By Julia Dec

Edited by Alexia Cosmatchi

We all hope that the COVID 19 pandemic is coming to an end and that it will be possible to travel freely again. It may now be a good time to rethink the way we travel and given that summer holidays are quickly approaching, it may be worth reminding ourselves about sustainable tourism, developed on the basis of respect for the natural environment and local communities.

Illustration by Zerena Dutta-Nielsen

The World Tourism Organization, a Madrid-headquartered United Nations agency, has made its primary goal in ensuring sustainability of post-pandemic travel. As UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Poliakashvili pointed out: “Sustainability must no longer be a niche part of tourism but the new norm for every part of our sector. That means an opportunity to build back better and create an industry that is more resilient and aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

According to recent research published by UNWTO, the demand for sustainable travel is growing constantly with over 53% of people willing to modify their travel pattern to make their travels more sustainable in the future, focusing on tourist activities which support natural and cultural heritage of visited destinations. Sustainable travel is a developing concept, with new trends appearing constantly. One of its latest directions is to go “beyond sustainable” and into “regenerative travel”. This concept means that instead of not harming the place you visit (sustainable travel), you leave it better than you found it. Increasing number of travelers are keen to support the recovery efforts in the destinations they visit, by ensuring that part of the proceeds will go directly to the local communities. Several large travel organizations established the Future of Tourism Coalition and agreed on a chart – thirteen guiding principles for the future regenerative travel, including sustainability goals, climate and environment impact limitation, fair income distribution and decision-making process inclusive of civil society representatives. (The complete chart can be found at

Finally, it is worth asking what each one of us can do to render our travels more sustainable.

There are couple of questions we need to ask ourselves:

  • Where to go? Stating the obvious, the shorter the distance from home you travel, the lower your carbon footprint is. Thus, you may want to prioritize visiting destinations which are more local (couple of hours drive or train ride). If you want to go further away, consider choosing more ‘sustainable’ destinations (certain regions or cities make green tourism their priority).
  • How do you get there, and how you will be travelling around? As far as tourism is concerned, transport is by far the largest polluter emitting greenhouse gases and other toxic waste. Travelling by train has been proven to generate the lowest emission of pollutants. In contrast, flying is unequivocally the single biggest contributor to our personal carbon footprint (i.e. the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by an individual usually represented in tons of carbon dioxide.) And it’s the taking off and landing that causes the highest emissions, so careful planning and minimizing short-haul flights or stopovers will decrease your footprint. Certain airlines (like Lufthansa) allow you to offset your carbon footprint by buying credits, which go towards a project which reduces or neutralizes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • How to pack and what to do once you’re at your destination? While you pack, you can think about biodegradable cosmetics or detergents, which can help reducing chemicals’ impact on the environment (why not doing this every day?). Bringing your own re-usable water bottle can drastically help reducing plastic waste, in the same way as taking along re-usable containers and re-suable straws. Other small, yet vital gestures, include bringing a kindle or iPad rather than paper books (making your luggage lighter), packing a tote bag for souvenirs and shopping minimizing use of plastic bags. Do not forget to choose appropriate sunscreen, which does not contain oxybenzone, a chemical toxic to coral reef and other sea creatures.
  • What do you bring home? Make sure to buy local to the greatest extent possible (China-made souvenirs from Costa da Luz aren’t necessarily the most sustainable trophy from your Spanish vacation). You can invest some time and effort to research for eco-friendly boutiques and shops supporting local craftsmanship. Invest in quality products that last. When buying clothing items as souvenirs – the most important question is: how many times will I wear it? Pass on items which you know you will not be wearing often! Again, avoid cheap mass-produced items of deplorable quality sold by typical tourist traps in popular spots.

I hope I gave you enough food for thought before we all break for summer holidays in July and August. Sustainable travel becomes more and more popular, and this is one of the trends which we should all be proud to follow!

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