The world tourism industry is the largest in the world. With this sort of power there is so much potential for environmental harm, but there are things that can be done to do good while traveling that can decrees the impact or even reverse it.
The Tourism Giant
Being the largest industry in the world it is not hard to imagine all the waste, pollution and social harm that can be done by tourism. Think about all the towels and sheets being laundered everyday at hotels, the water this uses and chemicals that are released in the water. Looking into the sky at the criss-cross of jet trials the amount of fuel and emissions from airlines in unfathomable. And the extra traffic from rental cars, airport shuttles and taxis, adds up and takes its toll.
A keen observer would note that the most environmentally responsible travel would be no travel at all and to stay at home. This may be true and especially with international travel. Stay-cations, bike trips, bus trips or more localized travel would be the most environmentally responsible. But there are some very important learning experiences and cross cultural exchange of dialog and learning that goes along with international travel that would be missed by not traveling anywhere; that is important to human development and even creating a better world and environment for future generations.
What can be done?
So other than walking on the next vacation what can be done to be a more responsible tourist? Below are a number of things you can do to be a more responsible tourist, in terms of the environment, conservation and social responsibility.
Research the Destination: learn about the environmental challenges they are facing, learn about the customs, and try to learn some of the basics of the local language
Enlist the help of a company: There are many companies out there that can help you plan your trip to be more responsible, or even connect you with the most responsible local tour companies, lodging providers and sites to visit.
Give feedback to lodging providers: Ask them what they do for the environment, let them know you appreciate it. Tell them that you do not need your sheets and towels washed every day.
Carbon Offset your vacation: There are a number of organizations out there that will let you offset the carbon generated from your trip.
Hold airlines accountable: Rather than just offset write to your favorite airlines telling them that you would love to see them reduce their emissions. Same can be done to your congressman about the airline companies.
Pack it in Pack it out: When visiting natural areas take all the trash out that you took in, and dispose of it responsibly.
Give back: Volunteer on your trip, and donate to the conservation areas that you visit that seem to be making a difference.