Time to holiday? In the planning stages, we as consumers are increasingly prioritising sustainable, authentic and eco friendly travel options in our decision-making. Yet how do we know what really is sustainable and authentic? Who do we trust? How do we spot greenwashing tourism?
In this blog, I explain what makes ethical, responsible and sustainable tourism. I also outline the issue of “green-washing”, and the ever-present global problems and wrongdoings committed by the “greatest” travel companies, which unknowingly we may be exacerbating. Finally, I share with you one option to travel more sustainably thanks to Fairbnb.coop so read until the end!
The Definition of Sustainability
Sustainability by its very nature is defined as the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level over a period of time. In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The association has been drilled into us now that sustainability means green, green means nature and the planet… If we plant more trees and offset our carbon footprint we will earn the credentials of being sustainable. These actions should not be disregarded and are a step in the right direction. However companies believe these actions suffice to tick the box, to get the badge: “I am sustainable”.
Sustainability is a lot more than just nature and carbon. Booking.com published their Sustainability in Tourism report, and still the emphasis is on protecting the natural environment, waste reduction and preserving wildlife and natural habitats. There was no mention of the impact of tourism on people.
No travel can be sustainable if it doesn’t consider people and social aspects!
What does travel sustainable mean? Key principles of travel sustainability
If you have wondered: “what does travel sustainable mean”, here is an answer for you.
Travel sustainability refers to the concept of engaging in travel activities in a manner that minimises negative impacts on the environment, supports local communities, and preserves cultural heritage for future generations. It relies on five key principles that are complementary.
Eco friendly travel seeks to minimise the ecological footprint of travel activities. Travellers can opt for eco-friendly transportation, support accommodations with green initiatives, and participate in nature conservation efforts.
Travel sustainability recognizes, respects and preserves the local cultures, traditions, and communities of the destinations being visited. It encourages travellers to engage with local people and learn about their customs.
Responsible Tourism Practices
Sustainable travel promotes responsible tourism behaviour by encouraging travellers to be mindful of their actions and their impact on the destination. This includes respecting local laws and customs, practising responsible waste management and engaging in activities that do not harm the environment or exploit local resources.
Sustainable travel aims to generate economic benefits for local communities, ensuring that tourism revenue directly supports local businesses and residents. This can be achieved by choosing locally-owned accommodations by booking on platforms such as Fairbnb.coop. But also by dining at local restaurants, purchasing locally-made products, and supporting community-based tourism initiatives.
Education and Awareness
Travel sustainability also emphasises the importance of educating and raising awareness among travellers about sustainable tourism. By understanding the impact of their choices, travellers can make informed decisions and actively contribute to the sustainability of the places they visit.
Sustainable issues related to over tourism
When over-tourism and its devastating impacts locally are dominating academic research and press, it begs a question. Why are large companies being blind still pursuing mass tourism? The best leaders are recognising that if business continues to behave immorally, consumers will turn their backs, and business will fold.
There are four key problem areas: over-tourism, extractive economy, loss of identity and gentrification or so-called “touristification”.
Gentrification or so-called “touristification”
In the short term rental market, under no circumstance should anyone lose their primary home solely to accommodate holidaymakers or investors wanting to earn a hefty income from their property, alienating the locals, dominating and rewriting the culture and traditions in the destination.
Over tourism and loss of identity
By pushing out the locals and their customs, it changes the identity of neighbourhoods, displacements and pushinges populations out to the suburbs or further afield.
Most importantly we are talking about people’s feelings. If this is the impact over tourism is having on an area much loved and long lived and enjoyed by locals, they increasingly become resentful to the way the place they once called home is being “used” / exploited for shallow interest and pleasure of tourists who may stay for a night or two.
The case study of Dubrovnik Old Town
Between 2013 and 2016 cruise companies saw the income potential. Thus, they decided to scale up their boats to carry 4900 passengers instead of 1250. They would arrive in Dubrovnik Old Town all at once.
This raises the number of one-day visitors who, disputably, exploit the city as an ‘attractive visual backdrop’, just wanting the perfect photo for their Instagram, instead of showing interest in the city’s culture and cuisine. Here visitors’ experiences provide ‘marginal’ benefit for the Dubrovnik area given the negative social costs left behind. As of 2017, the local population living in the Old Town had fallen to 6% of Dubrovnik’s total population of approximately 28,000. It continues to suffer significant depopulation.
The Old Town now features on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger and was a co-founder of the Civil Society Network of Historical Cities of the Eastern Mediterranean, along with Venice, Crete, Corfu, Rhodes and Cyprus. They came together in 2018 to attract large-scale attention to the devastating impact of over-tourism on the famous cities. Indeed, it affects its outstanding beauty and cultural significance, as well as on the lives of locals.
The United Nations proposed their Sustainable Development Goals as “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice” but it seems too few are taking note.
How travel companies shoot themselves in the foot
Most travel companies and booking platforms grow uncontrollably. They don’t think of the long-term effects on all the local stakeholders involved in their growth process, including themselves.
Imagine a farmer or a gardener cutting all the crops down and not planting new ones. If short-term rentals take over a city, there won’t be any citizens anymore. The culture of the place will die, leaving an empty shell with just touristy things to do.
This defies the whole concept of travel and discovery and will lead to people abandoning those destinations for new ones.
Once the concept of holistic sustainability enters the DNA of a platform (like Fairbnb.coop is doing) then we’re all good and the market will be sustainable by default.
The rise of eco friendly travel
In the view of such disasters caused by travel companies, as well as sustainable conversations reaching a wider audience, more and more people look for new eco-friendly travel ways.
According to the Sustainability in Tourism Report by Booking.com in November last year, 87% of all tourists want more sustainable travel options and 67% are willing to spend at least 5% more on their trip if this ensures the least possible impact on the environment.
Latest research also indicates that rural destinations, so-called “workcations” (remote working vacations), and extended lengths of stay (7 days+) have escalated up the consumer agenda. The change in consumer behaviours is a positive move towards more sustainable choices, including increased demand for “sustainable” certified accommodation.
Major travel companies are capitalising on this market opportunity as they haven’t overlooked this valuable information. Unfortunately, most of them don’t place sustainability at the heart of their business and we face a new issue called Greenwashing tourism.
The rise of Greenwashing tourism
We speak of greenwashing tourism to describe travel companies that brand themselves as sustainable without really putting in the work. They typically would spend more money on marketing than real strategy to make their company sustainable.
When I attended the World Travel Market Conference in November 2022 at the Excel London, there were two common questions related to travel sustainability. “Are we doing enough?” “Are we moving fast enough?”
They said no. “Consumers are acting quicker than businesses at the moment. We need to move towards and develop a fairer approach. We need more trust with our consumers so they believe we are doing the right thing”.
Time and time again, industry leaders of our best known travel companies and booking platforms observed that businesses were lacking. Firstly in their “people over profit” behaviour. Secondly in the education piece, providing consumers with the information they need to facilitate sustainably conscious decision-making.
The buzzwords at this conference were “people over profit”, “a fairer approach”, and, again, the observation that consumers want local experiences and genuine engagement with locals in the destination. Yet, despite the INSANE amount of money travel companies earn, no-one in the industry is actively practising a solution which gives back to real people.
In a 1:1 with an established representative of a UK Destination Management Organisation, I mentioned Fairbnb.coop’s people over profit model. He replied: “You do realise you’re in a minority here”. He hit the nail on the head. Yes, yes I was. And that is proof that most travel companies do tourism greenwashing. Their focus is still revenue.
How Fairbnb.coop fights greenwashing tourism and leads travel sustainability (truly)
As described above, the world condition of tourism prompted demand for an alternative way of doing tourism. More and more people look for eco-friendly travel options and most travel companies simply fail them by doing plain greenwashing tourism.
Fortunately, there are exceptions out there. Bring on Fairbnb.coop, a cooperative initiative which began in 2016, a booking platform which supports the ethos of community powered tourism.
Fairbnb.coop is a sustainable community-powered tourism solution that allows the travellers to direct 50% of the platform standard commissions to social projects or charities in the community, through their accommodation and experience platform.
At Fairbnb.coop, we believe we can maximise the positive impact from the region’s incoming tourists by forwarding into our local community and charities whose work addresses real time societal challenges.
For instance, in the UK Fairbnb.coop supports national partners such as the Big Issue Foundation and East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices. All social projects supported by Fairbnb.coop target the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
We analyse the impact of tourism in each Local Node, so travellers can be reassured that their host meets the legal, and sustainable criteria for the destination. In oversaturated areas like those historical cities mentioned above, rules such as “one-host, one-house”, and “host resident in the local node” are implemented.
Thus, Fairbnb.coop empowers independent hosts and value-driven travellers.
How does Fairbnb.coop work and avoid all Greenwashing tourism?
- We work to understand the greatest challenges in the area
- We identify the community projects priority for their positive sustainable development
- We confirm the specified standards of the hosts in line with local authority regulation
- We draw up sustainability rules to protect the community from the side effects of tourism
- Hosts are on boarded to Fairbnb.coop platform, featuring their preferred social projects/charities
- Guests book on Fairbnb.coop and choose their preferred project to donate to
- Hosts earn the same and guests pay the same. But 50% of the platform’s fees are used to fund a chosen project in the area visited.
Our people-over-profit concept has attracted many sustainably-minded hosts, local ambassadors and social projects across the globe. They are all keen to help reinvest and promote regenerative tourism.
UK Community Coordinator | Local Ambassador | Essex & Suffolk
+44 7495 339869
This blog post is the result of a collaboration between Rebecca Wiles and Marine Leclerc.
In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.