My Pathway to Discovering Sustainable Tourism

As tourists we have the power to leave much more than just our footprints behind. This post delves into the self-discovery of responsible travel.

“Leave nothing but your footprints behind” is a mantra that resonates throughout tourism; it hangs upon trendy hostel doors and is scribbled in chalk on hiking trails. I once found value in these words but while spending the last year traveling in Asia, I began to question their intrinsic value. As travelers, we are able to leave behind much more than our footprints; we have the potential to positively impact the communities we pass through.

Aside from debunking my acceptance of this age-old axiom, travel has created a sense of purpose in my life by fueling a passion for sustainable tourism within the framework of international development. This interest struck me while I was volunteering with the Friends of National Park Foundation in Nusa Penida, Indonesia.

After an hour boat ride from Bali on the beautiful Badung Strait, I stepped onto the beach of Nusa Penida, leaving behind a world of large-scale tourism and entering a realm of untouched beauty. The island is relatively unknown by tourists and many main attractions remain elsewhere. Because of this, the island remains culturally and environmentally intact – unspoiled by mass tourism development. The locals carry on with their lives and go about their traditions because it is a part of their culture and livelihood not a spectacle for the tourist. The authenticity is pure.
Juxaposing mainland Bali and Nusa Penida in my head, I felt as if I was traveling in time between them. It was as if I could see what was and what may be. Bali too was once undiscovered: a land of exotic wonder. Of course, tourism on Bali is a huge economic force that has provided tremendous opportunities. But what about the downsides – the pollution, the unsustainable development, the harmful effects on the environment? Furthermore, what about culture and identity? How does the identity of a community change with the influx of tourists and travelers? How can Nusa Penida be different?

IMG_6091These are questions a traveler has the responsibility to ask. If to visit is to depart, we as tourists must prime ourselves to promote the tenets of responsible travel. It is this mobility of tourism that has heightened my sense of accountability.  Tourism can be a catalyst for development as long as it includes and improves the local communities, safeguards and values the host culture, and protects and sustains the environment. The need for this type of responsible travel is incredibly relevant to Nusa Penida as the island continues to catch the tourist’s eye. I hope the island can harness their potential positively as it begins to creep into the tourist’s radar and one day, it will be an example of best practice for the rest of the travel industry. The first Tourism Information Centre on the island is in the midst of growing and establishing itself – I wish all the best.
IMG_6182So go on…Wander.
Travel and explore the world around you,
But leave more than just your footprints.
Leave a lasting impact on the communities you pass through.

This post is an entry for the 2014 WTD Blogger Competition.