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why travelers are the only hope for sustainable tourism

What happens when travel companies overwork their workers just to spoil their clients with some privileges? What is at stake when tourists are unaware of the poor working conditions and widespread “greenwashing” that tour operators hide from them?  In the travel and hiking industry of Machu Picchu-Peru, this is the norm. In my opinion, “greenwashing” occurs in other parts of the world too. The questions are; could “sustainable” ever be Sustainable? Who can make that possible?

UNESCO’S World Tourism Organization has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. More than one billion tourists will travel the world trying to visit the many attractions of our beautiful and threatened world.  Billions of dollars will be made from these activities by the Travel Industry, but how much of the travelling and the money will make the world a better place?

In another piece I wrote, I made two points; firstly, profit wins over sustainability and preservation. Secondly, only the conscious and active participation of travellers can counter that. I stated that only tourists, acting as guarantors, could hold businesses accountable for their sustainable practices. These actions would catapult the travel industry to a higher and  more sustainable level, which would  also provide the impetus to make changes that are urgently necessary for our planet. 

Travelers across the world take different forms of transport, hire travel services, stay at hotels, take tours and eat at all kinds of restaurants. Their impact is powerful and this changes things everywhere. Travel companies cater to the needs and tastes of their clients, They focus on the effectiveness and quality of their services, offer luxury products and compete for the big money. Some companies brand themselves sustainable and provide green products and eco-friendly practices referring to their ‘organic this and organic that’.  Their Web sites display beautiful pictures of almost pristine mountains and lakes, exhibit amazing photos of exotic yet almost extinct animals, such as the Andean condor or the spectacled bear. But we can agree on this; sometimes what we are told is not what we see.

A recent article published in the New York Times states that sustainable tourism is in its infancy, some companies try to be sustainable but it lacks the involvement of tourists. The question is, why is it that this is the case?  why is it that travelers do not get involved in this process and only a few companies try to be sustainable?

On the one hand, lack of education and interest by some people, a problem that can be solved in the long term. On the other hand, the usual suspect, profit making is in command. A problem that will last for as long as the system is in place and fundamental change is not in sight. A problem that at this moment needs a different approach, a sustainable approach to improve the current situation to continue moving forward in the path of sustainability.

Sustainability is about transparency, transparency over the working conditions of employees, transparency of eco-practices, and more importantly transparency of the money that companies invest in protecting habitats and their contribution to local communities, vs. the profits they make. Here is where sustainability meets morality. Either they choose to be sustainable or they go under. Why is it that some companies are branded sustainable when less than 10% of their profits are dedicated to peoples and the planet? The answer is on you.

Travellers are like bees and hummingbirds, they both pollinate. Travellers take the pollen of information everywhere they go. That pollen can be seen everywhere on social media in the form of pictures, trends, comments, and hashtags. What is often missing is the pollen of information of sustainability.  I am convinced that we travellers have the potential and responsibility to make sure that everywhere we go, wherever we stay, whatever service we take, and whatever tour company we hire is practicing sustainability. But, can we do this alone?

The answer is no; Sustainability is about education and honesty. Companies that are transparent about their sustainable practices and educate their customers about such things, can contribute significantly to the process. A good dynamic partnership between businesses and clients would be set in motion.  Of these two, travellers are the most important factor. Only they can make the travel industry more sustainable.

Sustainable Tourism Peru