7 Reasons Why the Future of Sustainable Tourism is Looking Better than Ever

07/11/2016 09:14 am ET Updated May 10, 2017

What is sustainable travel?

These two words seem to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue as the travel industry ushers in a new era of tourism. Up until now, travel has focused on the traveler but as sustainable tourism rises the destination is now being prioritized over the tourist.

This past spring, I attended the Travel+SocialGood summit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to discuss the future of the tourism industry. Travel+SocialGood is a non-profit organization formed in partnership with the UN Foundation’s +SocialGood network to make the travel industry more sustainable.

As the future of tourism pushes to support more social, economic and environmental initiatives, one thing is clear: the future of sustainable travel has never looked brighter and here’s why.

Global warming is sounding alarms and companies are taking notice.

The polar ice sheets are melting, cold seasons are getting shorter and entire islands in the Pacific are disappearing. Global warming is a serious threat regardless of your political stance. While at the TSG Global Summit, the ambassador of Tuvalu― an island in the South Pacific―explained how his country is rapidly disappearing to the sea and would be the first to be lost to global warming; a jarring realization.

In an effort to lessen the impact, companies gathered at the UN to address the urgent situation and share goals to promote greener practices and sustainability around the world. From hotels that create positive change to JetBlue partnering with the US Wildlife Trafficking Alliance to protect Caribbean wildlife; companies are now pledging to reduce their carbon footprint and protect our fragile environment.

Millennials are the driving force behind sustainable travel.

In many ways millennials have gotten the sh*t end of the stick when it comes to the planet. Generations upon generations have polluted, pillaged and damaged the earth and now we are the ones who have to live in it. It should come as no surprise then that Millennials are the champions of the sustainable travel movement.

Whether sharing Instagram snapshots, blog posts, video diaries or tweets, this youth-driven initiative leverages millennial’s social influence, digital savvy and passion for globetrotting to protect destinations and spread the word about responsible travel.

The desire to be authentic on social media has actually benefited sustainable tourism.

It’s no longer impressive to simply snap a photo while on safari in Tanzania; you now need to go off-the-beaten path for an “authentic” experience with the Maasai people. The need to stand out on social media and somehow prove that your Instagram photo from Machu Picchu is more worthy of likes than the one million just like it, actually benefits sustainable travel.

As travelers look to step away from the crowds in search of more local experiences, they are drawing attention to smaller communities and grassroots organizations that support sustainable practices.

The United Nations has committed to tackling sustainable goals by 2030.

In September 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit brought together world leaders to discuss the topic of sustainability. From the summit, a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted. By 2030, the 17 goals aim to end poverty, hunger, fight inequality, tackle climate change and promote responsible consumption and production.

The United Nations looks to put this plan into action by spreading awareness of sustainability, aiding local governments in the adoption of these policies and helping to accelerate programs in order to influence quicker change. It’s an unprecedented global effort and one that combines the influence of world leaders to push the sustainable movement forward.

The rise of digital storytelling shines light on the need for responsible travel.

With social media, blogging and video; everyone is now a storyteller with a following. Whether your network is immediate family and friends or thousands of fans, the ability to spread a message globally is no longer reserved for public figures.

Digital storytelling and travel go hand-in-hand as people live share every thought, emotion and sight from their trips. The spotlight is on tourism as people spread the word of green practices, local stories and in turn promote responsible travel.

The future of travel depends on it.

The reason that sustainable travel looks better than ever is because it simply has to be. Sustainable tourism is our last defense against a future that robs generations of the unique experiences found around the world.

There’s a favorite, worn out travel quote that encourages people to “leave only footprints and take only memories.” At a time of climate change, pollution, droughts and the disappearance of entire cultures, the idea of leaving only footprints has never been more important than right now.

Nikki Vargas is Travel Editor of Culture Trip, and a freelance journalist with bylines in VICE, FOOD & WINE, Roads & Kingdoms and more. She is also the founder of top 100 travel blog, The Pin the Map Project. Follow Nikki and her travels on Instagram or Twitter.
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