Sustainable Traveling


Amedzofe, Ghana

Why Think about Sustainability While Abroad:
An Introduction to a Series of Alternative Travel

People, Environment, Economy

Traveling abroad is an exciting time.  You are thinking about what you will see, where you will visit, and how you are going to live in a different country.  However, the aspect that has become even more important is considering your impact while abroad.  The level of tourism has risen dramatically in the past decade and it has also become a tool for economic development for many communities.  From my travels during a summer internship in Ghana and a semester abroad in London, I was challenged by two vastly different experiences in the same way: how can I leave a positive impact to these generous host communities that have given so much to me?  Alternative travel is a way to maximize that benefit of tourism for tourists as well as the community.  It creates and strengthens intercultural relationships.  Throughout this series of blogs, I will explore a variety of issues regarding sustainable travel abroad.  I will focus on ways to leave a positive impact on the host country in terms of environment, economy, and culture.  To give a broad background for the rest of the series, it is important to clarify there are three primary types of alternative travel: responsible tourism, voluntourism, and ecotourism.

Responsible tourism is an alternative form of tourism that aims to leave the host community with a minimum burden while the tourist is learning about the host culture.  The emphasis of responsible travel is on the economy.  The use of the word responsible emphasizes the obligation on tourists to engage in the complexity of the community while minimizing costs on the host community[1].  This translates to tourists shopping locally rather than at the recognizable Starbucks, bringing a water bottle instead of buying plastic water bottles every day, and taking shorter showers because, let’s face it, the hostel shower is not a place for a long shower anyways.  With regard to historical sites, heritage tourism introduces a conundrum for the community of sharing the history and gaining the revenue while trying to preserve such important sites or pieces of art[2].  So as funny as it may be to stand on a statue to imitate that statue, it really is damaging that piece of history.  The overarching theme with responsible tourism is that tourists experience the host culture at a deeper level with the understanding of how their actions affect the community.  In practice, responsible tourism often looks like smaller, community-based enterprises that engage tourists with local culture.

Ecotourism, another alternative form of tourism, is defined by the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”[3]  Compared to responsible tourism, ecotourism focuses heavily on respecting the environment.  Ecotourism is not a new concept and continues to grow each year.  However, many argue that ecotourism is inherently flawed.  It brings many people to areas most vulnerable to global warming, such as coastlines, certifications can be misleading, and it can cause more stress on the environment[4].  However, do not let this discourage practicing ecotourism.  Small-scale privatized implementations have proven successful.  Cambodia has implemented ecotourism in low GDP villages[5].  This community-based ecotourism has placed greater intrinsic value on the environment while providing jobs to the local community.  When searching for a more natural escape during your journeys abroad, consider staying at an ecolodge or searching for green adventures that support the local community.

The third type of alternative travel is voluntourism, which emphasizes the importance of culture.  The Voluntourist describes voluntourism as a way to travel and see parts of the world through a service and learning experience[6].  It is also a form of bringing benefits to under resourced places.  However, this is highly criticized for having the band aid effect for problems in host communities.  As a visitor, it is important to be respectful.  Although this seems obvious, often times there is a sense of inequity in volunteer relationships in which the volunteer acts with a sense of privilege and belief of superior knowledge.  In short-term experiences, a “feel good” response can exacerbate stereotypes of the poor being helpless.  To alleviate this, PEPY Tours advocates learning service rather than service learning, as which will be elaborated on in a later post[7].  The visitor is meant to use travel to learn about the other culture and, if applicable, learn how to help an impoverished community in the future, not on the first day of arriving.

Maya Angelou once said, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but, by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”  Alternative travel enables one to have a greater experience while traveling by learning more than imaginable.

This is the start to a series of blog posts about alternative travel and how to leave a positive impact on the community while abroad.

[1] Li, Yiping. “Situated Learning, Responsible Tourism, and Global Peace.” Peace Research 30.4 (1998): 83-100.
[2] Focus on Responsible Tourism and Heritage. Manama, Jordan, Manama: Al Bawaba (Middle East) Ltd., 2014.
[3] The International Ecotourism Society. 2014. Online.
[4] Cox, Rachel S. “Ecotourism.” CQ Researcher 16.37 (2006): 865-88.
[5] Zeppel, Heather. Indigenous Ecotourism : Sustainable Development and Management. Wallingford, Oxfordshire, GBR: CABI Publishing, 2006. ebrary.
[6] The Voluntourist. 2014. Online.
[7] Brown, Sarah. PEPY Tours. Personal interview. 12 May 2014.



Why Think about Sustainability While Abroad: A Look into the Economy

After looking at a brief introduction into the differences of travel, I will look at more practical applications of responsible tourism for the college student.  There are three facets of responsible tourism: the economy, culture, and environment.  I want to focus on the economy and how this can impact your behavior.  While abroad, our everyday life has different priorities than normal.  There is a sense of adventure with getting lost almost every day when trying to see a new sight or mix up the daily routine between classes.  When lost, seeing a Starbucks or McDonalds is one of the best sights because you are guaranteed wifi, acceptance of your credit card, and an iced coffee.  But by going to that Starbucks or McDonalds, it is putting consumer dollars into franchises found everywhere and unknowingly taking away from the local entrepreneurs, limiting your personal experience in exploring another culture.

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Notes Coffee Shop, London, UK

Why shop local?

The shop local movement is relevant in both cities you are from and cities you are traveling to.  It promotes entrepreneurship and small businesses.  It keeps capital in the city.  It is more sustainable.  When traveling to new places, shopping local benefits the host community economically, and it is a big step for the tourist in breaking the barrier from experiencing tourist attractions to local attractions.

Many societies depend on tourism for the economy.  In fact, it has been a solution for cities needing economic stimulation.  One example is in Zanzibar, East Africa where community members started a tour guide program where they specifically chose how to represent their community.[1]  This business incited the entrepreneurial skills of many community members to add more activities to the tourist experience.  The proceeds were then reinvested into the community in the form of solar energy.  Because of tourism supporting the locals, more jobs have been created and the community has benefited from the capital reinvested into it.

While it is more obviously seen in developing economies where the capital invested in tourism can help develop roads, improve airports, and overall ease trades of goods and services, tourism is seen as economically important across the map.  In the UK, tourism directly affects 9% of the economy and is responsible for 9.6% of the jobs.  This sector is expected to grow at an annual rate of 3.8%, greater than the 3% economic annual growth projections[2].  One study has even gone to see the economic impact of tourism across distribution levels in Galicia, Spain, finding all income levels being positively affected[3].  Beyond the direct impacts, tourism can have more far reaching effects when the tourist is aware of his own impact, the important difference of responsible tourism.

Where to shop local

Markets are always a great place to start.  You can learn about where the food or souvenir comes from, they have a sense of excitement to them, and it really reveals a lot about the culture.  Famous ones go from La Boqueria in Barcelona to Borough Market in London to the Great Market Hall in Budapest, it is a great way to shop for local foods with deals and get great samples along the way.  In general, look to go in stores with names you do not necessarily recognize to try something new and to support local businesses in your visiting country.  When traveling, ask hostel owners (beware of tourist traps) and do your research before with online recommendations.

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Columbia Road Flower Market, London, UK


Souvenirs: We all love and want those mementos for remembering our amazing trips.  There is a difference of pre-mass and mass produced souvenirs as an effect of globalization.  The imported items often produced in China or Vietnam are representing a new kind of souvenir termed “geographically displaced authenticity.”[4]  It removes the true authenticity of the object, albeit lowering the item to the college student’s budget.

[1] Honey, Martha. Ecotourism and Sustainable Development : Who Owns Paradise? (2nd Edition). Washington DC, USA: Island Press, 2008. . ebrary.
[3] Incera, Andre Carrascal, and Melchor Fernandez. Tourism and Income Distribution: Evidence from a Developed Regional Economy. Tourism Management. June 2015.
[4] Paraskevaidis, Pavlos, and Konstantinos Andriotis. Values of Souvenirs as Commodities. Tourism Management.  June 2015.


Why Think about Sustainability While Abroad: Staying Green

 The first blog post highlighted the various kinds of travelers, including the ecotourist.  This is the more extreme version of taking into account environmental impact while traveling.  The responsible tourist, and in fact all tourists, should not neglect this important aspect of tourism.  The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), a nonprofit dedicated to assisting companies in developing ecotourism practices, defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”[1] Taking into account the environment is increasingly important as tourism often is popular in the areas that are most vulnerable to climate change such as coastal regions[2].  Harming the environment can have extreme negative impacts on the host community.  The overall importance of the environment is further enforced as it becomes an asset for the community and an incentive for their conservation of it.  For tourism businesses, the environment is essential to include as part of the triple bottom line: economy, environment, and culture.  Sustainable travel is not limited to travel in national parks.  It is relevant in cities, mountains, and beaches both in large and small communities.

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Canopy Walk, Kakum National Park, Ghana

Problems with Tourism and the Environment

The problem with tourism is that it inherently damages the environment.  The transportation to get places, the excess waste, and the overuse of resources for a particular area are all inevitable problems of tourism.  Side effects include littering, taking cabs over public transportation, and a lack of respect for the environment.  I specifically remember hiking Mount Afadjato in Ghana three times throughout the summer, and each time it was more littered than the last.  The host community, the Ewes, would then take time to hike it themselves to pick up the litter.  Another issue associated with traveling “green” is the idea of green marketing.  Guideline certifications are neither extensive nor currently regulated.  This is where research is important into organizations or hotels that promote sustainable practices by doing one or two small things that amount to little in the big picture of that business.  Ultimately the harms come from mismanaged organizations.  Generally, small community implementations of ecotourism practices succeed in incorporating what is best for the local culture, economy, and environment.

What You Can Do

Environmental sustainability is ingrained in some cultures far more than others.  Across European nations and Australia and New Zealand, the environment has a higher profile than most other places across the globe.  Thus, it is easier to find sustainable options in such places.  For example, in the English countryside, there are plenty of maps for long walks throughout the countryside to enjoy nature.  The cities in Europe have sustainability integrated in regulations.  In the beautiful Kakum rainforest in Ghana, there is a type of ecotourism in which you are among the forest in the Kakum National Park walking across a canopy of trees.  In Costa Rica, where ecotourism has become the norm rather than the exception, the Certification of Sustainable Tourism is a rating for judging the activities related to the environment.  I could go on with examples, both good and bad implementations of ecotourism.  But before you travel to a destination, search ecotourism or sustainable travel in the location you are going to and see what comes up. It could lead to an interesting adventure you would not have considered otherwise, or lead you to differentiate between two similar activities or tourism organizations.

gibler photo 4Kent, England

In general, when traveling to a site, consider what the environment has to offer and respect the ways to view it by staying on the paths or following a guide who has experience for what to look for and what to avoid.  This could lead to greater knowledge of the biodiversity or how the culture uses the environment, which is especially relevant for indigenous populations.

Another way to ensure environmental sustainability while traveling is to consider lodging and activities that are certified as sustainable for the environment.  While mentioned briefly in the problems that there are no standard forms of green certification, there are a few different options available that vary across regions.  The below certifications are reliable and can be found in different parts of the globe.  These include: Green Globe 21 (GG21), International Ecotourism Standard (IES), and the Blue Flag, DestiNet Portal for Sustainable Tourism[3].  It is important to note that a large hotel in a city can be environmentally and socially responsible as well as an ecolodge in a national park.  Regardless of where you are traveling, it is possible to find relevant sustainability certifications and activities.

gibler photo 9Ultimately, environmental sustainability is an issue that is relevant for everyone.  Whether you are traveling to admire the environment or going to explore a busy city.  Practice sustainable methods that you should already be practicing at home.  Take a water bottle instead of using many plastic water bottles, take shorter showers, use public transportation or walk whenever possible, eat local foods.  All of these are important parts of being a responsible tourist.  While the nature of traveling is harmful for the environment, try to minimize your personal impact.

gibler photo 10Untersberg Mountain, Salzburg, Austria

Enjoy exploring the beauty of the environment across the globe!

[1] The International Ecotourism Society. 2014. Online.
[2] Cox, Rachel S. “Ecotourism.” CQ Researcher 16.37 (2006): 865-88


Why Think about Sustainability While Abroad: Connecting with the People

We all know the classic American tourist stereotypes: loud, wearing sneakers and a baseball cap, asking for English translation and dollar conversions, complaining about portions, excessively referencing America, posing in front of statues, or wearing British leggings while blocking traffic at Abbey Road (as pictured below)[1].  This “Ugly American” alienates Americans and can be considered rude to host cultures.  University students should be aware of these stereotypes and avoid them to fully engage in the host community socio-culturally.

As the third tenant of responsible travel, culture is learning about the people and traditions beyond any learning you can do online or in a classroom.  Creating a positive impact with the culture is what makes the experience positive for the host community and leaves the most lasting impact on the traveler.  The cultural engagement for students depends on the type of study abroad program.  Having experienced both living with a host family and living in a dorm, cultural engagement is easier for those living with host families than those living in dorms.  Thus, the dorm life is different because you have the responsibility to control how much of a cultural engagement you have.  How you interact with your host community reflects the kind of experience you hope to have while abroad.

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“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” -Mark Twain

 Problems with Socio-Cultural Interactions

As those who have been abroad can attest, going into a new culture can often cause many people to cling on to who or what they already know at first.  It takes courage to step out of the comfort zone for the first time and engage in conversation in a completely foreign place.  After learning how social interactions commonly occur in a different culture, both semantic and nonverbal, it becomes easier to adjust as the time goes on.

However, be wary of confusing inquisitive with condescending.  Without realizing it, clinging to what you already know can make you seem judgmental of anything new. This is arguably the largest piece of contention for the voluntourism model.  Primarily short-term voluntourist experiences elicits only a “feel-good” response and exacerbates stereotypes of the poor being helpless[2].  Thus it only worsens external opinions.  Furthermore, short-term experiences especially as a voluntourist creates a sense of inequity in the cross-cultural relationships.  Voluntourists cannot expect to have an inherent sense of privilege when traveling.  I will dive into some of these issues in future blog posts.

More generally speaking, tourism brings an influx of more congestion and traffic, variety of languages, and crime rates.  Sustainable travel socio-culturally requires minimizing these effects by utilizing public transportation, learning the local language, and being smart to avoid petty crimes.  Overall, respecting the local population leads to positive tourist experiences.

How to Connect with People

When positively engaging in the local culture, global relationships thrive.  It promotes cultural exchange and celebration of local traditions.  Socio-cultural interactions also leave a lasting impact for both parties.  On the host side, tourism will be further developed and encouraged because of the cultural exchange that has occurred in the past.  For the tourist, a lasting impact after the trip is more likely to occur.  From communications with friends and family to share the local traditions learnt to possible economic benefits for future trips or donations to areas they truly enjoyed, tourists can leave a positive impact beyond the longevity of the trip.

Socio-cultural relationships also help preserve local traditions when people see it respected.  One example is going to High Tea in London in which you can support a long-time celebrated tradition in the English culture.  There is a concern of authenticity in some travel locations when the tourist has a stereotype in mind and the host community indulges the tourist.  It is important to respect what is learned of the local traditions and not worry about cultural expectations before the trip.  This aspect of responsible travel is important because it celebrates the people where you are visiting.  It also helps gain a greater sense of awareness for others and to celebrate the differences.

gibler photo 12High Tea at Fortnum & Mason, London

During Your Travels

As previously mentioned, the extent of engaging socio-culturally during a semester or summer abroad varies greatly, but everyone experiences this through daily life abroad or weekend travels.  Ensure that interactions while abroad are positive.  Minimize your stereotype as an Ugly American and do your research in advance.  Learn about the history and geography of the city, common cultural practices, and some words in the local language.  Also, avoid petty theft by keeping your belongings in a zipped bag and in front of you at all times.  And, finally, avoid the stereotype as the Ugly American and begin to develop relationships with those in your host community.  Dive head first into your experience to develop relationships and a new understanding of the host culture.

gibler photo 13Market Day, Ho, Ghana

[2] Woosnam, Kyle M., and Yoon Jung Lee. “Applying Social Distance to Voluntourism Research.” Annals of Tourism Research 38.1 (2011): 309-13.


Dangers of the Voluntourist

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In the summer of 2012, I participated in a teaching internship in Ghana. As I taught English and Math, I was constantly asking questions about the normal school day, where the students were in their lessons, who would take my place when my internship was completed, and many more questions on a daily basis.  I also looked at the added food and lodging that I required for the summer as well as cultural lessons I received.  I began to ask myself, as they are generously teaching me their culture, what value am I adding to their lives?  It’s an important question to seek the answer to because problems arise when this is not addressed.

Voluntourism is a way to travel and see parts of the world through a service and learning experience[1].  The goal is to create a global interconnectedness among relationships built during the voluntourism experience[2].  As one of the biggest growing sectors in the tourism markets, totaling 1.6 million volunteers in 2014,[3] there are many clear benefits to voluntourism, mostly for the voluntourist.  For example, they get to learn about another culture while developing relationships across borders.  Voluntourism provides equal access to basic needs, improves individual ability to contribute to personal development and society, and helps increase community productivity[4].  Additionally, volunteering across borders enables young people to be justice-sensitive to ensure equitable relationships[5].  When done right, the voluntourism model is beneficial, but primarily for the voluntourist.

With these great experiences for the volunteer tourist, it begs the question how does voluntourism affect the host communities?  For a two-week trip the volunteer tourist builds a school, is that really going to enhance the education system?  It may be beneficial but it probably does not solve the greater problem of not enough teachers or textbooks.  This bandaid solution may actually cost more resources than investing into a long term educational enhancement plan to help teachers and students alike.

So, the next question is how exactly do we help?  We need to change the model around.  Currently, the orphanage tourism sector is a growing sector, even though three in four Cambodian orphans have one or two living parents[6].  This alone calls into question the authenticity of the culture visiting as displayed for the tourist.  The donation of goods from abroad destroys local markets when the opportunity arises to receive it for free.  The idea of service learning creates a sense of inequity in the volunteer relationships.  When volunteers enter under-resourced areas to help, volunteers have a sense of greater knowledge because of a better education[7].  Further, short-term experiences often result in a “feel good” response that exacerbates stereotypes of the poor being helpless[8].  The Corporation for National and Community Service in 2007 put into numbers that with 1.1 million volunteers in 2007 providing 14 hours of labor on the service trip at a value of $18.77 per hour, the total volunteer labor value is $263 million total.  On the cost side, 1.1 million volunteers estimated $1,000 in travel costs for transportation, food, and lodging costs $1.1 billion in volunteer travel cost[9].  With such an excess cost, the volunteer tourist today is indebted to the host community.

To enhance the value of the volunteer tourist, the tourist attitude and model must be changed.  Daniela Papi, a founder of Pepy Tours in Cambodia, advocates for a learning service model instead of a service learning model.  Papi argues that to avoid sympathy tourism, there needs to be an equal level through sympathy learning.  Travel abroad to learn about the community and how to serve in the future.  As Papi highlights, “we have to learn before we can help or else it causes more harm than good.”  Some of the greatest cultural benefits of tourism are the relationships gained both while abroad and in the many years following that can create beneficial projects for a needed community.  But, before this lifetime relationship can happen, an equal relationship with an openness to learn has to be step one.  In speaking with Sarah Brown, General Manager of Pepy Tours, she highlighted that the current goal in the growing tourism industry is to make it sustainable[10].  But, Pepy Tours is going a step further to encourage all tourists are learning while abroad before they immerse in a service experience.

As you can see, there is still value in the volunteer tourist.  While the mainstream model is arguably destructive for the long term well being of the host community, the volunteer tourist when done right creates a lasting impact in both the host and tourist.  Tourism is a tool for sustainable development and can help decrease the social gap in such an interconnected world.  Using the learning service model enhances those involved personally and globally.  During and after my time in Ghana, I have been able to conclude that I developed relationships I would not have had otherwise.  I added a different perspective to the classroom and the way of teaching.  And most importantly, I have the ongoing responsibility to share their culture and continue the relationships I developed into the future.


[1] The Voluntourist. 2014. Online.
[4] Alomari, Thabit. Motivation and Socio-Cultural Sustainability of Voluntourism. M.A. University of Lethbridge (Canada), 2012 Canada.
[5] Pantea, Maria-Carmen. “Young People in Cross-National Volunteering: Perceptions of Unfairness.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.30 (August 2013): 564-681.
[6] Daniela Papi. “What Wrong with Volunteer Travel?” Ted Talk.15 August 2012.
[7] McLennan, Sharon. “Medical Voluntourism in Honduras: ‘Helping’ the Poor?” Progress in Development Studies 14.2 (2014): 163-79.
[8] Woosnam, Kyle M., and Yoon Jung Lee. “Applying Social Distance to Voluntourism Research.” Annals of Tourism Research 38.1 (2011): 309-13.
[9] Ian Breckenridge-Jackson. “Getting More than We Give” Ted Talks. 16 December 2013.
[10] Brown, Sarah. PEPY Tours. Personal interview. 12 May 2014.


A Dive into the Land Down Under

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With headlines like “Climate Change will hit Australia harder than the rest of the world” or a recent energy report from the government that hardly mentions climate change, Australia is a fascinating study for response to climate change and those effects for tourists.  From the Australian drought in the 2000s and the increased frequency of wildfires to protecting the coral reefs from coral bleaching, there is a lot of stresses from climate change that are exacerbated in Australia.

A recent report by The Economist highlighted the difficulty Australia is facing in regards to climate change.  Seven out of the ten hottest years occurred since 1988.  This is only going to amplify the number of wildfires[1].  At sea, acidity is increasing and sea levels are rising.  Australia is concerned to add the Great Barrier Reef to UN’s “in danger” site list which could harm the $5billion Great Barrier Reef Tourism industry.  The Australian government has asked for an international effort in climate change to help protect the environment[2].  Yet, despite this announcement, climate change is generally a politicized issue in Australia because of the coal industry.  Because coal consists of a generous portion of their economy, they are continually expanding that industry, softening their pollution reduction efforts.  The tension that arises between protecting the coal industry and protecting their environment have led to a more skeptical approach to climate change.

In an effort to better understand the attitudes of Australians on climate change, I sat down with Hannah Becker, a participant of Perth’s study abroad program in Spring 2014 and photographer of pictures used in this post, to see her observations from the locals after a semester abroad[3].  A lot of her observations matched the tension described above.  For those living inland, they generally worked for a coal mining company or a winery.  This support for coal mining was an output of support for a healthy economy but not as much discussion on climate change.  Along with a support for coal, the drought was hardly acknowledged with few limitations on water.  Despite climate change mostly not publicized or talked about, Australians lifestyle was catered more towards the environment.  Generally Australians were hyper aware of fire hazards and restrictions to prevent the spread of wildfires.  While maybe not acknowledging the drought as much, wildfires were seen as an imminent threat that were frequently discussed.  They also tend to have a greater respect for the environment and cater many activities around it.  For example, the homes are smaller than most American homes, yet they are supplemented with many things for outdoor activities, like surfing equipment or a boat.  It promotes a more outdoor lifestyle and an inherent respect for the environment.  The main limitation for sustainability tends to be the nature of Australia’s geography, which makes shopping local and transportation difficult.  By nature, shopping local is difficult because majority of goods are imported.  If it comes from Australia, it still has large transportation implementation.  While mostly eating at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Hannah found great Farmers Markets in Melbourne.  She also found a more active, outdoor lifestyle while in Australia which enhanced her appreciation for the environment.

Travel Around Australia and New Zealand

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Tourism in Australia is a big industry, especially as previously noted in the Great Barrier Reef.  Given the expansiveness of the continent, there are a variety of tourism types that occur.  One case to highlight first is the small towns along the West Coast which Hannah road tripped through, driving hours between towns without seeing anyone.  An interesting point is that during peak travel season, these towns are populated and ready to go for the influx of foreigners.  However, during the winter seasons, the populations are low and the towns become quiet.  Tourism is important for these small towns that thrive on those seasons.  But, do some research into the towns before visiting.  One study I found was of the Aboriginals in parts of Australia with limited resources[4].  They rejected tourism for bringing a disproportionate amount of people into their land and using their resources, causing them to suffer.  It is an important balance between tourism and the host culture to not exhaust the resource and research in advance is important to ensure there is no further harm in that instance.

A commonality between mine and Hannah’s experience in Australia was that there was a lot more activities supporting the environment.  In my travels there, I stayed in an eco-lodge in which all activities around the lodge included hikes and eco walks to highlight the most poisonous spiders or try to see a dingo in the wild.  The tour guides had a respect for these creatures and was cautious of us following the trails.  This was my first experience with any form of tourism labeled “ecotourism,” and I found it was a very sustainably run hotel.  It received an accreditation of “Green Tourism Leader” as it was the first of its kind to run a hotel based on sustainability practices[5].  Similarly, along Hannah’s semester abroad, she noticed all the beaches were pristine and the respect for the environment along primary tourist hot spots was extremely high. In New Zealand, nature is a part of their culture and their actions are to protect their large biodiversity.  This is reflected in protection on hikes in and out of the country.  When going on a hike, Hannah’s shoes were sprayed before and after the hike to not ruin the trail.  But these ecotourism practices were not everywhere.  On a snorkeling adventure, there was a guide who would feed the fish and not monitor in touching of the fish.  There was also a general attitude that the coral were fine despite being noticeably bleached.  While generally it is easier to live sustainably and respect the Australian environment, the tourist still has a responsibility to personally respect the environment even if not practiced by all.

As a whole, Australia is complex when approaching climate change and tourism.  There are many facets to take into consideration at a largely vulnerable continent.  But, the travel, attitude of the environment, and availability of outdoor activities is to be respected and followed internationally.

[3] Interview. Hannah Becker. 9 April 2015.
[4] Scherrer, Pascal, and Kim Doohan. “It’s Not about Believing: Exploring the Transformative Potential of Cultural Acknowledgement in an Indigenous Tourism Context.” Asia Pacific Viewpoint 54.2 (2013): 158-70.


A Look into Tourism and the MDGs

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The Millenium Development Goals (MDG) were created by the United Nations in 2000 to set measures of success in an effort to reduce extreme poverty.  The goals were divided into eight main areas: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and create a global partnership for development.  These goals have a 2015 target date and are being reevaluated into Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015[1].  A point frequently made in conversation about tourism is the economic bolster it has on the host community.  Expanding tourism can enhance the worldwide impact on sustainable development for both environmental sustainability and economic improvement as tourism makes up 9% of global production and 220 million jobs[2].

Looking at tourism as a way to further the MDGs and what will become the SDGs depends on how the tourism is executed[3].  MDG1, eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, is correlated to the health of the economy and amount of jobs available.  By bringing tourism into a community, jobs are more available around the new businesses.  The key to making a difference for MDG1 is to recruit and train local people and to use local enterprises if already in place.  Research has found that local businesses generate 70 percent more local economic activity per square foot than a big box retailer[4].  Further, paying a fair wage is significant so that these jobs act to empower the local community and help alleviate poverty. It significantly pays off to support local businesses in an effort to eliminate poverty and hunger especially in tourist parts of the world.

MDG2, achieve universal primary education, has a tie to eliminating child labor so that work and schooling do not compete at such a young age.  This comes twofold in regards to the tourism industry.  For one, ensure that there are no child laborers in the tourist organizations.  If tourism grows while employing child labor, it would only perpetuate the cycle.  The second way in which tourism is beneficial for MDG2 is that different organizations can support education programs[5].  An example of this is the Baobab House in Cape Coast, Ghana[6].  This restaurant, shop, and guesthouse use all the profits to support development projects related to education in West Africa.  Staying at a place that directly supports institutional development is most influential to MDG2 and tourism.

Promote gender equality and empower women is the third MDG.  MDG3 is important because research has shown that women with disposable income are more likely to invest in the long-term well being of their family while men are more likely to purchase consumables  Such long-term investments include schooling for children or a healthier diet for better health[7].  Tourism can directly impact this goal through tourist organizations employing and training women.  With strict, detailed, and concrete written policies to protect and empower women, women can be transformative to the tourism industry[8].  This also includes educating the communities of these goals so that it can be incorporated into the goals of the organizations.  To have policies and enforce them, women are protected by harassment and given the same promotional opportunities as their male counterparts.  There are also many women cooperatives and NGOs for women which tourism can support.  Similar to the Baobab house, Global Mamas has stores across Africa which support female artisans directly.

MDG4, 5, and 6 relate to improving all around health of the community.  For one, tourism stimulates the economy to enable more investment into infrastructure like hospitals or roads to reach the hospitals.  As more people enter an area, there is a greater need for such infrastructure.  Additionally, tourist organizations can help raise awareness among the community of health and nutrition issues that are normally unavailable, potentially bringing immunization programs into the community as well.  MDG5, improve maternal health, can particularly be benefited by tourism if an influx of global people and ideas eliminates stigmatization of health issues of women[9].  Similar to MDG2 and 3, finding NGOs in your host community to learn or support where tourism can make an impact is a crucial step before visiting a place.

blog photo 4

MDG7 is ensure environmental sustainability.  Many argue that tourism is inherently unsustainable because it brings an excess of resources to an already vulnerable community.  While admittedly tourism can be very harmful to the environment, it can also help add value to the environment.  In southwestern Cambodia, community members have limited harmful logging practices to protect the environment that draws tourist[10].  These members now have jobs through tourism and are able to respect their environment through teaching tourists about it.  The value of the environment greatly increased from tourism and helped restore it.

MDG8 is develop a global partnership for development.  Tourism makes the world more connected as tourists meet host communities, share ideas, and develop relationships.  Encouraging the local communities to use their own discretion in developing tourist practices is essential.  Many failures of tourism come when the local people are ignored and overtaken by greater fundings for their own idea of tourism[11].  By creating a global partnership for development, tourism can help connect people across the world and educate one another about different cultures and needs throughout the world.

MDGs are important to set clear goals for sustainable development across the globe.  As we are in 2015, the post-2015 agenda is being developed at the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June.  The goal is to look at the success of the MDGs, reevaluate the priorities, and create clear and practical measures for implementing sustainable development[12].  Tourism is on the rise and becoming more of a tool for development.  While it is essential to work with the local community to ensure successful development measures and organizations, tourism can be transformative.  This responsibility lies on tourist organizations and the responsible traveler to respect the community and learn more about the tourist organizations that are being supported.

[2] Saarinen, Jarkko, Christian Rogerson, and Haretsebe Manwa. “Tourism and Millennium Development Goals: Tourism for Global Development?” Current Issues in Tourism 14.3 (2011): 201-3.
[3] Martin Mowforth, Ian Munt. “Tourism and Sustainability: Development, Globalisation and New Tourism in the Third World.” (22 September 2008): 338-41.
[5] Martin Mowforth, Ian Munt. “Tourism and Sustainability: Development, Globalisation and New Tourism in the Third World.” (22 September 2008): 338-41.
[8] Saarinen, Jarkko, Christian Rogerson, and Haretsebe Manwa. “Tourism and Millennium Development Goals: Tourism for Global Development?” Current Issues in Tourism 14.3 (2011): 201-3.
[9] Martin Mowforth, Ian Munt. “Tourism and Sustainability: Development, Globalisation and New Tourism in the Third World.” (22 September 2008): 338-41.
[10] Reimer, J. K. (Kila), and Pierre Walter. “How do You Know it when You See it? Community-Based Ecotourism in the Cardamom Mountains of Southwestern Cambodia.” Tourism Management 34.0 (2013): 122-32.
[11] Moscardo, G. Building Community Capacity for Tourism Development. Wallingford, Oxon, GBR: CABI Publishing, 2008. . ebrary.


Tourism of National Parks

blog photo 5

National parks are a fascinating study.  On one hand, they are beautiful, vast, protected pieces of land that are perfect for learning and exploration.  Whether its hiking through a beautiful forest or participating in a canopy walk above the rainforest, as pictured at Kakum National Park in Ghana, there are activities for every age at national parks.  On the other hand, they are unused territory that could be valuable for our growing population today.  When visitors come through the national parks, their transience leaves little responsibility to keep the park clean.  This fleeting visit is supported by US National Park Statistics which shows that most people only spend between one and two hours in national parks[1].  They also become problematic when ignoring the indigenous communities around them.  However like anything, national park tourism is valuable when executed properly and with the help of the local community.

When talking about national parks a common debate is conservation versus preservation.  Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of United States Forest Service, championed the importance of conservation of environmental uses to the maintain resources, while downgrading the idea of preservation, maintaining the forest for the sake of scenery[2].  Conservation versus preservation is derived from Pinchot vs. John Muir debates and Congressional support for timber companies during the early 1900s.  However, in the case of education, there are some places where preservation makes sense.  In Drakensberg, the cave writings on the wall should be preserved as they represent a key historical moment while the national park around it must take a more conservative approach.  Cautious conservation is especially important as national parks will be significantly hit by climate change, both in degradation as well as buffering to ameliorate some of the negative effects from the environment.  The National Park Service has committed to use science to help manage and adapt to the changing environment as well as reducing their own carbon footprint in managing the parks[3].

A study done in the UK and China interviewed visitors of national parks to see the correlation between views of nature and sustainable tourism[4].  The study showed a strong correlation between people with an anthropocentric view of nature supporting tourism development versus people with an ecocentric view of nature supporting conservation efforts.  The adoption of environmental ethics will determine the future of national parks.  One could also argue that as different cultures have varying environmental ethos, the treatment of national parks will greatly vary according to such ethos.  But, the ultimate importance is to find a healthy balance of both to not deteriorate the value of the parks.

Economically, national parks are shown to add value for both visitors and the surrounding community.  The US National Park Service has cited in 2013, there were 273 million visitors who spent $14.6 billion in nearby communities of the parks, contributing to 238,000 jobs, $2.8 billion labor income, $15.6 billion in value added, and $26.5 billion in output[5].  The US National Park Service attracts economic stimulation in its surrounding neighborhoods.  Another study done for the South Korean government aimed to put value on the national parks[6].  The study found that the frequency of visits to the park enhanced the value of the national parks.  Furthermore citizens have high cultural and preservation values that make the national parks worth maintaining.  The environmental value is also to be noted, as the management of national parks prevents degradation.

Concerns with national parks arise when they are preserved and block corridors for animal movement.  First, the preservation of national parks is problematic when the local community is not welcomed in the national park, or their culture is exploited by tourism.  Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area is an example of tourists coming primarily to look at the environment, but actually exhausting the environmental capacity[7].  In addition to harming the environment, the Maasai people who own the land are not on a senior level position for the Conservation Area, and thereby tourism is harming the local community economically.  The Maasai people do partake in some of the tourist activities through a display of their culture.  This raises some concern in dilution of cultural authenticity by changing traditions to display what tourists are expecting.  Beyond the socio-cultural impact of tourism on the Maasai people, their gain is very little compared to the total income tourism brings the Conservation Area.

Additionally, blocking areas for national parks can sometimes destroy wildlife corridors and harm natural biological movements.  In an effort to combat this issue, National Park Services is making a concerted effort to better regulate such issues and help restore natural corridors.  African Wildlife Corridors is an organization headquartered in Kenya working to restore key migratory corridors[8].  This project, Amboseli-Chyulu Wildlife Corridor, allows free movement for the lion, zebra, elephant, giraffe, and other species.  Stretching across Kenya from Aboseli National Park to Chyulu Hills and Tsavo West National Park, the Amboseli-Chyulu Wildlife Corridor project is restoring land that has been abused from population growth, increase in agriculture, and the tourism booms to the parks.  Supporting more efforts to allow free movement for animals is essential to the future successes of the parks across the globe.

blog photo 6
As a whole, tourism to National Parks is beautiful and encouraged.  Being aware of some of the malpractices of national parks as described above is essential though.  There are amazing natural sites across all parts of the world that are worth making the trip.  Making an effort to stick to the paths and respect the natural environment while visiting is essential to the existence of these parks.  As the climate changes, the parks will help buffer some negative effects felt elsewhere.  They are valuable to the environment, as long as there is a continued usage of them, sustainable for future generations.  These parks are not just to be admired, but they should be used resourcefully and sustainably to create practices for future generations.

[4] Xu, Feifei, and Dorothy Fox. “Modelling Attitudes to Nature, Tourism and Sustainable Development in National Parks: A Survey of Visitors in China and the UK.” Tourism Management 45.0 (2014): 142-58.
[6] Lee, Choong-Ki, and Sang-Yoel Han. “Estimating the use and Preservation Values of National Parks’ Tourism Resources using a Contingent Valuation Method.” Tourism Management 23.5 (2002): 531-40.
[7] Charnley, Susan. “From Nature to Ecotourism.” Human Organization. 2005. 64(1):75-88.


Make an ND Impact


As I come to a conclusion with these blogs, I hope there was some facet of responsible tourism that sparked your interest.  Being reminded to make a positive impact on the host community can greatly enhance the experience for tourist and host.  The world of alternative travel is growing, and the power of tourism is still largely unexplored.  As there have been many types of alternative tourism and examples of malpractices, I want to end on a case of Costa Rica which learned from mistakes of mass tourism to evolve into a model for ecotourism.

An example of where ecotourism has primarily expanded its reach to one of the leading examples in the world for a successful ecotourism model is in Costa Rica[1].  With 5% of the earth’s biodiversity in 0.035% of Earth’s surface, Costa Rica quickly felt the need to protect the biodiversity with an influx of people.  As tourism gained popularity in Costa Rica, environmentalism was adopted in their national identity.  Tourism currently makes up around 7% of Costa Rica’s GDP and the lead foreign exchange earner.  The beginning of tourism in the early 1990s in Costa Rica was a series of big international hotel chains, even creating a resort city that was like Costa Rica’s Cancun.  But, seeing the quick effects of mass tourism, President Jose Maria Figueres saw ecotourism as Costa Rica’s best business opportunities in his term, 1994-1998.   There are still these large resorts today, but they are continually pushed to adopt environmental reforms.

blog photo 7Tortuguero, Costa Rica (Source:

The transition towards alternative tourism began in 2007 when the Costa Rican government announced that it would support four types of tourism: ecotourism, adventure tourism, beach tourism, and rural community based tourism[2].  One specific example of community-based ecotourism is Tortuguero.  This turtle-nesting area first became a national park then a popular tourist spot.  The community surrounding Tortuguero was impoverished until the introduction of tourism.  Because Tortuguero is a turtle-nesting area, there are many environmental concerns associated with the influx of tourism.  For one, the conservation area is only accessible by boat which contributes to noise and pollution.  Some tourists would go on night tours to see wildlife only by night, which disturbed the natural environment with bright artificial light.  Additionally, the beach is filled with nesting turtles, causing tourists to disturb such natural environment.  For awhile, these environmental struggles showed Tortuguero as a disaster for impacts of tourism.  What came from the community surrounding Tortuguero was a camp of entrepreneurs.  Taking advantage of the new tourism industry surrounding them while protecting the environment, they created tourism programs to alleviate such environmental issues.  Through allowing certain types of boats to come only during the day and adding paths to the beaches, environmental concerns with slightly alleviated.  The town also began breeding tour guides who were educated about their surrounding environment, creating a nice tourist town for the ecotourist.  While some argue tourism marginalized some of the population, Tortuguero is an example of the evolution of tourism and the increasingly positive impact after some immediate failures.  Costa Rica also now is home to NGOs ready to train small local businesses to successfully run community ecotourism enterprises.

Learning about ecotourism, responsible tourism, voluntourism, alternative travel, or whichever you most identify with is important for the global greater world.  This area of travel is growing as the needs continue to arise, as seen with the example of Tortuguero.  Traveling for University students is becoming increasingly prevalent and important in learning about the world.  The University of Notre Dame alone sends students to 20 countries in more than 40 international programs.  Gaining this study experience is important for a university student to be able to learn and handle the challenges of living with people in different cultures.  It prepares students to live in a more ever global world to navigate these cultural differences smoothly when faced in future careers.  It is also to learn to be independent and learn by experience.  But, students have the opportunity to share their knowledge and culture with their host.  They can create international relationships and contribute to another society.  This also is important to take these experiences back to your hometown or University and apply your new experiences to your learning everyday.

blog photo 8Notre Dame in London

The goal is to go to the world to learn and make an impact where possible.  Remember that by traveling your responsibility is to make the right kind of impact.  When going into the world to learn, take in as much as possible to make a positive difference in the future.  Look for opportunities to minimize costs of the community hosting the traveler along each step of the journey and to learn through experiences to enhance your home community.

[1] Honey, Martha. Ecotourism and Sustainable Development : Who Owns Paradise? (2nd Edition).
Washington DC, USA: Island Press, 2008. ebrary.
[2] Honey.

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