This article looks into a decision which affects many people who are passionate about sustainability and who are thinking about a holiday. The decision of whether to go or not to go affects us all.

Victoria falls

In my previous article about sustainable lifestyles I talked in detail about the key ingredients of a sustainable holiday. You can find a link to this article below.


I received a lot of positive feedback to that article, so I am building on that work with my thoughts on how to resolve a to go or not to go decision about holidaying.

Tourism is big business. It is big for jobs but it can also be big for the environmental and social consequences of this choice.

Some of the statistics are eye watering. I picked out the ones listed below from an article in The Conservation.

  • Global international visitor arrivals could reach 1.6 billion by 2020
  • Tourism contributes to 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • Between 50-98% of the impact is associated with the travel component (planes and cars)

What I want the overall message of this article to be is the following. It is important for people to go on holiday to visit wild areas. These funds help to pay for environmental conservation, cultural exchange and economic development in some of the world’s poorest areas. It is important when you visit these places that you pay a decent amount for your experience. Put money into the hands of local people and businesses and buy carbon offsets to cover the emissions of your plane journey.

Without tourism and without funds flowing into these places, many plant and animal species could be lost.

There is no doubt that the worst vulgarities of mass tourism contribute little to either the tourist or to the host country. There is much work to be done to turn this around.

But through sustainability tourism can become a life giving and life sustaining industry. It can protect and enhance biodiversity which is under threat, it can create jobs in remote areas where few jobs exist and it can lead to the raising of funds to help pay for essential local services such as schools and hospitals. Sustainable tourism is a force for good.

Let’s now look at a few examples of this in action.

In terms of gorilla conservation, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme in Rwanda has been enormously successful. This programme works on the basis that it needed to make the gorillas worth more alive than dead. This programme has helped to protect this endangered wildlife species as well as providing enormous value to the tourists who pay handsomely for the opportunity to see the gorillas. The funds have also helped to pay for local social and economic development as well as paying for a wildlife conservation centre.

In terms of national conservation, Namibia has been a leader in this regard. Namibia’s park security guards have done excellently at protecting the wildlife from poachers. Without tourism, there would not be funds to pay for this. Namibia is now a global success story for its anti-poaching activities. Though the protection efforts in these parks are intensely local, the ramifications for securing biodiversity are profoundly global.

Costa Rica is another example of sustainable tourism. Tourism supports over 140,000 jobs and produces 8.4% of the gross domestic product in this country. In order to protect their natural inheritance, the country has 25% of its territory classified under some category of conservation management. These protected areas welcome hundreds of thousands of tourists, who generate millions of dollars in gate admission fees and payment of services to local operators. Tourism when well thought out can be sustainable.

What you need to know

This article looked into the decision of whether to go on holiday or not, which affects many people who care about sustainability.

The focus was primarily on wildlife holidays for which a flight from a developed country would be needed and so significant carbon emissions would be incurred. In this instance, buying carbon offsets to cover the emissions of your plane journey can dramatically increase the sustainability of your holiday.

The key takeaway is that it is important for people to go on holiday to visit these areas. We looked at examples from Rwanda, Namibia and Costa Rica of how tourism provides vital funds and incentives for conservation that would not otherwise exist.

Overall, through sustainability, the face of tourism can be changed from a destructive process focussed on short term profits, to a life giving process that is focussed on the long term protection of animals and plant life.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think of tourism and its journey towards sustainability?

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