This article looks into the key ingredients of what makes a holiday a sustainable holiday. What should you definitely attempt to do and what should you avoid?

mass tourism

Sustainability is often accused of being big and complex, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Hopefully this article makes the big and complex small and easy to understand. Everyone enjoys a holiday and through a few simple steps it is easy to design a holiday that takes less from your host country socially, economically and environmentally.

1.     Environment

Sustainability isn’t only about the environment but it is where this article will begin. There are three things to watch out for here.

  • Energy

In terms of energy, you want to be mindful of what is used to transport you from where you are to where your holiday is based. Flying is an activity which is associated with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. There is a trend for more and more passengers to take at least one flight every year. This is not sustainable.

I found this IATA article on air passenger numbers truly astonishing. Please read it via the link below.

2036 Forecast Reveals Air Passengers Will Nearly Double to 7.8 Billion

Even with doubtless improvements in fuel efficiency, aeroplanes create more issues than just carbon emissions. They are responsible for releasing nitrogen oxides, which deplete the ozone layer and water vapour from high flying aircraft contributes to the greenhouse effect. Overall, air travel is a difficult to make compatible with the demands of sustainable development.

So often we travel to far off lands, but fail to appreciate wonders closer to home. If you take a holiday closer to where you live and avoid flying that is definitely a key ingredient of a sustainable holiday. A steel wheel on a steel rail is a highly efficient form of propulsion. Holidays by train can be enormously fun and you get to see a great deal whilst you are moving. Bike holidays are another ultra-sustainable choice and can be combined with railways to let you explore further afield.

Overall, prudent use of energy resources is the hallmark of a sustainable holiday. I am not saying that you should never fly, for some faraway destinations it is the only viable option. But making a conscious decision not to fly and to holiday closer to home is a far more sustainable option.

There will also come a point in the not too distant future when developing countries become increasingly if not fully developed. When this happens and air travel comes within reach of these enormous population centres, the pressures on our skies will become even greater than they already are.

  • Water

Water is another key element of the sustainability equation that tourism affects. Prudent use of this precious resource will determine whether your holiday is sustainable or not.

In developed countries water is not considered to be a precious or scarce resource, but in developing countries this is not the case. As more and more people holiday in developing countries, this can place enormous pressures on these countries water systems.

Water is needed for swimming pools, water parks and for the showering and toilet facilities used by the tourists from developed countries. These tourists will have a daily water use many multiples bigger than that of the local people, which leads to bigger pressures building up quicker.

Another insidious impact on water resources caused by tourism comes by the way of dietary choices. Again, meat is considered a staple item in developed countries but in developing countries more often than not it is considered a luxury, particularly beef.

A great resource in this regard is the Water Footprint Network, which hosts information on different items and their water footprint. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is twenty times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. You can find a link to the Water Footprint Network article below.

Water footprint of crop and animal products: a comparison

What this means is, is that developing countries, keen to please international visitors, alter from their traditional cuisine and aim to impress visitors with meat options that would not otherwise be there. But the raising and eventual slaughter of this meat has significant consequences for water levels in these countries and for greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Be smart and aim to eat local cuisine when you are on holiday. If you can, stick to vegan and vegetarian dishes that is even better.

Overall, be conscious of your water consumption when on holiday and look out for hidden water which lies behind products and services that you consume if you want to make your holiday more sustainable.

  • Waste

When you are on holiday, be conscious that you are a guest in another country. Littering and leaving litter behind is a problem, but it is especially problematic when you do it in a country that is not your own. In developing countries with stretched budgets and unmet needs, they can ill afford to clean up after careless visitors.

People are often surprised at the lack of bins and recycling facilities in developing countries. You may have to keep hold of your rubbish for a little longer to put it in its right place, but the effort will be worth it. If your hotel or accommodation manager doesn’t have any recycling facilities, then point out to them why they should. If no one complains, nothing will change.

Try and place less pressure on local waste management facilities by eating in and taking your time. You don’t always have to get everything to takeaway.

Overall, with just a little bit of thought and effort the sustainability of your holiday can be greatly improved as far as waste management is concerned.

2.   Social

Sustainable tourism is also about the social situation that you leave your host country in. When you visit other countries, make the effort to learn about the cultures there and visit their monuments and sites, many of which could be ancient. Try and learn things and take your findings back to your country with you. Make sure that you only take memories and don’t remove any parts of monuments. If millions of people did this, then pretty soon there will be no monument to visit.

This is the toughest one for me and it regards buying gifts from or handing money to child labourers. My position on this is that you should not engage in these activities. These kids should be in school and not walking up and down beaches during the day and into restaurants and bars at night looking for money. If you give them money or buy things from them, you simply encourage their parents to send them out the next day. It may be tough but you are not helping the situation, you are simply perpetuating an endless cycle of low skill, low wage misery.

Just talking to locals and making conversation can do a great deal to help. Some of these people will be trying to sell you products or services, but some will be genuinely interested in you, and in return you should show genuine interest in their life and their situation. Try and leave them in a better place than when you found them.

Overall, be mindful of social problems and different cultures when you are on holiday to make your trip a sustainable trip.

3.   Economic

Sustainable development is as much about economics as it is about society and the environment.

Tourism and especially mass tourism poses a number of challenges for sustainability. One of the worst features of this type of tourism is leakage. This refers to the process by which out of every dollar earned in tourism, a large percentage leaves the country. This can be as high as 80% in some cases. This occurs as a result of package holidays sold in developed countries and as a result of large resorts being part of a consortium with owners based in developed countries. It also occurs as a result of tourists who visit other countries but demand goods that are made abroad or shop in restaurants with foreign ownership.

When you travel, try to avoid packaged tours and large resorts. If you can, try as as hard as possible to put money into the hands of local people and local communities who need it most.  If you do that, your holiday will be far more sustainable.

What you need to know

This article looked into the key ingredients of what makes a holiday a sustainable holiday.

In terms of environmental consequences, you should try to fly less and travel by train or by bike. We are what we eat and you should attempt to eat local and eat vegan and vegetarian to be more sustainable.

Tourism is socially sustainable when monuments and cultures are left intact and not disturbed or exploited. Taking a stand against child labour is also a hallmark of a sustainable holiday.

A holiday is an economically sustainable holiday when you invest in local communities and aim for as lower level of leakage as possible, preferably zero.

Overall, by being considerate of people in different places and in different generations and by taking a few simple steps, you can make holidaying far more sustainable.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think makes a holiday a sustainable holiday?

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