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Posted on: Thursday May 06, 2021
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Why Your Travel Choice Is So Important

The Sustainability Challenge

The concept of loving a destination to death is not new, but in 2016 it flashed to the surface as locals in Barcelona, Florence and other big tourist cities finally had enough. The ethics of tourism have become a hot social issue with many people living in the places we love to visit.

What are the issues? From the destination's view there are many: physical infrastructure to support tourism demands; managing the flow of visits to sensitive places; how visitors interact with locals; presenting destinations, people and cultures realistically; making sure the monetary rewards of tourism benefit the local communities, and many more. From the visitor's viewpoint it's important that we have good experiences, whether those are at vacation retreats, city stays, safaris, treks, cruises, or tours.

As a professional in the travel service industry, I take my role seriously and I work to help make sure that the positives of tourism outweigh the negatives. The first step is education and talking with clients about how to make sustainable choices.

As an example of how choices affect all aspects of a trip I will relate a recent experience of my own.

The Cuban Example

I was visiting Cuba for the first time and I wanted to learn as much as I could from a travel planner's point of view as well as just being a tourist.  I had made contact with a Cuban tour operator a couple of years earlier but never had the opportunity to use them so I acted as a "guinea pig" and asked to have a special tour made for us. Aside from it being a bit of a last minute challenge, the process went very well and we were off to Havana.

We were met at the airport and easily taken to our guest house in old Havana. I instantly fell in love with this well worn city. 

The 9 day trip was very good (more in this post) and we then took off on our own for another week.

Supporting Local?

Vinales, the valley and its unique topography, beckoned so we went there. This is where it became really instructive. We stayed at a local casa particulare (guest house, bnb) which was basic and clean, and enjoyed getting to know the hosts, a young couple. During the course of conversation, we were happy to learn that her father was a licensed guide who could take us on a walk to the nearby national park and see a really close up look at life in the valley. That we certainly got, but not exactly how we imagined it as he skirted the park entrance fees and literally ran us down a hill to avoid meeting the park attendants.

We also hired another guide on the street and a driver for a half day to go caving. It was more or less the same story. Sneak in through the back way to avoid the park fees. They had each pocketed all the money and not paid any park entry fees at all. We felt a bit cheated by them. Bad on us for not being more careful.


So what's the big deal? In Vinales, we enjoyed the stay, and we found a couple of really great places on our own. On my 9 day tour we had a great guide, well educated, and knowledgeable. We met people passionate about hosting guests and sharing their love of growing food, farming and gardening. In Vinales on our own we got quick buck artists and no added value for us, or for Cuba's parks for that matter.

After our tour, by contrast, I felt connected to people in Cuba who were really working hard to make tourism work for everyone. Maybe that's just me because I make my living in tourism too, but there is a good feeling to be helping people who are trying to make a difference and doing it carefully.

Back to Choices

The problem really comes back to education, information and making good choices. Ultimately, to  have the great experience you are looking for while also supporting the destination, use credible operators who live by the rules. Some major international tour companies have good policies in place, but it's a little harder to distinguish the good from the not so good when in destination.

Is there a place for independent, serendipitous travel as opposed to prearranged tours? Absolutely. Be informed, get educated and act like a guest who wants to get invited back - from your host's grandchildren when they've grown. After all, they are the ones who will be living with the consequences of today's tourism.






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