How to: Ethical and sustainable travel

Green Lifestyle online

Founder of G Adventures Bruce Poon Tip shares his top five sustainable travel tips.


Founder of G Adventures Bruce Poon Tip at the South Pole.

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We all know it - travel, particularly international, can have a pretty large ethical and environmental impact. Bruce Poon Tip of G Adventures shares his tips for travelling in an ethical manner.

Tip 1: Know where your money is going
"Prior to booking, understand that you, the consumer, have the buying power. The first important thing about sustainable travel is that local people should be benefitting from it. The United Nations Environment Programme put out a staggering statistic that of every $100 spent by a tourist in a foreign country on a tour or package, only $5 stays in the country. So know who owns the travel company, because a lot of them are foreign-owned public holding companies that are beholden to their shareholders, and the money doesn't even stay in the country. There's so much greenwashing going on in the tourism industry, of companies looking sustainable and green, but they really don't have good systems in place to make them a truly sustainable business. You should be able to call up and ask questions, even of the receptionist. If you call and someone doesn't know about the company, or they tell you to go look on the website - which is a very common answer - then that's not good enough."

Tip 2: Spread your wealth locally
"Make sure there is direct interaction with locals - that is, get off the beaten track. Use different merchants, buy from different places, eat in different restaurants, get out of the hotel, shop outside of a mall, and really let the local people benefit from you being there. Some people go on coach tours, for instance, and they come and go from a country and never really see any part of the country other than a western bubble that has pretty much been created for them. Some of these coach companies own all of the hotels that they drop you off at and that you stay in. So look at the itinerary closely and make sure there are elements in it where you'll see a real part of the country. Look at the tour that you're taking and make sure that there is some sort of local interaction or some way that you're having different kinds of local experiences."

Tip 3: Avoid all-inclusive packaging
"All-inclusive packages are focussed on controlling your movements as a traveller, making you less mobile, and squeezing out the benefits to local merchants and producers. If you pay for everything before you arrive, your money is spent before you get there so you have nothing to offer locals. These packages encourage you not to go very far, so you spend all your money in one place. This is so important to keep in mind now, because ten years ago 25 per cent of the people who travelled bought all-inclusive holidays, but last year, 75 per cent bought all-inclusive holidays, and the trend is growing. The reason for this is because pubic holding companies are all merging together - from the aeroplanes, charter buses, restaurants and so on - and they have managed to change the consumer buying patterns through cheaper offers that are irressistable for travellers. They're finding better ways to make people move around less. And they do it because they want to get the money there and then, when you book. I do think it's great for people to want to book through experienced tourism operators, but it's important to know the facts, and know that there are some companies that can do it more sustainably than others. And I'm not saying that backpacking is the only way to travel locally and sustainably. It can be done on the luxury end as well, if that's what you're looking for."

Tip 4: Never leave a country without having a meal with a local person
"I find it incredible that people will come and go from a country and not sit down and share a meal with someone from the country. Sitting down over a meal is one of the most universal things we can share, and it encourages great social interactions. Whether you go on a day tour and spend time at lunch with a local driver, or if you happen to meet a local along on your way somewhere, or if you meet someone in a restaurant and join them: share a meal with a local and have a conversation with them. There's lots of opportunities, it's just being open to them. I always tell travellers to take some pictures from home to share with the people that you meet. Those cheesy postcards from your home country are perfect so you can share stories about where you come from, and family photos are great because people are often keen to know more about you. I believe that cultural interaction is a big part of making your time in another country more sustainable. Cultural exchange is what will help us to do away with ignorance and intolerance through getting to know one another and understanding another culture. Tourism can be a vehicle for that if people just got to know other people and other cultures, and to begin to understand how other people live."

Tip 5: When you come home, be vocal
"Tell everybody about what you did, how you found it, how you booked it, and be proud of what you did to contribute to the country you visited. Part of the movement of sustainability at the moment is that you have to facilitate it by telling people about it. Don't just say you went to Thailand, tell people how you did it differently and encourage them to consider doing something similar. Share not just where you went for your trip, but share the details about what you learnt - tell them about how one of the best days you had was when you had a driver and you sat down and had lunch together and learnt about each other's families. Sure, some people blog or post comments on websites, share photos and comments on social networks, but most importantly get out there and tell people face-to-face the great things that you saw, and how you thought it was a better experience than travelling any other way!"

In keeping with their high ethical standards, G Adventures are helping to create better communities via a worldwide initiative, The G Project. Share your idea that will change the world today for a better tomorrow, and you could get $25,000 in funding to help you bring your idea to life.