World Responsible Tourism Day
I am writing this article from Bali.
For years Bali, the pearl among the Sunda Islands, has been touted as an earthly paradise, thanks to its tropical landscapes, its white sandy beaches, the beauty of its Hindu temples and its inhabitants’ reputation for kindness and tolerance.
Made infamous by the horrific bombing of a popular night club in 2002 and famous by hundreds of surfers and the movie Eat, Pray, Love, Bali is one of the few places where nature and culture is well integrated into local people’s lives. Use of natural elements such as bamboo, palm leaves, wood in daily objects, daily worship rituals, houses, villas and resorts built on the principles of integration of fire, water, sky, earth (soil) elements, its verdant rice fields and the overarching presence of peaceful Buddha figurines can immediately bring you close to nature and serenity.
But this idyllic spot may soon be a thing of the past, with the threat of Bali changing beyond recognition, a prey to the accumulated effects of mass tourism, unbridled consumption of resources and environmental collapse. I have been coming to Bali for 6 years now and the impact of increase in tourism is now becoming visible. From the 1970s onwards Bali really became a tourist destination. In the beginning, it was mainly cultural tourism. Now we are seeing mass tourism. And that’s a problem.
More than a million visitors came to Bali in 2001. The figures for 2011 suggest that numbers have doubled since, ultimately unaffected by the 2002 terror attack. Every year 700 hectares of land is lost to hotels, luxury housing for rich foreigners or just roads to improve connections on the island. Every day some 13,000 cubic meters of plastic waste is dumped onto the island. With 13% more cars on the roads every year, the steadily increasing traffic causes massive jams, pollution endangering local fauna and flora.
So what can you and I do? Stop going to Bali?
It’s the same story on a whole lot of other ‘tourist-destinations’ as well. Should we simply stop travelling and be content with the lovely travel documentaries shown on National Geographic, Discovery Channel and BBC? Is this what the future of travel will be?
Yes, if we don’t act now. In our own small ways, in our own travels.
The problem is massive but all of us put together created it, and all of us put together can begin to solve it. The comforting truth is that each of us can be a part of the solution. All it takes is a little bit of awareness, little bit of will-power and lots of love for travelling.
Let’s start on this World Responsible Tourism Day with very simple steps that you can practice in any kind of holiday – an upmarket, 5-star vacation or a more Airbnb kind of a holiday. It could be an itinerary booked through an agent or independently planned and booked by yourself. You can practice them if you are travelling alone or with your kids or in a large group. On a business trip, or on a trip to attend a family wedding or a much-awaited trip to a new exotic country. Irrespective of your style of holiday, these 8 simple practices will make you a little more “responsible traveller”.
What is ‘Responsible Travel’? Ever since the term was used by South Africa in 1996 while drafting their tourism development policy, it has been interpreted differently by different people. Of course a vast majority of travelers, especially travelers from India and China choose to ignore it or are blissfully unaware of the concept as the reality of environmental crisis hasn’t dawned upon them. And neither has the urgency of action required from each one of us. As travellers, we have a special responsibility as we are the ones who enjoy the beauty and bounty of this planet much more than the others.
8th November is World Responsible Tourism Day, so here are my 8 very simple, baby steps to becoming a more Responsible Traveller.
1. Give up the use of plastic straws in your drinks
This is the easiest way to cut down the billions of tones of non-degradable waste, a big part of which ends up in the ocean killing marine life. Simply inform your waiter or waitress that you don’t need one, and make sure to specify this when ordering. Kiss your drink or bring your own reusable stainless steel or glass drinking straw. And imagine, how cool you will sound saying ‘no plastic straw for me please. Thank you’.
2. Reduce the use of bottled water
The second easiest way to stop plastic from choking our land and oceans. Bring your own bottle and refill with drinking water at every opportunity. Save the planet and all the money that you save, by not buying bottled water, should go towards your next exotic trip fund.
3. Ditch the international fast food chains and look for local food businesses
This way you will support local economy, be more likely to eat fresher, less chemical-laden food and also get a more immersive cultural experience of the place
4. In your hotel room, do not crank up the AC and then crawl into the heavy sheets
This is my pet peeve against the big hotels. Is this comfort more important than our planet? Will a 5-star hotel’s bed be less luxurious if with their super comfy mattresses and pillows, there were not-so-thick cover sheets? Stick to 24 – 25 degrees centigrade on the AC and then see what kind of cover you need to sleep. Reduce the use of cooling and heating devices as much as possible.
5. Try to bring your own shopping bag
You are out travelling. It is a given that you will shop for sundry items. And every item you buy, will be put in a plastic bag and handed to you. At the end of the day, you will proudly get back to your room with your ‘loot of the day’. 6 bags in each hand, multiplied by number of days of your holiday, multiplied by billions of travellers all over the world. Get the picture? Just keep a folding shopping bag in your day pack / hand bag and keep filling it. It’s more convenient even.
6. Don’t waste food or water
When ordering food, don’t go overboard. Start with little and keep adding as required. You can always order for more or grab another bite from a different restaurant (local, not an international fast food chain. See point 3 above). Similarly, don’t waste drinking water. Many tourist destinations are already facing severe freshwater shortage, driving the prices of bottled water further up (see point 2 above).
7. Use public transport as much as you can
Not only will it be a more authentic experience, you will save money, probably make a new friend or two and save the planet in the bargain. If you are buying your trip tailored by a travel agent for you, ask them to include public transport rather than taxis wherever possible.
8. Read up about the place you are going to
And not just the ‘Top 10 things to do’ or ‘Top 15 attractions to see’. Go beyond the pretty pictures and the marketing brochures. Read up the stuff that the hotels, travel companies and mass media are not telling you. Avoid any activities that requires keeping animals in captivity or killing them for souvenirs. Read up on their climate crisis, political crisis (there most certainly will be!), local customs and culture. And empathize.
There you have it. 8 very easy steps to start being a more responsible traveller. Most people think that terms like ‘Responsible Travel’, ‘Budget Travel’, and ‘Independent Travel’ are only for back-packers and for travellers who don’t have the money to spend. Nothing could be farther from truth. As you can make out from the points above, what is good for the planet is good for a great travel experience too.
Don’t just travel,
Ansoo Gupta has travelled to over 60 countries and is the Founder of One Shoe Trust for Responsible and Mindful Travels. She conducts regular workshops for tips and tricks on how to travel more for less.