7 Tips for Choosing Responsible Destinations
Updated: Jun 13
Choosing where to travel is the first big decision we make when planning a trip, and selecting a destination that prioritizes sustainable tourism is a great way to do your part as a responsible traveler.
By supporting destinations that prioritize environmental protection, economic justice, and respect for local communities, you can help maximize the positive impacts of tourism while enjoying meaningful, sustainable experiences. Of course, no destination is 100-percent sustainable and that is perfectly fine. What is important is that a place is committed to understanding tourism impacts and to ensuring that tourism is a force for good.
Read on for my top tips for choosing a responsible destination for your next adventure.
What To Look For
Search for certified sustainable destinations.
Today, a number of organizations offer sustainability certifications for destinations, including cities, regions, and countries. In order to be certified, destinations must meet minimum requirements in a variety of social, environmental, and economic categories, including greenhouse gas emissions, land use planning, water and waste management, biodiversity conservation, and more. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Earth Check, and Green Destinations all provide certification for destinations, as well as helpful lists of certified destinations that travelers can use when planning trips. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for their certification labels when choosing destinations!
Seek out community-based tourism.
Under a community-based tourism model, local residents are empowered to own and manage the tourism experience in their community. This type of tourism offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy authentic, educational experiences while local communities enjoy the economic benefits of hosting travelers. This can also allow communities to abandon environmentally-harmful industries, like poaching, logging, or mining, in favor of tourism. Under this model, homestays are common, as are locally-driven activities and tours, meaning you’ll be completely immersed in the local culture, heritage, and environment.
This form of tourism is typically nature-based, locally focused, and intentionally supports the conservation of wildlife, wildlands, and culture. In addition, ecotourism operations are often managed by locally-owned businesses catering to small groups of visitors, meaning you’ll enjoy a more customized, high-touch travel experience. While no universal certification or set of criteria exists for all ecotourism operations, the United Nations World Tourism Organization has developed a set of criteria that you can reference when selecting a destination.
Think about the little things.
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big impact on how sustainable a destination is. Consider things like: Will you be able to walk or bike around your destination? Can you find local foods to eat? Are there locally-owned tour companies, restaurants, or hotels you can support? Before you book your trip, do some digging to figure out if you’ll be able to make responsible travel choices once you’ve arrived at your destination.
What To Avoid
Investigate the political context.
It’s always a good idea to do a bit of research on your destination in advance. If the government is mistreating its citizens, committing human rights violations, waging war, or otherwise acting irresponsibly, it’s best to spend your travel dollars elsewhere.
Be aware of over-tourism.
In recent years, we’ve seen some destinations suffering from over-tourism asking visitors to stay away. Over-tourism can have numerous harmful effects on destinations by introducing unmanageable crowds, driving up rents and cost of living, putting stress on public infrastructure and space, and driving locals out through the unchecked development of Airbnbs and other vacation rentals. If destinations are struggling with over-tourism, it’s best to avoid these places until locals feel ready to host again.
Avoid environmental & social harm.
Sometimes, developing or updating tourism infrastructure can threaten the local environment, wildlife, and even residents. If a destination is cutting down forests or kicking local people out of their homes to build resorts or golf courses, it’s best to choose another spot for your next getaway.