Sustainable and local tourism, a conscious change

Staying nearby is not a punishment

During confinement, we have felt forced to travel “inside the home”, and many of us have taken advantage of the situation to revalue what we may have underestimated only because it was near. As summer arrives, bringing holidays to many of us, we must think of sustainable and local tourism as a new way to enjoy and observe, a way to find pleasure in nature aesthetics and to appreciate the beauty and diversity within our country. This new tourism implies considering the social, economic and environmental repercussions of our visit, avoiding a negative impact in the environment and the host communities. Moreover, slow tourism of minimal impact also generates job vacancies.

Staying home doesn’t necessarily imply an effort, but an opportunity. Thinking of local and sustainable tourism as inevitably worse than that of experience, which has been considered more valuable for a while, doesn’t help to conduct the necessary transition towards this new type of tourism that is respectful towards the planet and offers plenty of profound pleasures.

A new tourism: travelers’ and corporations’ responsibility

The mass tourism industry, of cheap flies and low-cost travels, promotes experiences that offer superficial pleasures of great environmental and social impact. It represents a tourist model of consumerism that we have been used to since the 60s and 70s. Cruisers are a clear example of it. Maritime transport and aviation are two of the major sectors emitting greenhouse gases (GHG) on a global scale. Consolidation and expansion projects for the activity and infrastructures of airports and ports are incompatible with the global ecological crisis that we are facing.

A decrease in this type of tourism is necessary to reduce the environmental impacts of human activity. This means rethinking our esthetical taste and our conception of happiness: why does it make us happier to discover Malaysia than the Delta of Llobregat? We are aware this is not an easy task; we are trapped between what we would like to do as individuals and certain behaviours which are difficult to avoid, resulting from social prestige long attributed to travelling far away. We consume tourist attractions, either natural or not, with haste and stress, and we decide our destination according to their “instagrammability”. That’s how we follow, for instance, the steps of TV “discoverers” over and over again, using infrastructures like ports and airports that despoil the same territories we boast about having visited. 

But hope is not yet lost! Confinement has completely stopped this touristic delirium for the first time. We can take advantage of this experience to reconsider how we live our trips: taking and sharing the photograph so that everybody knows we have been there can become an obsolete habit in face of a new main objective concerned about a deeper connection with the earth and the peoples that accept us, with our own sensoriality, culture and shared and enjoyed time. Photography and social media can be a tool to educate and sensitize, rather than driving mass tourism towards an “idyllic destination”.

Nature is the urgent tourism that we need

Neither plants and animals nor the people who live in villages and cities are mere scenery; they have, like we have, value for themselves. Both climate emergency and the social responsibility learned from the pandemic should make us understand our place in the biosphere as well as making us appreciate more a weekend trip to the mountains than a trip by plane to a big city, with everything it implies. In face of the consumerist touristic model to which the toxic system we live in has become us accustomed, we will have to learn to value the quality of life rather than adhere to an increasingly elevated standard of living. Now it will be necessary to prioritize what has value for itself, thus taking back the proximity to the community and its surroundings in order to carry out the cultural transformation required to solve this crisis.

We are not independent, we belong to a complex system that interconnects all beings on earth. For this reason, it is crucial that we make an effort to reconnect with nature in order to reconnect with the life that surrounds us. The rediscovery of our environment by proximity tourism can be the way to truly understand this issue, not only rationally, and also to relearn how not to negatively affect such an abundant environment. To a large extent, it is a matter of self-training.

The tourism we must promote: regenerative

Although it is true there is a long way to go in terms of real protection of biodiversity and decent labour conditions for workers of the tourist sector, being in contact with nature and enjoying sustainable local tourism at the same time this summer is possible. In fact, several related activities have been proposed for some time now. One of the better knowns is the so-called rural tourism, which goes hand in hand with the slow travel movement, which proposes stays in a rural environment, usually in small localities or outside the urban area. The difference between rural tourism and agritourism is that the latter represents a more active visit within the rural surroundings which implies participation in an agropecuary activity, such as taking care of the vegetable garden or the animals, cooking with harvested ingredients, practising hiking, collecting mushrooms, or enjoying a forest immersion. 

Without a doubt, this kind of tourism has recently become a booming activity. It is mainly families with children or big organized groups who find in rural tourism a model that perfectly suits their idea of the ideal destination for a vacation. However, we cannot forget that this tourism growth has notably affected the usual development of rural areas where the sector didn’t have that weight previously, now even becoming a decisive factor for its economy and the everyday life of its inhabitants. 

Furthermore, there is the so-called ecotourism, which is strongly concerned about taking care of and protecting the visited environment. In this case, the impact over the space is minimal or non-existent, since the objective is to interpret the cultural and natural heritage and include the local communities, besides being conducted through small groups. It is based on the enjoyment of observing the very nature we defend. Among these practices of ecotourism, there is wildlife observation like birdwatching, that can be carried out without leaving the city and it doesn’t alter the conservation of species, something that zoo facilities don’t allow. Another type of ecotourism present at Catalonia and Spain is ecolodge. It is about hotels or touristic spaces in natural surroundings, where a sustainable construction and minimum environmental impact are taken into account. Do tree cabins sound familiar to you? An original and exciting way of immersing yourself in nature!

See the ZeroPort Manifesto, a platform co-driven by Rebel·lió o Extinció Barcelona, here: