• Alex Gerlach

Sustainable Tourism: Can Travel "Save the World?"

Updated: Jun 19

Thursday, December 16th, 2021 – Pedacitos Travel Community hosts the first conversation hour, delving into the topic of sustainable tourism. Tourism and travel are the most polluting industries on the planet. In this talk, we answer some of the harder questions. How do we adapt the way we travel to decrease impact? Can we use travel as a tool to have a more positive impact? Can travel "save the world?"


The snippet below is one of the highlights of our conversation. For readability, the transcript has been edited and revised to omit verbal conversation patterns.


The Hour's Highlight


Alex: I guess we can switch gears a little bit – maybe not switch gears. It falls in line with that whole idea of encouraging people to go to specific places. And it was touched on in that video where he said “has your friend ever been to Amsterdam? No? Well, it's exotic to them!”


I really got intrigued by that whole idea of exoticism. What we perceive as exotic versus what it actually means, and that being obviously, something that is outside of your immediate culture and your immediate practices, something that is not in your immediate realm of existence. Exotic isn't just all of the tropical places with all of the vibrant foliage and very “ethnic” looking people, however, you would want to phrase that. Anywhere that you haven't been or haven't experienced can be exotic.


And so how have we directed tourism down maybe a more negative path? We look at places like Hawaii. And everyone wants to go to Hawaii. It is extremely expensive, but it is the people who have timeshares there – they have hotel deals, they go once a year for two weeks with the family. And Hawaii is really suffering; their communities are. We’ve directed a lot of tourism there because of how we've exoticized the country, the culture, and the people. And so that was just a little something that I found really interesting about the video. I don't know if anyone had an input on it.


Michael: Oh, I love that because what I think about is a lot of times when we talk about sustainability, it was just environment right? But when you think about sustainability, when you say the idea of sustainable, and you say is that sustainable, meaning, can this endure? Can this carry you forward? Will it last a long time? Can it last by itself with all things considered?


And you mentioned Hawaii and I think about when people go somewhere, and it becomes super popular. And then what happens is, basically, as the demand goes up, then the volume of things needs to go up. It drives out local economies, it brings in, sort of, Airbnb. For instance, you have all these Airbnb’s and before it used to be this, “oh, it’s this peer-to-peer thing,” and gives you opportunities and give you a local experience. Now even I want to do it, to be honest, you buy all these houses, and this is this conglomerate that owns all of these locals. And it doesn't benefit anybody. It'll benefit the person who owns all of this stuff somewhere else. It doesn't even truly benefit, at least not in a direct way, the people, the culture, the local people.


So, I feel that’s it’s always an interesting balance because when you want to make things accessible for people, you have to generally drive down the. In general, you have to increase the volume or the how the infrastructure everything they allow people to get there. And that comes thinking the ecosystem mindset. It comes at the detriment of all those other things, local culture, local environment, things this fascinating and


Alba: Yeah, I've been thinking a lot of, would you say about the costs, is sustainable? I think it's a conception of eco-tourism – it's very expensive and it's only for people who can afford it. And because it's the prices are usually or – or it's usually associated with luxury travel, eco-luxury or things that. So, I think we need to move away from that because I think there's actually many places that are not expensive and you can afford to, to consume if you want to say consume as a tourist or whatever.


I am away from the concept that it is only from rich families or rich people. Everyone can do their own little bits and stuff. But I also see it’s the same with all the sustainability movement in terms of don't buy plastics, buy the biodegradable stuff, the bamboo stuff, all these which are usually also more expensive and useful. Plastic contaminating stuff. I find myself in a bit of a controversial point because I do want to be sustainable. I want to be environmentally friendly, but at the same time, you can't always afford that. And you feel bad because you can't access it, or you can't leave according to your values. And it’s this concept of, I know racism is not the word, but it’s racism towards the people that can't afford that. And then you feel bad because you can't make a point saying “all you have to do this you have to be environmentally friendly. Oh, you don't use the useful arts you don't use bamboo-made stuff. Oh my god and it’s, I'm about human leaving this these when I come before the so what do I even?


Heather: It is definitely getting more expensive. And the example with Thailand, are there going to be limiting things and making it more of a luxury place to go. I feel the days of backpacking are coming to a close. It is getting so much harder to travel on a shoestring, which used to be the norm.


Alba: I understand because those communities can't live forever based on cheap tourism because that’s they don't get as many benefits. They probably get more damaged more in negative impacts. Who benefits from that type of tourism on a mass scale, but at the same time, he’s, Alright, what's the which one is the middle point? We only bring tourists that can spend a lot of money, or do we want tourists as well that can access our destination in a lower-income base trip thing? I think it's a bit of the way they’re, controversial, I don't even know where I stand in, it's just my life played out there because I've been thinking about that a lot lately.


Heather: Yeah, actually, I tried to write an article about that. About one of the islands on Lake Titicaca. I don't know – it'd be really awesome if you guys could read that and give me some feedback. Because I wrote, initially, an article about basically how travel agencies are ripping off all of the local people and how to be a responsible tourist. You contact the families directly and you don't pay the travel agencies. To arrange a homestay, you can just show up at the island and arrange your home homestay or you can contact the families through these different ways. But I'm sure there’s other things that I left out that I didn't even think of because I was so focused on this one aspect of, “don't go with a tour agency, they’re ripping everybody off.”


Michael: Yeah. Cool. Anything you want to write for us? We're happy to have. That's part of being a community, it's getting all these different perspectives. My passion is to try to diversify as much as possible because diversity brings about innovation, and creative thinking it sparks conversations and debates and all this stuff. And if we all think the same way, that's not gonna change anything. Right. So, unless we do something different and introduce it, we can’t really influence change. So, I think that'd be great. And obviously, one of the things that I'm interested in is in seeking out this is what can we be doing as a community with the platform that we have and the trajectory that we're on to make sure that we're being good stewards of this sort of conversation with what we have. This is already in our DNA it's just how do we capitalize on that idea, galvanize that with what we're doing? I mean, that's yeah, what would you think?


Alex: Yeah, I mean, we have the awareness section of the blog so that we could start facilitating these conversations. Heather, I mean, feel free to write any sort of piece for that if you're interested in writing about green cities or other talking points. This is the platform to be talking about those things. If you wanted to write something about accessibility and tourism – that’s a really huge conversation. And we have a couple of blogs on our website about people with disabilities and people living with disabilities. My own brother and I. We had a woman whose son has autism.


So, it’s these kinds of experiences, Michael was saying, that add such value to our community because we can reach so many different people. We’re not excluding anyone from seeing the benefits of travel, which is to connect, to gain understanding, learn, expand your awareness, build relationships, develop empathy. These are all the things that we need so we can come together as community members in small groups or just as individual citizens living our everyday lives. It’s not just to pick more sustainable products or to buy the ocean plastic hangers for your closet that cost you $20 for 10 of them, which is obscene. It's not just doing things like that. It's also the way that you interact with your community. It's your behavior online – plenty of people have the platforms that have the ability to start conversations like this. And so, it’s not just about what can you do to help the environment, but what can you do in your own way to help society just by interacting with the people in your inner circle, who interact with people in their own circles.


Michael: Yeah, what can you do for your country?


Alex: Exactly. The sustainability issue with all of its components is big, too. It's not just the responsibility of – very key point there – it's not the responsibility of people like us, little people living in a big world. We need to petition and lobby for regulations that benefit the general population. We need to hold companies accountable for inequitable business practices and for instances of not just greenwashing in the environmental sense, but for falsely misleading consumers as supporters of the brand. Thing is, it’s more than just us and it takes – what, it takes a village to raise a kid. It takes the entire world to “save it.” And I guess that’s also a debate. Is it saving the world?


Heather: Yeah. Yeah. We need to change the way we're impacting the world.


Michael: Yeah. Yeah. I did a hike, and I did an eco, I didn't even know it was eco or whatever. I was in Chile and I wanted to go on this hike. So, we went on this hike and the whole thing was about leaving it better than how we left it. The whole time we're picking up trash or anything we find. And it's always about if we're gonna be there, at least do what we can while we're there to make it better than how we found that.


Alba: It's called, regenerative tourism, and it's about – sustainable tourism is more like not having a negative impact upon the destination. But regenerative tourism is actually about leaving the place better than how you found it. And by that this lady writes a lot about I would need to research to send you the name of these names that speaks a lot about regenerative tourism, and it's not a very, very known. So, I mentioned this sustainability.


Alex/Michael: Yeah, I've never even heard of that.


Heather: I know people who do that, but they don't know that term.


Alba: I use it. Yeah, we love naming and tagging everything now, but when you – I'm sure a lot of places and people have been doing that for a long time. But it's been talked about not just having a negative impact but leaving the place better than how you found it as a traveler.


Michael: Just curious, a call to action to ourselves if you will, what can we do with the platform that we have to help do our part in continuing this conversation and broadening the reach and all of that? What are your thoughts?


Heather: I mean, I would first say, just to encourage all the storytellers that whatever place you're writing about, just mention somewhere in the article what sorts of what sustainability practices would be relevant. If there's a way to mention something about sustainability, always put it in there. Yeah, not a requirement. Obviously, you can't, that could stifle some things, but just to encourage people “hey, if there’s some sustainability issue one way or the other with the place, you're writing about please mention that.”


Alba: When I say the same only just keep the conversation going and mentioning it and talking about it because the more it is out there. People will read about it, maybe they will get some interest on it and then they will go and research by themselves or next time they travel. Maybe they will say “oh, maybe I will look,” they book an eco-hostel, whatever. I think it's really important to keep the conversation going be very consistent in that doing that.


Alex: Yeah. And I think, speaking on before, we're talking about accessibility and accessibility to those sustainable options. Things like eco hostels and telling our community how to find those places, is also really encouraging. Because, we’ve said, it’s hard to find one place where you can find all of those sustainable options that you're looking for. And so, providing those resources for our community is also just a really, easy way to do that. Again, giving them the power to choose how they travel.


To read or listen to the full conversation, visit our Member-Exclusives page.




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