World Tourism Day

This blog post is part of the series, where the board members of UN Youth of Helsinki write about the themes of United Nations International Days. This blog post is written by Irene Hurmerinta, who studies Global Politics and serves as an international project coordinator on the board.

The World Tourism is marked on the 27th of September each year to bring awareness to the challenges and possibilities global tourism provides. The day has been celebrated since 1980 and this year the theme is “Tourism and the Digital Transformation”. How can we integrate digital platforms to the development of sustainable tourism while keeping investment and economic growth in mind?

The modern world faces a lot of challenges that tourism creates and increases. The talk surrounding sustainable tourism, a form of tourism that takes into consideration the environment, economic growth, and social systems, was given a big spotlight when it was chosen to be the theme of the year in 2017. As with all industries, the thrive towards perfection is unrealistic but tourism has a lot of room of sustainable development. And for once, the individual can have a huge impact on the industry.

Photo: Johanna Miettinen

For many, traveling means broadening one’s knowledge of the surrounding world and experiencing the places where ancient Romans and monarchs have lived. Almost all travelers have at one point or another been faced with the issue of transportation pollution. However, the problem at hand is much larger than that. Especially environmental attractions and old historical monuments have the tendency to suffer the most once becoming tourist attraction. One of the most devastating examples is the Great Wall of China, which has lost one-third of its fortification due to human damage and erosion. Consequently, tourists are traveling even frequently to be able to witness these wonders before their total extinction. In addition to the huge loss of historical and cultural landmarks, the disappearing of these attractions is having huge effects on local communities and economies. Currently, the countries that most rely on tourism are Maldives (39.6% of GDP), British Virgin Islands (35.4 %) and Macau (29.3 %). Countries that most rely on tourism are more often than not small islands, which in addition face huge challenges due to climate change. Due to that, they have experienced many natural disasters which have reduced the number of visitors. One might see this as an improvement at first sight, but once a local community is completely dependent on tourism, huge drops in the number of visitors challenge the everyday lives of the locals.

So, in order to promote sustainability one shouldn’t travel at all? Fortunately, the conclusion isn’t that gloom. Even though the current system is unsustainable, especially for small islands, hardly any of us are willing to give up traveling completely. With that said, once traveling, one can take into consideration the environment and local communities they are visiting. Below are listed the guidelines for being a sustainable tourist by Sustaining Tourism. Let us all take a minute to consider these once planning our next holiday to ensure that the future generations can also live in a world where impactful historical monuments and cultural attractions don’t exist merely in history books.

Sustaining Tourism’s Guide to Being a Responsible Traveller

  • Be considerate – of the communities and environment you visit.
  • Don’t litter. Try to carry your own shopping bag to avoid contributing to the plastic problem in many countries of the world.
  • Try to avoid excessive waste and the use of plastic bottles (in many countries there is no way of disposing of these, therefore creating plastic mountains due to tourism) – bring your own and consider purifying your own water & remove all packaging before leaving home.
  • Reduce energy consumption. Unplug your mobile phone charger, turn off the lights…
  • Conserve water. Take shorter showers… the average hotel guest uses over 300 liters of water per night! In a luxury hotel, it is approx. 1800 liters!
  • Always ask before taking photographs. If someone says no, respect their wishes.
  • Educate yourself about the place you are visiting and the people.
  • Respect cultural differences – and learn from it! People in different places do things differently – don’t try to change them – enjoy them.
  • Dress respectively. Cover up away from the beach. Cover your head in religious places. Notice local dress codes and adhere to them.
  • Do not purchase or eat endangered species (e.g. turtle egg soup, crocodile handbags). Choose sustainable seafood.
  • Support the local economy. Buy locally made souvenirs, eat at local restaurants – enjoy the local culture!
  • Do not give pens, candy or other gifts to local children – it fosters a begging economy. If you wish to donate, contact a local school or tour operator who can ensure the gifts are distributed fairly and properly.
  • Do not support the illegal drug trade or the sex trade.
  • Take public transit. Or if you must rent a car – why not a hybrid or electric one if available?
  • Support a local charity or organization that works towards responsible
  • Before you go, ask your travel provider (tour operator, travel agent) about the company’s environmental and responsible tourism policies – support those who support responsible tourism.
  • Ask your accommodation provider (hotel, guest house, lodge) about their sustainability practices – do they compost? Recycle? Have fair labor laws? Have an environmental policy?
  • Support responsible tourism organizations – those operators who publicly are aiming to make tourism more responsible.
  • Support local organizations – either in the place you visit or where you live


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