Muni Meetup: Responsible Travel
Tips on Traveling Responsibly
The traveler’s impact on a place has been at the top of our minds lately. First, there’s the closure of Boracay, a controversial decision spurred by decades of reckless development. Then there’s all the talk surrounding Siargao, a surfing mecca that many fear may be headed in a similar direction. In the aftermath of Labor Day revelries, another town is facing the brunt of its visitors’ leftovers. La Union, a place grappling with its own tourism spike, is fast becoming the unwitting heir to the annual festivities. “#LaborUnion” is the new “#LaBoracay”, they say. (Why they insist on cringe-y hashtags is another conversation entirely.)
As visitors, we often feel powerless to help the communities we visit and that in turn may lead us to forego accountability. But being considerate of our impact is crucial to the health of any area—they are home to other people and animals, and it’s a privilege that we are allowed to pass through and experience their land and waters. Making the travel industry count towards a healthier planet is a shared responsibility between both traveler and business owner.
Easier said than done, of course. But thankfully, there are spaces now that allow for these kinds of conversations to happen. The last MUNI Meetup on responsible travel, for example, was a helpful gathering of communities whose specific goal was to discuss how we can adopt better travel practices. For the sake of your next trip, here’s what we learned:
FOR THE TRAVELER
Find out how you can help.
Picking up any trash encountered on the road is the easiest way to contribute. Try participating if your accommodations have any ongoing community efforts (such as Flotsam and Jetsam’s daily clean-up drive, for example, or Circle Hostel’s eco-brick movement).
Bring reusable containers or a zero-waste kit
This goes for all kinds of travel, whether it’s to a faraway land or the coffee shop around the corner.
Know before you go.
Research about the area’s policies and regulations and pack accordingly. To preserve an area’s natural conditions, some destinations may require you to book a visit in advance. Priming yourself and your group for a specific destination will help you become more aware and careful of your activities.
Leave hotel toiletries behind.
Drop that usual habit of taking home mini toiletries from hotels and resorts—they’re easy freebies, but their contribution to plastic waste is substantial. If enough people suggest it, they’ll adapt: some hotels have already begun placing refillable soap and shampoo fixtures in every room.
Make responsible attitude and environmental awareness fun for kids; have them participate in themed activities, clean-ups, tours, and seminars about safety and sustainability. Branding reusable containers with cartoons will make them look twice, and help them shun single-waste materials early on.
Speak up; call for sustainability.
All businesses strive to serve their guests’ demands; if more people demand for more sustainable practices, businesses will adapt. Help out by giving positive feedback about the rewards of becoming more environmentally conscious. If they still serve plastic straws, suggest that they stock paper straws or reusable straws instead; if tours are being operated irresponsibly, say so. The more that people speak up, the likelier things will change.
Show the world, share it online.
Social media is the quickest way to spread the word; make each stunning photo of your destination valuable by including a positive message about protecting our natural areas. The best way for people to understand why nature needs protecting is through experiencing its beauty.
FOR THE BUSINESS OWNER
Most people simply aren’t aware of responsible habits; once they find out and understand, people will participate. Conducting a proper briefing before a tour should include rules, regulations, and the story of the area’s place in the wider environment.
BYO, refuse single-use
Beach parties and music festivals create some of the biggest waste possible in such a short period of time. As business owners or event organizers, you can minimize waste by having refill stations instead of selling drinks in single-use containers. Encourage participants to bring their own containers, and suggest that event sponsors give reusables as freebies instead of the usual samplers served in so many plastic cups.
Shift to a geotourism model
Geotourism is a form of tourism that sustains and enhances a place’s environment, heritage, culture, and community. This means that you operate and accept tourism to promote conservation, not the other way around. Share these principles with your guests—understanding this will help them achieve a higher appreciation for the area, influencing them to tread carefully amongst nature and become more considerate of their impact, even after they leave your area.
Design with nature
Arrange your area in such a way that it naturally encourages sustainable behavior, making single-use materials irrelevant: place water refill stations in strategic locations instead of selling bottled water; have an ample supply of wastebaskets to prevent people from leaving trash just anywhere. Consider the wider area; build around trees instead of cutting them down.
Engage with the local community
This is their home, after all. While some may need access to information and tools to be able to actively participate in the environmental solutions proposed for their area, get to know them and find out if they already have ideas and plans that they’ve been putting together. A more inclusive and collaborative approach is always healthier and ensures that the smaller businesses don’t get left behind or lose out to the larger companies.
Incentivize responsible consumption
Something as simple as rewarding your guests for their responsible gestures through promos and discounts go a long way in enforcing this good practice and making it stick.
Reach out to the local government
Collaborating with local government units can help you and neighboring businesses implement the proper rules and regulations for your region. This could range from tour operations to instructor certification to designated visitor sites. And if local government processes don’t work out, fret not, work with the system you have and implement regulations where you can.