TOURIST OR TRAVELER
To understand the definition of sustainable tourism, it is necessary to have in mind the difference between a tourist and a traveler: the first seeks a place to relax, turn off the brain, without having worries or the need to interact with other people (unless they are tourists like him or employees of tourist facilities). He is looking for luxury, comfort and an environment that matches his expectations, collected through travel catalogs, photos found on instagram, television or advertising images. His idea of travel is a vacation in which to find forms of entertainment very similar to those sought at home; the more the trip is organized to the smallest details, the better will be his satisfaction at the end of the holiday.
Think instead of a different way of traveling, where you can make profound human experiences, returning home with indelible memories and the feeling of having lived a unique adventure of its kind, exploring unspoiled landscapes, getting in touch with people from different cultures, with stories and tales never heard before, living for some time immersed in a stimulating atmosphere, accompanied by an intense and intoxicating sense of freedom. All this makes you a traveler: you are moving outside of your mental limits, increasingly experiencing a sensation of novelty.
Now imagine that all this can be done by giving the populations of the least developed countries the chance to improve their living conditions, while at the same time preserving the planet and nature. How, you ask …
Several definitions have been given in the last decades of this new form of travel; by opening a book on the subject, you will find several references to sustainable tourism, responsible tourism, ecotourism, solidarity tourism or community tourism. Don’t be afraid: they all point in the same direction. I don’t want to force you to read all the differences between these forms of tourism. Once the article is finished, if you want to learn more, you can do it on your own thanks to some wise books.
Instead, here I want to concentrate on the basic principles that unite them: in order to travel in a different way it is necessary the cooperation of different figures: the traveler, the tour operator – and his guides, if you want to be accompanied – and the communities that welcome you. Everyone must play his part in organizing a journey during which it is possible to make authentic and conscious experiences, to pollute as little as possible, contributing to the socio-economic development of the visited countries.
Any form of travel that does not reduce the availability and quality of the resources of the places visited and does not compromise the possibility of future travelers to enjoy the same opportunities, is part of the tourist experience of which we are, in this blog, passionate promoters.
BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER
To achieve this goal, it is necessary to divide the journey into three distinct phases: before, during and after.
Before leaving, the traveler must collect as much information as possible about local customs and habits to be sure, during the trip, not to adopt behaviors deemed offensive or inappropriate by host populations. Furthermore, by documenting on the history and society of the country visited, you will be more likely to start conversations with the local population given the interest shown in their traditions and life situations.
If you have decided to travel accompanied, you must make yourself available for preparatory meetings, organized by the tour operator, in which to compare yourself with the other participants about the expectations regarding the trip, about the knowledge of the country visited, such as geographic, political, social and environmental information.
Carefully read the travel itinerary, paying attention to the presence of solidarity and/or environmental projects to which you can take part; in addition, find out about the ethics of the trip, in particular by asking the tour operator for a breakdown in detail of the final booking price for each item of expenditure, so as to check that a share of the payment is donated directly to the local communities or NGOs operating on the destination territory (so-called solidarity quota), and in favor of projects to offset CO2 emissions (the so-called carbon offset).
The tour operator, for its part, must commit itself before the trip to choose eco-compatible structures, find local partners committed to respecting the minimum trade union norms and, at the same time, to train local personnel; choose family-friendly reception services, which can also be used by locals.
Furthermore, it must approach the host communities to verify the availability of touristic activities in a limited area, making an assessment of the possible impacts of tourism itself on the environment and culture.
During the itinerary, the traveler looks for products and cultural activities that are expression of the local culture: remember to safeguard their identity, respecting the environment and historical heritage. Don’t buy products that you don’t know about and, when possible, choose to finance small local artisans. All these tips will be much easier to apply thanks to the information collected before departure.
During the trip, the tour operator will provide trained guides on environmental and ecological issues, local experts who advise the traveler on his choices and help him to live a conscious and authentic experience. In this regard, it is a good idea to check the skills of your companion before traveling; ask the organizer himself to give you some more details or search for it on the tour operator’s web page.
Once you get back, take the time to clear up the experiences in your mind and make yours the teachings and the different perspectives. If you have collected photographic material or written a travel diary, you can spend time reviewing it and meditating on it.
Instead, the tour operator will have to conduct regular analyzes on the territory where the itinerary has been traced to verify the onset of environmental, social or economic problems related to tourism; in this way, it will be able to correct the route, along the way, improving the sustainability of its touristic products.
Traveling in another way is possible; to do this, a bit of preparation and resourcefulness is necessary, but the satisfactions are many and once the road has been taken, only the benefits are to be seen. Traveling is one of the oldest needs and human urges; we must rediscover it for all that has always meant: the desire to explore, to know oneself and the others. Life is an adventure: live it as such!