Sustainable tourism is a responsible way of traveling and trying to make a positive impact on the destinations traveled. Recently, with the ban on non-essential travel and complete lockdown, we have seen the environmental benefits like cleaner air, clear water, reduced carbon emissions, and respite for wildlife. For example, the people of Northern India could see the Dhauladhar ranges of the Himalayas from a long-distance around 125 miles away. People in Delhi could see the clear sky and stars. Rivers namely the Ganges & Yamuna have cleaned up. We all know, these improvements in the environment have come as a result of restricted human activity. However, when lockdown gets lifted, life goes back to normal and people shall start traveling again. What will happen to the environment next? The situation may become as usual. Anyway, COVID-19 has allowed us the opportunity to introspect our behaviour and move towards a sustainable way of travel and leave a positive impact on the local community and on the Earth at large.
Having discussed the impact of COVID-19 as above, let’s discuss the following few options which we can contribute to a sustainable way of tourism:
Visit unexplored/Ecotourism friendly destinations: Social distancing has become part of our daily life and hence in times to come we need to revisit the trend we were used to following. We have seen, there is always a huge crowd around a popular tourist destination. Despite the fact that it has brought financial benefits to the locals and the country, however; leaves damages to the spot. So the decision in selecting a destination should be towards a positive impact on the environment and hence let’s explore less developed areas but still with rich culture, tradition, and natural beauty. Ecotourism is not a very popular terminology in India, however, there are many destinations in India working towards conservation of nature by adopting a sustainable way of living on the Earth. Some of the important eco-tourism places in India are – Backwaters, Munnar, Periyar National Park, Thenmala in Kerala, Kodaikanal in Tamilnadu, Coorg, Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka, Chilika, Bhitarkanika, Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha, Sunderban National Park in West Bengal, Majuli Island, Kaziranga National Park in Assam, Mawlynnong in Meghalaya, Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in Uttarakhand, etc. to name a few.
Avoid travel during peak seasons: Prevailing weather conditions of India are favorable for International travelers during the winter season i.e. from October to March and we generally get maximum tourists during this period. Popular tourist destinations are generally overcrowded with tourists during such peak season and it experiences road jam with tourist vehicles. The wildlife gets scared, tourists cannot see landmarks because of the crowds and ultimately people litter around damaging the surrounding areas.
Hence, while planning for a trip, consider traveling in the off-season or shoulder season which falls in between the peak and off-peak seasons. With this change, the crowd in the area will get spread throughout the year and hence causing less burden on the destination. Normally during off-season service providers offer a discounted price, and tourists can get benefited from a better deal.
Support local business/use local guides: While visiting a place, you may try to partner with a sustainable tour operator or service provider locally who is more familiar with the community and its landscape. Try to experience a greener mode of transportation like rickshaw ride, bicycle ride through the lanes of small cities, market area to get a more authentic experience and get acquainted with the local culture. Use local guides to show you around the community and who can engage you with the storytelling of the area; can also accompany you with short adventure tour like hiking, village walks, etc. Such experiences yield cherished memories and simultaneously, a small vendor/family-owned businesses get benefited out of this.
Support local shops and local food outlets: While purchasing locally-made souvenirs from local shops, you may please avoid purchasing wildlife products such as ivory. Try eating some of the local delicacies at a local restaurant or dhaba or even share a meal or tea with a local family which is the ideal way to support the local economy.
There is no good about novel coronavirus; however, it has allowed us to think about being more responsible in our lifestyle including the way of travel. It’s a common misconception that sustainable travel costs more, compromise on an enjoyable vacation, and even a big task for a person to perform. However, in reality, it’s not at all a difficult task and costly to travel as a responsible traveler, but it’s just an awareness while deciding on the vacation to undertake, as every small or big contribution makes a significant difference to our people, local community and the Mother Earth.
Some Tips: As a responsible traveler while traveling, please pack a reusable water bottle or water filter, a reusable bag for shopping, your toiletries in reusable bottles, bamboo toothbrush, reusable bamboo coffee cup, learn about local customs & traditions, pay a fair price while buying souvenirs, use bio-degradable wet wipes & tissues or can carry handkerchiefs, avoid changing bed sheets/towels every day unless it’s required to do so. Also, turn off light, fan, AC when they are not required by you. Treat animals with respect.