which the traveler/tourist can help to lessen the impact of travel and all that it entails. Consumer pressure can work and the more that companies, whether travel providers or food and service providers, are forced to respond to a greener consumer the more they will have to take care about what they do and how they do it.

It would be foolish and simply unrealistic to expect people to stop traveling and no longer become tourists, but more responsible travel and a greener outlook on tourism can be quite readily achieved. Businesses have to be responsive to their guests and customers and so when clients give voice to concerns or indeed compliments, they should listen. A significant way, therefore, in which we can become green travelers, is by being green thinkers. If compliments or comments regarding a company's environmental performance are due then they should be made but if criticisms are appropriate then they too should be voiced; collectively changes and improvements can be made. (Simon Marcus Gower)

The Jakarta Post
November 04, 2007

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