According to the World Tourism Organization, the three pillars of sustainable tourism are:
- Employing environmentally friendly practices (helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity);
- Respecting the culture of host communities (conserving their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values);
- and providing tangible social and economic benefits for local communities (supporting fair wages for employees and contributing to poverty alleviation in host communities).
Respect the Local Culture
Before you travel, study the history and culture of your destination. Learn basic phrases in your destination’s local language.
Show respect for and interest in the local culture. At sacred sites, dress modestly, speak softly, and be mindful of people who are there to worship.
If opting for a tour, choose a tour operator that employs local guides.
Respect the Sites
When planning your travel, consider visiting lesser-known places—they may be as rewarding (not to mention less crowded) than tourist hotspots. The Taj Mahal may be a must-see, but India has more than 25 other spectacular World Heritage Sites.
Be mindful of visitor wear and tear. Visiting crowded sites at off-peak hours or popular destinations in the off-season will reduce your impact.
Respect the rules of the site. Stick to marked paths. Wear comfortable footwear such as sneakers; heels can damage fragile sites. Don’t climb on monuments or touch rock carvings, as it can damage them.
Take only photographs, and make sure that flash is permitted as it can damage centuries-old artwork.
Be aware of local traditions when photographing people. When in doubt, ask permission before taking a picture.
Never remove anything from a site: you may think one stone won’t be missed, but if every one of Pompeii’s two million annual visitors took something home, soon there’d be nothing left.
Reduce Your (Carbon) Footprint
Become part of the “slow travel” trend by going to fewer places and spending more time at each. Taking the train through a country, then walking, biking, and trekking or exploring one place in-depth is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint.
At urban destinations, walk or take public transit whenever possible. Not only will you experience a deeper sense of place, you’ll also decrease your carbon footprint.
Carbon offsets and local green initiatives are a good way to reduce the impact of travel and have a positive impact on the local community.
Conservation should always be on a traveler’s mind. Be part of the solution by opting for locally purified water in recyclable glass bottles when possible and carrying tote bags in your luggage that you can use while perusing street markets and shops.
Opt to stay in an eco-friendly hotel or choose an eco-friendly tour operator. Many hotels have now have green initiatives.
Support the local economy
Locally made crafts and souvenirs are not always cheaper, but purchasing them ensures your contribution to the economy will have a more direct and positive impact. Buying authentic crafts supports cultural heritage and provides needed jobs for the local artisans who make them.
Be wary of “antiquities” as these could be looted or forgeries. Never buy wildlife products, as you may be inadvertently helping to support a growing marketplace for trafficking rare and endangered wildlife products as souvenirs
Patronize smaller hotels and local restaurants—that way the money you spend boosts the local economy and helps preserve heritage.
Imbalanced tourism encompasses unsustainable visitation that results in cultural heritage sites either overrun by visitors or left without the minimal level of visitation to support operations. Its impacts are wide-ranging. Popular destinations sustain physical damage caused by the constant onslaught of tourists. This is compounded by the negative influence of crowds on the quality of life of communities, who rarely share the economic benefits of the local tourism industry. At the other extreme, insufficient visitor numbers mean minimal revenue and result in deferred maintenance and the potential abandonment of sites that deserve greater recognition.
World Monuments Fund aspires to promote tourism approaches that minimally impact sense of place, while bringing increased benefits and decision-making power into the hands of communities. This includes fostering regional approaches that better distribute visitation and draw attention to lesser-known heritage places, a model currently being explored in WMF projects at Tusheti National Park, Georgia, Bennerley Viaduct, UK and Canal Nacional, Mexico.
Tusheti National Park, Georgia
The Tush community seeks to ensure that regional development in eastern Georgia will promote sustainable tourism and will not disrupt their livelihoods.
Bennerley Viaduct, UK
Local stewards of a rare survivor of the Industrial Age are reviving it as a community asset for recreation and access to the natural environment.
Canal Nacional, Mexico
Community stewards of Mexico's oldest man-made waterway seek community participation as plans for a new park push forward.