Eco-tourism & Conscious Hospitality
You might have noticed that WOMB has published a few ”green city guides” to date. We love exploring new places, and we always try to be as eco as possible and leave no negative impact on the places we visit. Researching for our own pieces has led us to many articles on eco-tourism, and in this post, we would like to share some of our newly gained knowledge and some critical points with you.
Eco-tourism is becoming a buzzword, but what does it really mean? We believe that preceding to being a conscious traveller, one must be a conscious human being first. Sustainable tourism goes only as far as sustainable humanity, and we still have a long way to go.
Since more people start caring about eco-friendly solutions, and we see all sorts of companies adopting green policies as part of their CSR or even marketing strategy. The same we see in tourism: small eco-resorts are popping up all over the globe, and established hotel chains like Hilton commit to reducing their negative environmental impact while simultaneously increasing their positive social impact. Resorts and retreats start advertising with locally sourced food, and on their websites, you can read about their commitment to the respective local communities.
Whereas all these actions are being swept under one and the same notion of ”eco-tourism”, we would suggest a distinction here introducing...
Being eco-tourists we view more as an action, performed by the travellers themselves. For us, eco-tourism is more about how you act in the place you are visiting, for instance - did you get familiar with local, recycling rules (Japan has some very strict ones and tourists tend to - not even on purpose - mess them up quite a bit when visiting)? Did you remember your reusable water bottle not to buy and then dispose kazillion plastic ones? The list goes on, and we're sure you get the picture. Eco-tourism is about you, conscious hospitality, on the other hand, is about them.
Hotels, resorts or guest houses can do a whole lot to be more sustainable, starting with the materials used to build and furnish the resort (eg. did the wood to build the table in the lobby have to travel thousands of miles to get to the hotel or was it picked up locally, maybe even from fallen trees or recycled from other wooden items like boats?) Then we can look at the energy sources and energy usage at the lodge - is the energy generated by solar panels, and how do they make sure that no energy is being wasted? Are there any fossil fuels burned at the property? Does the lighting in the hotel room switch off automatically? Can you set a timer for the air-conditioner to switch off, eg. after you've fallen asleep? How is the water heated and what kind of toilets are at the property? Less sexy, yet highly relevant!
Finally, we get to food sourcing and food waste... A huge topic! Is a German guesthouse serving you pineapple for breakfast? Shocker - that pineapple wasn't sourced locally! It has probably travelled a longer distance than you to get to that guesthouse! Is your ”eco-resort” over-serving you meat and/or dairy products for each meal? We will leave this one without any (harsh) comments, rather suggest you read one of our earlier blog posts about the negative impact that agriculture and meat and dairy production have on our planet. Even if you are not a vegetarian or vegan, meat and dairy doesn’t need to be eaten for every meal, so when your accommodation provider is serving you only that - here is a red flag. And even if the food is sourced locally and ethically (yes, unethically sourced food is a thing - eg. the majority of the chocolate/cocoa that we consume comes from highly unethical sources), how does the lodge deal with food waste? Does your resort have an agreement with a local home or centre for homeless people who might need food? Are there composting facilities?
We are highly aware of the fact that all the things we listed above (and of course, many more that we left out) might be difficult to implement at a private home, let alone in a hotel facility, but these questions need to be raised, and indeed the listed issues are a part of the ”eco-tourism” debate and checklist.
The mindset of a conscious traveller
Many of us allow ourselves to indulge and loosen up when travelling. Treating yourself with a well-deserved holiday, you don't want to be thinking about the food waste generated by your hotel or the electricity needed to heat up (and maybe even light up) that gorgeous looking swimming pool. Well... We might have reached an era where you have to start thinking about these things. Travelling is becoming easier, cheaper and more popular than ever, and people are turning into global citizens living a high-class, WiFi-equipped nomadic lifestyle.
Our standpoint: if you want to be a (whole) world citizen, you must start treating the (whole) world as your home, which implies taking care of the daily duties and putting an end to acting like the travelling king. Eco-tourism starts in the mind of the traveller. Your hotel can be greener than the chlorella that your friend is putting in her morning smoothie, but if you aren't jumping on that ”conscious trend”, we won't get far.
We are still advocating for choosing your accommodation consciously, looking at some of the things/criteria we mentioned above, but whether your travels become ”eco-travels” is essentially all up to you.
It is always worth remembering, that whenever we are on holidays, we tend to be much more wasteful as opposed to when we are at home. We are much more liberal with our consumption and water or energy that we use. It is a psychological process of indulging oneself and an illusory lack of responsibility. Since nowadays we already speak about mass tourism (and some cities are becoming gradually overwhelmed by it - Barcelona being one of the sad examples), it is worth giving a little thought to how it negatively impacts the environment and heritage sites - and maybe next time we travel, we ought to be more conscious about the way we travel, consume and use energy.
Every action we take has its consequences. Just because we are somewhere for only a short period of time, should not mean that we elude responsibility for our actions, because their effects will stay there after us and what is worse, we are pushing them to someone else to deal with. Lack of education about our impact as travellers needs to be addressed, but at the end of the day we ourselves are the best teachers for our own sake. It’s time we grow up and take responsibility, educate ourselves and travel better.