Remember learning about symbiotic relationships in seventh grade science class? Your teacher might have used a really cool example, like the clownfish and the anemone, but even within our own species mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationships play an important role in fostering health, happiness and well being. Sustainable tourism is an excellent example of a symbiotic relationship. The goal of sustainable tourism is to provide a positive, beneficial experience for both travelers and hosts, and at Grand Cru Wine Tours we are taking strong measures to make our tours sustainable.
One of the most important themes in sustainable tourism or sustainable travel is respect: Respect for the environment, respect for the local culture and economy, and respect for the future. Respecting the environment is something we are all familiar with, at least in theory. Putting this into practice on a day to day basis takes commitment, and can include using energy efficient vehicles and office equipment, seeking out environmentally gentler options such as biodegradable water bottles, decreasing paper use, and recycling. The basic idea here is to not destroy or harm the unique environment that attracted tourists in the first place.
Respecting the local culture and economy is a bit more subtle. Local culture can mean anything from African farmers to Japanese businessmen to Oregonian winemakers. The important thing to remember here is to be aware of differences in behavior, clothing, and social norms and to respect those differences. If one is traveling in a foreign country, making the effort to learn a few words of the local language is almost always appreciated. Buying locally made food, crafts, and art is also an excellent way to show cultural appreciation, boost the local economy, and enrich the travel experience. At its heart, sustainable travel means supporting local businesses that provide fairly paid jobs to local workers, including tour guides, drivers, and office staff. Grand Cru Wine Tours is proud to employ local staff with a passion for regional wines and the environment that makes them possible.
Respecting the future is where the strengths of sustainable travel’s symbiotic relationships are tested. To truly nurture and sustain the local culture and environment, investments in the future need to be made. These investments can include maintaining or improving the local infrastructure, providing scholarships and educational opportunities for local students, and building strong working relationships with the community. Travelers can donate to local charities, do volunteer work, or seek out businesses with strong sustainability policies. In 2008, the World Conservation Congress launched the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC), a set of 37 sustainability standards for businesses in the tourism industry. These standards are voluntary, and stress using tourism as a tool to alleviate local poverty and preserve historic sites. Asking tourism businesses about their knowledge of and participation in the GSTC is an excellent way to assess their commitment to sustainability. In the United States, Sustainable Travel International has developed a certification program that meets all of the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. They have also developed a variety of resources related to Green Travel.
Tourism should be enjoyable and enriching, for both the traveler and the host community, so please keep the principles of sustainable travel in mind when you’re planning your next fantastic journey. With increased interest, awareness, and commitment, perhaps fostering the communities one travels to will become the mutually beneficial norm.