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Sustainable tourism, a practical guide

Sustainable tourism means travelling green. Here is a practical guide for those planning their holidays.

The current world financial crisis, which affects all aspects of our lives, has spared the international tourism field: according to the UNWTO, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, the turnover of international tourism accounted for 1,245 billion dollars in 2014 (48 percent more than in 2013) and international tourist arrivals topped one billion people, a little more than one seventh of the world population. This represents a panacea for the economy but a real problem for the environment and the Planet. However, it is possible to improve the situation: people need to consider it an important opportunity to change habits and travel in a more sustainable way.

What is sustainable tourism

Ecotourism is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as a “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people”. To sum up we can quote what Alastair Fuad-Luke, author of “Eco-travel handbook” and sustainable lifestyle expert, says in his book: ecotourists are travellers who love to have fun, not to destroy the environment.

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Choosing the destination

Where can we be eco-friendlier? We could plan a responsible travel in one of the countries that are more respectful of the environment according to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). In 2014 the top ten countries of the 178 assessed were: Switzerland, Luxembourg, Australia, Singapore, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, Austria, Sweden and Norway. For those who love the metropolitan tourism, according to the Sustainable Cities Index the eco-friendliest city in the world is Frankfurt, followed by London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin, Seoul, Hong Kong, Madrid and Singapore. Finally, eco-tourists should go to the UNESCO’s world heritage sites in order to help preserving them, particularly the ones that are in danger.

Means of transport

Choosing the “right” means of transport is fundamental: as the ENEA (the Italian agency for new technologies, energy and sustainable economic development) states the greenest way of moving is travelling by train. However, there are some airline companies that increase the ticket price in order to compensate the CO2 emissions generated with the flight. Once arrived at destination, you can travel by public transports, by bike or… on foot!

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Hotels

More and more hotels and tourist facilities all over the world are trying to reduce their impact and certify their commitment towards the environment. The most popular certifications at an international level are Ecolabel, Green Key, Green Globe, the sustainable tourism eco-certification program; in Italy, it is possible to get a certification thanks to Stay For The Planet, the Italian sustainability rating system conceived by LifeGate, or online visiting the sites EcoWorldHotel and Ermes.net.

Tips

The IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, suggests how to travel in a green way with its decalogue published in 2011: visit areas with high natural and cultural values; bring light luggage; plan the itineraries; adapt to local cultures; choose sustainable hotels; take into account trains and coaches as alternatives to the airplane; opt for local food; avoid to buy souvenirs made of endangered plants; bother animals as little as possible when taking pictures in uncontaminated areas; keep in touch with local environmental associations after returning home.

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