Before the pandemic, growth in international travel seemed unstoppable. Globally, 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded in 2019, more than doubling the number from two decades ago. In Japan alone, international visitor numbers grew more than 7-fold from 4.4 million in 1999 to 31.9 million in 2019.
Yet much of this growth did not come without a heavy social and environmental cost around the globe: pollution and environmental degradaton, habitat loss, increased carbon emissions accelerating climate change, social inequality, and loss of cultural heritage, just to name a few.
On the other hand, tourism can most definitely be compatible with sustainability, and even be a vehicle for positive change. As the world continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are ample opportunities for the travel industry to set itself on a more conscious path. Governments, businesses, and individuals all have a part to play, not only to revive the sector but actually help it thrive to bring positive, equitable benefits to people and the planet.
Here at Tricolage, we’ve chosen six “sustainability themes” that we want to highlight in each of our destinations, and to showcase how luxury travel and business travel can be compatible with sustainability. Of course, each destination would almost always have elements of other themes.
These six themes were chosen based on the fact that it touches on all aspects of sustainable development - economic growth, human well-being, environmental health. They take into account the immediate impacts of today and longer-term impacts that will be felt by future generations. We feel that having this framework gives us a blueprint on how to maximize positive benefits for the cultures, communities, ecosystems of the places we touch.
Tricolage’s 6 Themes for Sustainable Travel
Low carbon, resource-efficient travel options
Local socio-economic benefit
Less-visited areas / Off the beaten path
Community Development and Engagement
Preservation of cultural heritage
1. Low carbon, resource-efficient travel options
Travel and tourism contribute to roughly 8% of the world’s total carbon emissions. Transportation makes up the majority of these emissions, followed by food & agriculture, goods & services, and accommodation. When options exist, we should choose to travel on low-emissions modes of transport, stay in hotels that manage their carbon footprint, and dine at restaurants that celebrate local ingredients and reduce food waste. These alternatives often have the added benefit of being a more authentic travel experience!
2. Environmental conservation
Natural heritage sites, national parks, marine sanctuaries, and other protected areas play an important role in protecting the earth’s natural resources, heritage, and biodiversity. Tourist dollars in the form of entrance fees, operator permits, and taxes pay for the maintenance and preservation of these important sites by funding necessary conservation work such as ecosystem monitoring, firefighting, patrolling for poachers. Visiting these places of natural heritage allows visitors to be part of the conservation effort while contributing to the creation and maintenance of local employment, income generation for local communities to improve living standards, and empowering people to keep preserving these ecosystems for generations to come.
3. Local socio-economic benefits
By ensuring spent money stays locally, tourism is a powerful way to empower and support the local economy, contributing to livelihoods for locals and better destinations for visitors. When tourist dollars are spent on locally-owned businesses, resources stay local instead of going to large corporations abroad, and are boosted by the local multiplier effect. This means locally-spent tourist dollars recirculate in the economy, which is essential for creating wider economic benefits through investing in essential infrastructure, education, and supporting small local businesses.
We should support local businesses and entrepreneurs by spending money on locally-owned lodging and restaurants that serve locally-sourced food and learning new skills from local artisans and experts.
4. Less-visited areas / Off the beaten path
Before the pandemic, it was not uncommon to see tourist hotspots being overrun by visitors - a phenomenon now known as “overtourism” which causes environmental and social stress to the places and the people who live there. Traveling to less-visited places reduces the burden on over-visited destinations while spreading tourism benefits to other local communities. Another alternative is to visit popular destinations during the off-season. We can also expect to have a more unique and authentic experience while avoiding the crowds when we get off the beaten path.
5. Community Development and Engagement
Local communities are the lifeblood of tourism. Keeping in mind that “destinations” for travelers are actually “neighborhoods” for local residents, it is important to support projects and developments that prioritize their livelihoods and wellbeing. This allows travelers to connect closely with local communities and learn about local ways of life in a genuine yet respectful way. Such projects usually center around conserving culture and nature, driving rural economic development, and delivering wider community benefits. Travelers broaden their horizons through immersive experiences to learn about a local community’s culture, etiquette, and ways of life.
6. Preservation of cultural heritage
Rapid rural depopulation, urbanization, and modernization are causing the disappearance of invaluable traditional cultures. Monuments are replaced by modern buildings, while lack of successors and the rise in cheap imported products mean traditional arts and craftsmanship is dying with the aging artisans. Similar to environmental conservation, tourism can also help preserve cultural heritage by bringing economic benefits that support the likes of educators, crafts artisans, and organizations working to preserve cultural heritage and support sustainable development.
We started with the theme of Environmental Conservation in this post: How Tourism Is Conserving The Wondrous Forests of Yanbaru, talking about efforts such as local guides and authorities working together to expand areas to take visitors to a sustainable way while preventing over-tourism in concentrated areas. Similarly, we’ll be covering each of the other topics in-depth, showcasing destinations around Japan that prove how tourism is a force for the greater good.
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