The most lasting progress is often the hardest to spot. Indeed, one of the examples Merriam-Webster dictionary cites to demonstrate the concept is: gradual betterment; especially: the progressive development of humankind.
When we began this year, we were delighted that the United Nations proclaimed 2017 as The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. We ran a series of blog posts throughout the year that outlined how we support the tenants of responsible tourism, which encompass utilizing environmentally friendly practices; supporting the protection of our global cultural and natural heritage; and supporting social and economic benefits to local people.
Our goal has been to show that each traveler can make a difference without relying solely on philanthropy. Change happens with each choice and decision they make about how and where they travel.
For example, supporting social and economic benefits to local people includes empowering women in the workforce, which improves the livelihoods of entire communities. Gender equality in the work place is win-win for everyone. In both Egypt and India, we work with female guides, both for their unique insights into the local culture, and as well as serving as a powerful way to elevate women into the workforce.
Exploring environmentally friendly practices for Big Five means that we seek partners that share our sustainability ethic. We consider their operations, the sustainable systems they have in place, projects, plans they are working on, and do they employ local people. On Australia’s ‘Top End’ in the north, Bamurru Plains is a small camp on a private buffalo pastoral property with nine safari bungalows built on stilts overlooking the floodplains and the Mary River Delta, west of Kakadu National Park. The camp has carefully planned every aspect with an eye to minimizing impacts on the land. The design includes energy usage, waste disposal, choice of linens, recycling bottles and the use of eco-certified cleaning materials. The bulk, about 75%, of the camp’s power is generated by the sun through an array of 128 solar panels. This not only ensures a predominantly clean source of energy but also allows guests to hear the sounds of the bush at night without the noise of a diesel generator humming in the background. The camp also supports communities by using products that are produced locally.
Protecting the world’s cultural heritage is key element in responsible tourism. A vital part of the reason we travel in the first place is to encounter other people and learn about other cultures. In Chile at Huilo Huilo, the Mapuche community is a collection of indigenous groups who share a common social, religious and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage as Mapudungun speakers. The Mapuche community today is working to maintain a proud living heritage that encompasses their rich traditions, customs and mythology through a number of initiatives that include community workshops that include teaching the next generation.
Protection of the natural heritage is just as important as we strive to save the rich and unique biodiversity of planet Earth like that of Grootbos Nature Reserve along the South African coast. South African Fynbos is recognized as one of the six botanical kingdoms of the world, and is known for its exceptional degree of biodiversity and endemism, consisting of about 80% (8,500) species of the Cape Floral Kingdom where nearly 6,000 species are endemic. It also hosts six mammals of conservation concern.
We also understand that you are known by the company you keep. We choose our partners carefully. One such partnership has been with the nonprofit One More Generation (OMG), founded in 2009, by then eight-year-old Carter Ries and his sister seven-year-old Olivia Ries. Already passionate animal lovers and budding conservationists, they began OMG after their family “adopted” cheetahs in South Africa and they began to question why that was even necessary. Today, Carter and Olivia give talks in schools and at events across the country, and OMG has run several campaigns to help preserve endangered species – from cheetahs to sea turtles to orangutans. They also have programs that encompass the myriad environmental and conservation issues such as the OneLessStraw Pledge Campaign to build awareness of plastic waste such the estimated 500,000,000 plastic straws disposed of in America every single day.
Why vs Where
As the year-long U.N, campaign highlighting sustainable tourism development concludes, we recognize that there is much work left to do. It’s never easy changing old habits. We have chosen a revolutionary path with Galapagos.com that asks you to consider not simply where to travel but why you travel. Galapagos.com is an easy-to-use tool to learn about sustainable travel in Latin America. We are currently creating a sister site for Africa which will launch early next year.
2018… Just the beginning.