How do people choose tourist destinations

Sustainable travel

The central problem: mass tourism

When you think of "overtourism" or mass tourism, the image of overcrowded beaches often comes to mind. For example on the coast of Mallorca in August, where bathers first have to run past several rows of towels in a slalom to get to the water.

This type of tourism concentrates large groups of people on one and the same destination, which tests the capacities of the place concerned.

In the beginning, the phenomenon of mass tourism was only to be found in coastal cities such as Palma de Mallorca. Over time, the travel sector has developed, flights have become cheaper and mass tourism has increasingly shifted to other areas - such as cities (London is the most visited city in Europe), cultural places (e.g. Machu Picchu in Peru) or natural areas (such as the Iguazu Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina).

However, mass tourism does not only have an impact on the environment: it can also have economic consequences for the region concerned, as the prices of products and services rise due to the strong demand. As a result, livelihoods can become more expensive for the locals.

Mass tourism can also cause damage in people's everyday lives. Local culture can be lost, for example, if indigenous groups no longer go about their normal activities but sell souvenirs to tourists. Hotels and holiday apartments can change the cityscape of well-traveled metropolises and turn entire city districts upside down.

What does sustainable travel mean?

Today we are not only more sensitive to environmental problems, but also to social and cultural problems. As a reaction to mass tourism, sustainable tourism emerged, also known as ecotourism, environmentally and socially acceptable or gentle tourism.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines sustainable tourism as "an institution that takes full account of present and future economic, social and environmental impacts in order to meet the needs of visitors, industry, the environment and the hosting communities".

According to the UNWTO, sustainable tourism can not only lead to a nicer travel experience. It helps to create jobs, improve the wellbeing of local people and protect nature and culture.

For these reasons, international organizations propose guidelines to make the tourism industry more sustainable. The guidelines of the United Nations are based on three pillars: Tour operators and tourists should accordingly

  • conserve environmental resources,
  • respect the culture of the host communities and
  • promote the economy and contribute to poverty reduction.

These principles help to plan and make trips more sustainable.

Transport: Avoid the plane

If you are planning your next trip, you first have to choose the means of transport. There are two important aspects to consider: on the one hand, how we achieve our goal and, on the other hand, how we move on site.

As a rule, there is only one option left for long-distance travel: the plane. However, this is the mode of transport with the largest ecological footprint. Researchers often state the effect on the climate in terms of CO2 equivalents. The unit of measurement not only takes into account CO2, but also other greenhouse gases such as methane or nitrous oxide. These are converted into the climate impact of CO2 and summed up as CO2 equivalents.

A return flight from Düsseldorf to New York, for example, causes 2.8 tons of CO2 equivalents per person. That already almost doubles the climate-friendly annual budget of a person. Ships, especially cruise ships, and cars also cause high greenhouse gas emissions. In comparison, train traffic does better.

For these reasons, it is important that tourists question their travel destinations critically. Europeans who want to spend a few weeks on the beach may not have to fly to the Caribbean, but can instead take the train to a less visited place on the Mediterranean. If you want to climb mountains, you may not have to go to Nepal, but can try your hand at the local Alps.

When you arrive at your destination, it is important to keep an eye on the further transport. It is more sustainable to limit the trip to a certain region and explore the area by bike, on foot on a hike or by kayak. Island hopping with motor boats and domestic flights, on the other hand, are less environmentally friendly.

If you couldn't avoid a flight, you should try to stay there for as long as possible. Air travelers also have the option of offsetting the amount of CO2 that has been generated. The passengers donate money to organizations such as "Atmosfair", "Klima-Kollekte" or "Primaklima". The organization saves the amount of CO2 from the flight through climate protection projects elsewhere - for example by building more efficient ovens in Nigeria.

Accommodation: Book local hotels and holiday apartments

Another important aspect of sustainable travel is accommodation. According to hotel tourism expert Jacques Demajorovic, water consumption in a hotel can be almost 800 liters per room. For comparison: at home we use an average of 300 liters.

There are various reasons for the high water consumption of hotels. In many restaurants, the staff changes bed linen and towels every day to wash them. Large hotels often have a pool area and an irrigated garden. These factors can drive up water consumption and pose particular challenges for dry regions. In some poorer regions, the wastewater is also not treated and ends up in rivers and seas, which are thus polluted.

It is similar to the water with the garbage. According to expert Demajorovic, a person at home produces an average of two kilograms of waste per day. The amount doubles for a night in a hotel. The reason for this is primarily the single-use products such as shower gels, toothbrushes and razors that hotels keep in the bathrooms for their guests.

The hotel industry continues to evolve and is looking for ways to reduce water consumption and improve energy efficiency. But the behavior of the guests also has an influence. For example, travelers can insist that their towels and bed linen are not changed every day and that they take their own hygiene products from home.

These points are often easier to implement when travelers stay in local inns and vacation rentals rather than large resorts. The local hotel industry often consumes less energy. It also helps tourists ensure that the money goes into the hands of locals. In the case of large, international hotel chains, however, the profits usually go abroad. The local community does not benefit from it.

Activities: Choosing a local tour guide

The planning of a sustainable trip does not end with the arrival and the accommodation. Every decision we make as tourists has an impact on where we are. We should therefore also choose carefully the activities and tours that we want to do on our trip.

At the ecological level, this mainly applies to activities with animals. In many travel destinations, observation tours are offered, for example to see wild monkeys, crocodiles or whales. The easiest way to attract the animals is with food. However, feeding changes the ecosystem as these animals no longer hunt. Where crocodiles no longer hunt, for example, certain fish and frog species spread unhindered, which in turn displace other animal species.

It also causes animals to lose fear of people. This happens, for example, in various places in Asia where wild monkeys have become tame and feed almost exclusively on the food of tourists. During other activities, the animals are kept in captivity. Some examples are elephant rides, photos with birds or crocodile shows.

As an alternative, travelers can visit a nature reserve or reserve where they can encounter the animals from a distance. This also helps the locals to appreciate the animals.

Anyone who spends their vacation in nature or in a city should always make sure that they leave as few traces as possible. This applies not only to the choice of means of transport (e.g. rowing boats instead of motor boats, hiking boots instead of jet skis, bicycles instead of quads), but also to avoiding waste: These can be small gestures such as bringing your own cutlery and a reusable water bottle, straws and reject plastic bags and not only collect your own but also third-party rubbish and dispose of it properly.

Not only on an ecological level, but also on a socio-cultural and economic level, tourists can make a positive contribution to their trip every day. This includes choosing a local tour guide, eating at local restaurants, and buying handicrafts and souvenirs from local shops.

Travel and sustainability - can they be combined?

Even if we pay attention to all these points, tourism, like all other human activities, has an impact on the environment. The concepts of tourism and sustainability will always be in competition with one another and cannot be fully combined. Travelers should be aware that there is no such thing as a perfect, sustainable journey. But you can make it as sustainable as possible - both for the environment and for the local economy and culture.

And: The decisions of travelers play a key role in steering the tourism industry in the right direction. If there is a great demand for environmentally and socially responsible travel, the providers will respond accordingly. So the future of tourism is to some extent in the hands of travelers.