What to know before you go: How tourism affects a region’s eco-system

When preparing to travel abroad or domestic, there are usually numerous decisions that are involved including choosing a destination, what car to rent and where to stay. While American travelers have set records in 2010 for travel to Caribbean regions and countries including the Dominican Republic Aruba, South Africa and Israel, according to a report by the International Trade for Administration, it’s important to recognize how certain types of travel affect the nation and other countries—as Naomi Prioleau reports in this article for The Examiner.

Julie Garrett, media relations coordinator at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., frequently travels to Wisconsin to visit her husband Doug. Rather than stay in a hotel, the couple takes an alternative route and connects with nature through camping and other activities not detrimental to the environment. “We go camping a lot and buy what we need at thrift stores,” Garrett said. “We usually buy quilts and jackets and when we’re done we give it away to others at the campsite.”

Kristina Roe, head of communications for responsibletravel.com, said the precautions Garrett and her husband take are helping the environment more than they know. Websites like responsibletravel.com inform visitors of how they can be more eco-friendly to the places they visit by being a responsible tourist. They define a responsible tourist as someone who is tired of mass tourism and travels for relaxation, adventure and wants to learn. Eco-tourism companies aim to educate readers on the benefits of responsible tourism and eco travel and how enjoyable it can be.

Roe said the more cautious travelers are to the types of transportation they use and the activities they partake in, the more it will help them adapt to their destination and its culture. “Responsible holidays are designed to maximize local benefits and minimize the negative impact, and cultural impact is a part of that,” Roe said. “Responsible operators try to employ local staff and guides wherever they can.  You’ll get a greater insight into local cultures this way.”

Kevin Mims, a freelance writer and videographer in Inverness, Fla., and his wife traveled to Dublin, Ireland last year where they practiced what they preach in terms of eco-friendly travel. Mims makes it a point to live like a local when he travels by staying in hostels with kitchens and going to supermarkets to buy fresh foods. He said by adapting to the culture it makes for a more appreciative trip.

“We use alternative methods of transportation and never use cars,” Mims said. “We walk a lot and try to see a lot of non-touristy areas and experience places not well-traveled to become in touch with the environment.”

The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) at Stanford University and Washington D.C., defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.” According to their report on ecotourism, 96 percent of Conde Nast Traveler readers think hotels and resorts should be held responsible for how they protect the environment. 74.5 percent of readers said the environmental policies of a hotel would influence their decision to stay there.

However for some travelers like Terri-Davis Merchant, it’s difficult to navigate the ways of responsible tourism after growing accustomed to a particular style of traveling. Merchant, a consultant and blogger in Brooklyn, N.Y., takes two international trips a year and multiple domestic trips including weekend trips. When deciding the best mode of transportation for her journey, Merchant uses the quickest option.

“I usually take what will get me there in the shortest amount of time and that usually means trains or planes,” Merchant says. “I know those are probably not the most environmentally friendly modes of transportation.”

When choosing where to stay, Merchant follows Roe’s suggestions of staying in a hotel that gives money to the country rather than take it away. By making these types of decisions, she’s helping support responsible tourism and eco-travel.

“I try to stay at hotels that are locally-owned or contribute to the communities where they are situated,” Merchant says. “I also try to take tours sanctioned by local communities or buy souvenirs and other items that I know are locally made and will benefit in the country or community I’m visiting.”

Roe said the different trips provided through the website helps countries financially and keeps more locals employed.

“A higher percentage of the income remains in the country of destination,” Roe said. “In conventional or ‘package’ tourism, up to 90 percent of the cost of your holiday may leave the destination with responsible tourism, up to 70% of the cost of your holiday excluding flights remains in the destination. This means that local communities can achieve the same economic and social benefits with far less visitors and therefore environmental impact on their resources.”

Both Roe and Garrett offer different tips for responsible tourism and eco travel domestic and abroad. Roe said its best to take longer and few trips and book direct flight to reduce carbon emissions when traveling internationally. Garrett said buying local produce domestically and looking into volunteer organizations that specialize in eco travel abroad can make a world of difference.

Mims thinks it’s best to start responsible tourism and eco travel in America’s backyard before venturing out into the world to get a better handle on how to operate smart travel effectively and efficiently.

“We still have a ways to go here in America,” Mims said. “We’re better with tying responsible travel to outdoor travel to learn more about each other and our community to make us more responsible.”

For the original report go to http://www.examiner.com/travel-in-tampa-bay/what-to-know-before-you-go-how-tourism-affects-a-region-s-eco-system#ixzz1qd6yHTmF

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