But it doesn’t have to be this way. Travel and tourism can actually have a positive impact on the environment, local culture, and wildlife.
So what can we as individuals do?
The first step is research, research, research. Different locations offer unique attractions and activities. They also have different cultures, species, and environments. Make sure to study up before you book your trip. Whether you’re selecting a destination or excursion, it’s important to find out if it relies on sustainable practices.
But how do I know if a place or activity is committed to being eco-friendly?
Ask yourself some key questions. I spoke to conservationist and ecotourism expert AA Yaptinchay, who created a list of questions that should be answered with a “yes.”
- Is the facility reducing its carbon footprint by using solar panels, practicing waste segregation, treating gray water, and avoiding the use of non-biodegradable materials such as plastics?
- Does the business employ locals?
- Are the activities and tours sensitive and appropriate to the local culture aside from promoting it?
- Does the facility provide the proper information about the local biodiversity, environment, and people as part of the briefing and tour interpretation?
- Does the facility or service regulate activities in the area under some policy, law or guidelines which are effectively enforced?
- Is there any certification or accreditation given in the area that creates a better standard to be sustainable?
- Are there fees charged to support local groups and protect the area, particularly wild animals and habitats?
- Are the activities allowing you to learn more about the local culture, biodiversity, and environment?
This is a vital question considering such tourism has skyrocketed in recent years. The good news is some travel sites have already compiled research and tips for you. One example is TripAdvisor. Animal-related activities on the site are labeled with a paw print. With a simple click, visitors can access an educational portal featuring advice from leading animal advocacy and conservation groups. These include the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Oxford University WILDCRU, and World Animal Protection.
Here are also a few questions to ask yourself.
- Are the animals being subjected to activities that make them distressed or fearful?
- In the case of captive animals, are they well-fed, in adequate shelters, and receiving proper veterinary care?
- Is the activity putting animals in danger?
- Is the activity undermining wider conservation efforts to protect the species? Is it benefiting efforts?
- Is the organization or facility offering the animal attractions properly accredited?
- Does the country you’re in have national laws on captive-animal welfare?
In the end, a few hours or even minutes on the computer can make all the difference when it comes to experiencing the diverse places of the world and wildlife without exploiting them.