Eco-friendly tourism is becoming a movement

(CNBC: 28 April 2018, by Samantha Kummerer) 

As part of a shift toward natural resource preservation, some major destinations — and the people who visit them — are becoming more attuned to the environmental impact of tourism.

The shift is disrupting some of the traditions associated with tourist hotspots, and given rise to a trend where environmentally sustainable outcomes are emphasized over mere 'experience' vacationing.

The dynamic is taking place against a backdrop of a very busy market for international tourism, which the World Tourism Organization expects to climb to 1.8 billion by 2030. Since 2000, worldwide destination seeking has jumped by more than 50 percent, the organization notes.

Tourism — by itself a large source of growth — contributes to around 10 percent of the world's economy, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Data from the Global Sustainability Dashboard reveal that nearly half of tourism's economic impact is derived from only 10 destinations, with the natural resources of those locations increasingly strained.

With that in mind, tourist locations are becoming more eco-friendly, and more visitors are doing their part. It has gradually evolved into a movement that prioritizes local culture over mass tourism — with its impact being felt from the U.S. Midwest to Iceland.

In order for a destination to be certified as sustainable, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council outlines a list of criteria. It ranges from supporting local businesses, to conserving natural resources, and encouraging visitors to participate in the community.

Vail, Colorado, a popular mountain resort town, is in the process of becoming the first certified sustainable destination in the U.S. "We are doing a lot of great work, but we want to compare ourselves against the world – we wanted to be leaders," environmental sustainability manager Kristen Bertuglia told CNBC recently.

For Vail, the achievement literally took a village. Hundreds of business, from high-end hotels to plumbing companies, collaborated to make the town more eco-friendly. The effort spanned the public transportation, waste and housing sectors.

Separately, places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park in Montana are following a similar path. Under the coordination of the Riverwind Foundation, Yellowstone has spent the last five years coordinating efforts between government entities, businesses and nonprofits to make the park more sustainable.

Both locations were recognized this year by Green Destinations, a nonprofit that annually recognizes the top 100 sustainable destinations across the globe.

Timothy O'Donoghue, Riverwind's executive director, told CNBC the voluntary efforts help Yellowstone combat overcrowding, and educate the public.

The park's 4.8 million yearly visitors can still immerse themselves in the pure mountain air and its natural beauty, but O'Donoghue and other conservationists hope the public will spread the message of sustainability.

This opportunity for tourism to do good is what Center for Responsible Tourism co-founder Martha Honey said is fundamentally what responsible tourism is about.

"I think what we find in this soft education is our mind being open and it can really have profound effects on us," said Martha Honey, co-founder of the Center for Responsible Tourism, a policy organization that promotes environmentally friendly tourism.

Sustainability "can improve our vacation and then affect us when we go home," she added.

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