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Sustainable travel will change the way you see the world

by Claire Allison on Thursday, 01 January 1970

I recently spoke to around 100 creative students about sustainability at one of Cape Town’s top advertising schools. I watched as their spongy minds devoured my words and concern around effectively communicating the importance of sustainable travel. They too were concerned. But what struck me most is how they seemed to grasp only one element of sustainability. 

Despite me barely mentioning it, all their creative ooze was purely environmental. While renewable energy is vital and being environmentally-conscious is a big part of being sustainable it’s not the only thing to consider.

Most of us tend to focus on the ‘sexy’ side of sustainable travel. Wildlife conservation, tropical islands and eco-friendly lodging seem to get all the attention while the conservation of a country’s economy and its people’s livelihoods and tradition are all too often forgotten.

Sustainable travel is about supporting people and infrastructure long after you’ve departed. It’s about the Triple Bottom Line; environmental, economic and socio-cultural sustainability. Tourism needs to be sustainable in these three areas to be considered “sustainable tourism”. 


That means that while you may support that solar-powered, bamboo-walled, low-carbon-emission guesthouse and re-use your towels while you’re there, it still needs to benefit the people around it. It should support small businesses by sourcing fresh vegetables and meat from nearby farmers, or furniture and artwork from local artisans and entrepreneurs. Economic sustainability is about building linkages, keeping the money local and revitalising the economy.

When an area starts to see an influx of tourists there can be many negative impacts. There may be overcrowding in towns, the introduction of migrant workers and an increase in crime. Socio-cultural sustainability is about including the local people in a tourist venture by employing them and minimising the negative impacts of increased tourist traffic. It’s also about preserving the local heritage, which offers travellers a more authentic experience. 

While taking a bicycle tour is eco-friendly, taking a guided bicycle tour with a locally-owned business through a township is even better. Stop for some shisa nyama and buy a piece of traditional artwork from a resident artist and you’re a sustainable traveller! You don’t necessarily need to incorporate all three elements of sustainability into your trips all the time. Leaving your bicycle at home, packing up the car and heading off the beaten track to support rural businesses also makes you a sustainable traveller.

Buy from local businesses, embrace the local culture and leave the place as if you were never there.  

Consider what it means to be sustainable traveller and it may just change the way you see the world. Check out Open Africa's self-drive travel routes round Southern Africa and venture off the beaten track to support sustainable travel.

This article was originally published on the Getaway blog.

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