Here at the Big Blue Collective, we firmly believe the future of travel lies in ecotourism principals. It’s tempting to roll your eyes when you hear the lofty title, perhaps thinking the ‘PC’ brigade are here to steal your fun yet again. The truth of the matter, however, is that minimum impact tourism makes for a better, more authentic travel experience, empowers locals and encourages conservation and preservation of the beauty spots and animals you’re there to enjoy, and makes the travel landscape more sustainable, more fun and more enriching all around. In short, it’s the perfect way to respect the earth and enjoy yourself- and today, the Big Blue Collective takes a closer look at exactly how.
What even is ‘minimum impact tourism’?
Minimum-impact tourism, often just called ‘ecotourism’, is a really simple idea. It’s about ensuring an enjoyable, fun time is had by all, but also examining the impact travellers leave behind on the beauty spots they enjoy. The general idea is to bring these two aspects of the travel industry into true harmony with each other.
The idea is to ensure that travel and leisure activities are sustainable, ensuring future generations can enjoy the same fun activities and gorgeous landscapes you can. This means looking at key things like the impact on local wildlife populations, whether activities bolster conservation attempts or simply ‘take’ from the natural environment, and how to create experiences that enrich the traveller and the local environment both.
It also aims to address how the local communities are impacted by activities- if considerable amounts of the revenue generated from travel and leisure immediately leave the area, it often results in a devastating cycle of poverty for locals. This can also lead to situations where crime and touts prey on tourists as the only way for them to make a living, despite the thriving destination around them. It also generally sees an uptick in activities like poaching, or clashes between farmers and local wildlife, given there is little incentive for locals to care about the environment they gain nothing from.
If the local people are instead heavily involved in tourist activities, tourism offers economic lifeblood to the area. It’s not only about who makes the cash, though. Having local people heavily interested in conservation because they benefit from it links back to our first points. It encourages local communities to enjoy and respect their environments too, and incentivises populations to become vested in conservation activities. It creates jobs and education, uplifting poorer areas and helping other areas thrive. It encourages locals to crack down on touts, crime and other activities that deter travellers, because that hurts their own livelihood, and it assigns ‘worth’ to the natural assets around them, which become worth more alive than dead.
Doesn’t all tourism do this?
It’s not the most comfortable thing to think of as a traveller, but sadly the answer is very much ‘no’. A great deal of tourism globally is far from responsible, no matter how good the intentions of the travellers partaking in it.
There can be little surprise at this, unfortunately. The industry is, in large parts, unregulated, and it’s very lucrative. Add in some famous ‘big’ players globally who don’t feel they should be held accountable, and it can be a bit of a mess. Plus, though we don’t really blame folks for it, holidays can often be an area where people let their standards slip. Holidays are about escaping from the daily grind, and otherwise eco-conscious folks may not give it a thought as they jet around the world for some sun.
This ‘anything goes’ attitude can lead folks to do some questionable things- be it snapping pictures of stranger’s kids as though they are an exhibit, getting drunk and disorderly when they’re usually well behaved, or walking around in a bikini in a sacred space. It’s long been a bitter irony of the industry that tourism can sometimes destroy the very landscape and culture that was the drawcard for visitors in the first place.
How can I be part of this?
So, how does the average traveller make sure that they can still enjoy their holiday, but in a way that supports the best sides of tourism and not the worst? While there’s plenty of little things you can do to help, one of the biggest will be to seek out ethical vendors for your stay and your activities. A big part of the ‘bad’ side of tourist activity is out of your control…but by continuously supporting vendors who behave ethically, you’ll be voting with your cash where it counts.
The great news is, if you were looking to the Turks and Caicos as a holiday destination, much of what we do at the Big Blue Collective is ecotourism. We’ve taken great pains to fit into the beautiful environment around us, rather than walking over it, and with most of our staff resident on the island year-round, you know you’re supporting local industries.
But no matter where you travel in this beautiful world, just take a moment or two to seek out ethical activities and local vendors where possible.
Try to support businesses that are small-scale, locally owned, and which use local resources. Don’t forget that the ‘human factor’ is as important as who is running low-impact lightbulbs or smart technology. Is the money from this activity being invested back into the local community? Is local culture being portrayed as a ‘sideshow curiosity’, or are living, breathing people from that culture involved in tourism activities?
Think about the impact your chosen activities have on the wildlife around them- for example, we use the Silver Banks protocols to ensure our whale watching tours have as little impact on these majestic mammals as possible. Believe us, you will get more out of any wildlife experience that authentically honours the wildlife and it’s habitat then you will out of aggressive tours that chase and pursue.
Don’t forget the little things, either. They add up over time! Turn off cell phone chargers and laptop chargers when you leave your accommodation. In dry climates where water is scarce, be sure to turn off taps properly. Pack a ‘junk bag’ to throw your trash in and discard it back in your rooms rather than dumping it into the environment. If you fly to your destination, try to remain there for a lengthy holiday, minimising the carbon footprint generated by the flight.
There’s also a ton of low-impact activities open to you, no matter the destination- hiking, cycling, kayaking, stargazing, wildlife watching and so much more offer rewarding, 0-impact activities to enjoy AND stay healthy with, too.
At the end of the day, the idea is to tread a little more lightly on the earth’s surface. You may have heard the old saying ‘Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time’. With a small shift in how we think about the destinations we visit on holiday, we can make a profound difference in the lives of locals and ensure our kids and grandkids get to enjoy these pristine natural environments just as much as we did. If you’d like to know a little more about our minimum impact tourism options, feel free to contact the Big Blue Collective team today- we’re always happy to discuss a topic that lies so close to our hearts!