Sustainable tourism is not a new brand of thinking regarding tourism and travel, but it is one that is really – finally – starting to take off.
I think Jamie Lisse from USA Today describes it best when she says “sustainable tourism is the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying only to make a positive impact on the environment, society and economy,” (Read Jamie Lisse’s full article here). It takes the classic “take only memories, leave only footprints” philosophy many campers and ecotourists have and expands it to include a respect for local cultures and customs and an interest in aiding the local economy through the purchase of local goods and the use of local services, making it applicable to any place you’re visiting – whether it’s a nature park or a city.
All of the trips I’ve been on through Florida Tech have made this a focus of their curriculum, especially during the international trips. During both the Peru and Galapagos field courses, local travel agencies were used. In Peru, this was Pantiacolla and in the Galapagos, this was SharkSky. Both have co-owners/founders from the areas we visited, hire local people and use other local services such as restaurants, lodges and hotels.
In addition to aiding the local economy, I think that using local companies gives you a better, more personal experience. The people who work for local companies put more effort into making sure you have a pleasant experience and as a result, you get to know the people from these companies better. I loved getting the chance to know and talk with our tour guides from both trips and also getting to know some of the other people working for the travel agencies.
You don’t have to go to a foreign country to engage in sustainable practices though. You can also practice this in your home country and even your hometown. This is where the transition between sustainable tourism to sustainable living, which is more difficult, comes in. In the U.S., I feel as though this may require more research and a bit more effort in order to find and use local instead of corporate places, but the end result is the same. People who work for local companies are generally going to be more helpful and will give you a better experience than people who work at a more corporate company. They are more knowledgeable about the area and can tell you places to go and things to see that can easily be overlooked by larger companies. Overall, you’ll have a better experience and you’ll be contributing more to the local economy.
So, how does this work? How does spending money on local companies instead of larger companies centered elsewhere help the local economy any more than just spending it at the larger company? All the employees are still from the local area, right? The corporation is still creating jobs, so why does it matter which company I buy from? This concept is known as the multiplier effect. For example, you live here in Melbourne and you want to buy oranges, so you go to Walmart, a large, multi-national company. Wal-Mart purchases their oranges from California. Some of the money you spend on those oranges will go to the employees but the rest will go back to corporate headquarters in Arkansas, which will be used to buy more oranges from California, along with other goods, which are most likely not from your hometown.
Compare this to buying oranges from a local store or even a farmer’s market or cooperative group. You’re now buying oranges either first-hand or second-hand. This money goes to local companies, who buy and utilize things from other local companies more than a corporation would. Additionally, the food you buy is generally fresher than it would be if you bought it from a corporation. This concept is the same as when I earlier said that the travel agencies we used in turn used other local companies, such as restaurants and hotels. It amplifies the money being spent locally and as a result, further aids the local economy than buying from an outside company would.
Just to clarify, I’m not blaming anyone or saying you’re a bad person for shopping at Wal-Mart or other chain stores or restaurants. Everyone does it. I do it all the time. What I am saying is to try and explore more local options. Many people do it all the time with restaurants. Why not try it with other businesses and services as well? You may be surprised at what you find. Happy shopping!
Featured Photo Credit: Kee Seng Heng, system validation engineer, Penang, Malaysia