May 23, 2024

Enjoy a sustainable vacation: Your destination will thank you

Sarah Faith is a writer for Responsible Travel.

Nearly 600 million tourists visited Europe in 2022, and this year looks set to be the busiest travel season since 2019.

But there is a dark side to the influx of tourists returning to Europe’s hot spots: tourism leakage, the term describing the impact of unsustainable tourism.

When you book an entire vacation in Greece, how much of your money ends up in local pockets? Hardly anything.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, in most all-inclusive vacation packages, 80 percent of the money goes abroad — away from local communities.

This is an example of a “tourist spill,” similarly when an international company provides your hotel, flight, rental car, and excursions, when you eat imported groceries or frequent international chain restaurants.

It is money that local communities can instead use for conservation, supporting local economies and livelihoods, preserving cultural traditions, or maintaining critical infrastructure. And in destinations that suffer from overtourism – places where a large number of visitors erode the fabric of daily life – tourism infiltration exacerbates the problem.

But tourism does not have to be counterproductive or destructive. Here are five ways you can vacation more sustainably this summer, putting money in locals’ hands and taking the pressure off destinations that are about to burst at the seams.

5. Live, shop and eat locally

Of course it is impossible to live like the locals as a tourist and reduce the ‘leakage’ to zero. But there are ways to maximize the percentage of vacation pay that remains in effect.

One simple method is to prioritize locally owned accommodations and restaurants and to use local guides. The other thing is to avoid Airbnb hosts who buy entire homes for short-term rent.

Also, be aware of where your food is coming from – is it from local producers?

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When you help communities thrive economically, your vacation thrives, too. That means more money to improve facilities, clean beaches, efficient public transportation, and a thriving local dining scene. Also, you will find that the locals are more welcoming to the tourists.

4. Look for alternatives to tourist hotspots

Spain has been facing a tourist revolt since 2017. Barcelona residents, in particular, are fed up with entire neighborhoods being lost to short-term rentals, souvenir shops and tourist bars, and are on an anti-tourism warpath.

Before the pandemic, slogans were written across the city urging tourists to go home, and masked protesters slashed the tires of a tour bus.

Mallorca is also moving away from its traditional tourist markets. Earlier this month, after looking at measures to reduce overcrowding, the island’s director of tourism, Lucia Escribano, said it was “not interested in welcoming budget tourists from the UK”. Lanzarote has declared itself a “tourist saturated destination”.

But Spain is likely to receive more international visitors this year than before the pandemic.

Choosing alternative travel destinations takes the pressure off popular places and spreads the benefits of tourism to communities that would otherwise miss it.

So why not Girona or Tarragona instead of Barcelona? If you really want to experience Catalan culture, head to the region’s mountainous hinterland, where medieval villages are perched atop the slopes of the volcanic Garrotxa Natural Park.

Trade cruise ships pummeling Croatia on the Albanian Riviera – a stretch of Ionian coastline blessed with the same waters as Corfu. Here you can explore the mountainous forests of Llogara National Park and go for great walks against the backdrop of the bright blue sky.

Or choose a less visited Greek island (there are 6,000 of them, after all) than Mykonos or Santorini. Taste Kynthos with its delicious cheese and honey, admire the sea views from the island of Amorgos with its idyllic blue-painted houses, or admire the fading grandeur of Syros with its neoclassical facades.

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If you’re not sure if your vacation could be contributing to the overtourism problem, check Responsible Travel’s overtourism map and research the place in local media before booking.

3. Choose a suitable place for a vacation experience that is rooted in the area

Specialized tour companies are often deeply rooted in the local culture and landscape. You can help spread the impact of tourism and ensure that the money you spend also benefits remote communities.

So why not use your vacation to pursue your love of kayaking, hiking, or painting?

For example, walking holidays in Spain are best in the off-season when the weather is cooler and takes you to less visited regions such as the Picos de Europa in Asturias or the Sierra de Grazalema in inland Andalusia.

Food tours focus on local producers and farmers’ markets, and nature tours let you follow in the footsteps of animals, not other tourists.

Romania’s fictional Carpathian Mountains are home to some of the largest concentrations of wolves and bears in Europe, but the number of tourists is only a fraction of what flocks to Austria, Switzerland, and other famous mountain regions.

In the winter, travel with local specialists for the best chance of wildlife viewing. The money from your trip is invested in local businesses, local employees, and conservation initiatives.

2- Switch to restricted travel

The average traveler thinks that flying is the cheapest and fastest way to travel – but that’s not always the case.

With soaring fuel prices (and thus flights) and the rapidly expanding European rail network, train travel makes more sense than ever.

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Not to mention the environmental impact: A flight from London to Paris emits 14 times more carbon dioxide than a train trip.

New train connections and night trainsincluding between Vienna, Paris, Berlin and Brussels – make your slow travel adventures easier.

With France becoming the first country to announce that it will phase out some short-haul domestic flights in favor of rail alternatives, train travel instead of air could become the new norm across much of Europe.

Arriving by train is not only a social, often scenic and relaxing way to start your summer vacation, but it also protects the environment at the chosen travel destination.

1. Incorporate an environmentally friendly element into your vacation

Locals aren’t the only ones suffering from “tourism leakage”. Nature, which is affected by every type of travel, does not benefit either. As biodiversity in flora and fauna is in crisis, tourism must not only take from nature, but also contribute to its renewal.

Making a positive contribution to nature can be as simple as donating to a local conservation project at your travel destination, participating in a local garbage collection campaign (WWW TrashHero Organizing free cleaning projects via social media) or deciding to volunteer while on vacation.

Scientific projects with volunteers – such as the dolphin-watching project off the coast of Liguria in Italy – make a permanent contribution to ongoing conservation research, while at the same time you can sail the Mediterranean and enjoy delicious Italian seafood.

So keep the region in mind this summer. When you drain your vacation money from the place you’re visiting, nature, local communities – and ultimately your vacation itself – are poorer.