How to be a more eco-conscious traveller

There were four billion flight passengers in 2019, double the number there were in 2004. 

In the century since air travel was introduced, the tourism industry has boomed. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) 2018 Tourism Highlights Report, 1.32 billion global tourists arrived at airports last year. 

Yet, despite the money tourists are pouring into local economies, many are doing more harm than good. A recent report found that mass tourism accounts for around eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Airlines are doing their bit to help reduce their carbon footprint, with easyJet lowering carbon emissions per passenger kilometre to half of some of its competitors – according to a recent report – and a flight from Australia’s national airline, Qantas, recently became the first-ever commercial flight to produce no landfill waste, as part of the airline’s plan to eliminate 75 per cent of its waste by 2021.

There's a long way to go to reduce the carbon emissions made as a result of mass tourism.

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Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel, tells the Standard: “The aviation sector is one of the fastest growing contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, with air travel growing by five per cent year on year. If it was a country, aviation would be the seventh largest emitter of CO2 in the world, just behind Germany. In Europe, Ryanair has become one of the top 10 most carbon polluting businesses.”

While never travelling again is unrealistic, there are things you can do to help lessen the damaging effect on the environment. 

How to lower your carbon footprint

“Start by taking fewer, longer trips, some via train and some where you stay closer to home," says Francis. "When you do fly, fly direct and in economy class.

"You can also look into which airlines have the lowest emissions per passenger mile – there are surprisingly huge variations between different operators. When you do fly, make it count by choosing a holiday that benefits local communities and wildlife, and minimises its environmental impacts in destinations.”

Besides carbon emissions, there is a number of other things to think of when becoming a more conscious traveller.

Consider plastic, animals and where your money goes when travelling

Think about whether or not your money will stay in the local economy – be sure to choose local wherever possible and to avoid multi-national hotel chains at all costs.

Plastic should be kept to a minimum, and if recycling facilities are poor in the destination you’re heading to, bring any plastic waste home with you to recycle.

Ethical issues around animals are also something to consider. Francis explains: “If you are going to see wildlife then make sure this is done responsibly, where the wildlife is put first, not the tourist. We also strongly recommend avoiding sanctuaries offering elephant rides or turtle hatcheries that use tanks. If you don’t feel comfortable then often it can be best to stay away.”

The biggest mistakes travellers make

Francis says the biggest mistake a traveller who is trying to be more conscious and responsible can make is not reading up on places and the local, social and environmental issues before they go.

Being conscious is about being more present, and more open to the places and people that you meet.

Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel

“[You need to] get an understanding of cultural dos and don’ts. Learn a few simple words in the language of the country you’re visiting. Consider leaving as much packaging at home, and take reusable alternatives.

"Dependent on the destination, you should also consider things such as using water sparingly in areas that experience droughts or buy sun cream without a lot of chemicals if you’re going to be in the water in a fragile marine environment.

“Being conscious is about being more present, and more open to the places and people that you meet. Stay curious.”