By Unathi Nkanjeni
It's the United Nation's Year of Sustainable Tourism Development and there is no better time to get clued up on responsible travel than on Earth Day.
The tradition of Earth Day, an annual event, originally created in the United States to increase public awareness as well as demonstrate support for environmental protection in the various cities started about five decades ago.
But the idea of making a difference during your travels can be overwhelming - even the idea that you can effect change might seem impossible. But it's not.
Travel operator, Contiki has teamed up with the World Committee on Tourism Ethics (WCTE) to look at ways you can make your travel more mindful of the Earth and nature in general. Added to this, they've committed themselves to giving back with every single booking made with The Travel Corporation's family of brands this Earth Day - Saturday, April 22 - as the TreadRight Foundation is donating 1 USD (R 13,15) to Wildlife SOS - India to help save elephants in abusive or harmful situations.
“From research and a deep understanding of this demographic we know that it can't merely be an after-thought, it needs to be threaded throughout the travel experience. The tips for a responsible traveller by WCTE are a testament to the variety of ways your travel choices can create positive change,” says Contiki's General Manager, Kelly Jackson.
Secretary-General of World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Taleb Rifai adds small gestures have great repercussions.
"Small actions like supporting local culture and products and respecting the hosting communities will definitely transform the way we travel today," says Rifai.
Locally the concept of responsible travel was also celebrated, with the winners of the 2017 African Responsible Tourism Awards being announced at World Travel Market Africa on Thursday 20 April.
Two South African organizations Coffee Shack and Blood Lion, were amongst the list of 10 winners announced at the African Responsible Tourism Awards 2017 in Cape Town, sponsored by Wesgro.
According to Contiki, in order to assure it is playing its part in this, they have shared the top tips for responsible travel, noting the role they play to ensure a sustainable future for millennial travelers.
1. Honour your hosts and our common heritage
Experiencing different and unique destinations is one of the most influential reasons for travelling. When Contiki asked what motivates you to travel, 56% of millennial travellers said to learn about other cultures. It's evident that now more than ever young travellers are keen to learn about the unique history and culture of each destination they visit, all the more reason for operators to ensure this plays an integral role in the development of their product.
In Australia, Contiki works with local indigenous communities to develop included experiences that provide travellers with a deep understanding of the cultural heritage of Australia and how over time that culture has shifted. Included tours allow travellers to learn about indigenous history, spirituality and art, with the opportunity to support local artists producing art within the community. Such experiences are included on The Big Walkabout, Outback Adventure and Rock & Red.
2. Be a respectful traveler
Travelling respectfully is key to ensuring locals continue to welcome travellers into their communities. It's imperative for travellers to be aware and mindful of national laws and regulations whilst respecting human rights.
3. Protect our Planet
Reducing your environmental impact, respecting wildlife, reducing your water and energy consumption and leaving a minimum footprint behind are just some of the key factors needed to protect our planet. These are considerations that have proven to be of interest to the millennial traveller, with 36% ranking sustainability as the most important trait for their generation.
In the European summer of 2016 Contiki travellers recycled over 130,000 plastic bottles - approx. 6 tonnes - used on trips. Coaches in Australia are fitted with drinking water tanks to be used with refillable bottles, further reducing the impact before it's begun.
To close off Earth Month, Seth Maxwell – social entrepreneur and CEO of Thirst Project – will be travelling on the Canopies & Cabanas trip in Costa Rica to explore how tourism and respect for the environment go hand in hand in a destination currently ranking number one on the Happy Planet Index as part of The Travel Project.
4. Support the local economy
This can be on any scale from buying locally made products to hiring local guides. With tourism accounting for 10% of the words GDP, supporting the local economy is one of tourism's most influential roles. Contiki has been working with local organisations across countries including Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, Italy and Austria to ensure they are injecting money directly into the local economies. With 55% of millennial travellers stating that they think their generation will be remembered for leaving the world in a better place, Contiki knows this is as important to their audience as it is to them.
The traveller's choice as to where to eat, sleep and visit can have a dramatic impact on local development. Friends the Restaurant – located in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – is part of the Training Resturant for Employment and Entrepreneurship Alliance (TREE), and works to build the futures of former street children and marginalised young people in Phnom Penh since 1994, providing training, employment and opportunity within the restaurant industry. All Contiki trips through Cambodia visit Friends as an included meal, directly supporting the work of Friends.
5. Be an informed traveller
The steps you make before travelling are as important as the way you conduct yourself whilst travelling. Taking appropriate health and safety precautions prior and during your trip, knowing how to access medical care or contact your embassy in case of an emergency and choosing tourism operators with environmental policies in place are all key musts to ensure travellers are informed.