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Green Destinations Day 2016: Preparing for Mass Tourism

The first global gathering of Green Destinations was held last month in Ljubljana, Slovenia – Europe’s current Green Capital. It tied in with Global Green Destinations Day – the only day dedicated specifically to celebrating sustainable tourism worldwide.

The event brought together representatives from more than a third of the top 100 most sustainable destinations, according to the new Green Destinations List, alongside sustainable tourism experts and media.

Top Slovenian Green Destination Soca River Valley (Copyright Soul Travel Blog)

Sustainable tourism awards were handed out in a ceremony at Ljubljana Castle with the clear message that travel to these destinations in itself does not equate to sustainable travel: we need to make a conscious effort to support local, stay in eco-friendly establishments and research our trips beforehand in order to bring most benefit to these destinations.

Spanning two days, the aim of the conference was to encourage collaboration and forward thinking about how to make tourism to destinations across the world more sustainable.  There were some challenging but clear messages brought forward.  

Manage Mass Tourism

A prevalent theme was that given the exponential but consistent growth rate of tourism, trying avoid mass tourism is no longer an option.  By 2030, there will be up to 2 billion travelers each year.  Instead of trying to avoid mass tourism, we need to prepare for it.  Destinations face a tough choice: limit numbers, or implement strategies to spread the impact of mass tourism.

Jonathan Tourtellot, Tourism Consultant to National Geographic and Director of the Stewardship Council, spoke of the “gorilla problem of the industry” – too many people going to the same places at the same time.  This phenomenon is no longer confined to the lagoon of Venice or ramblas of Barcelona; and in the future it will only affect more and more places.

Salli Felton, CEO of The Travel Foundation – an independent charity helping to ensure that tourism benefits societies – spoke about the need for government and stakeholders to measure the growth in quality of tourism as opposed to simply the quantity (or number of arrivals). Felton’s plea to the destinations in the audience was “quality over quantity – let your guiding principle not be how much, but how good”.  A plea that fell on sympathetic ears but will likely need to be heard many more times, with compelling evidence in order to drive real change amongst policy makers.

Type of Travel Matters

The type of activities we engage in while traveling often indicate the type and “quality” of tourism that each destination attracts. Chris Doyle from the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) delivered a compelling message about the value of adventure tourism at the conference. Adventure tourism is no longer confined to those who have a penchant for skydiving, paragliding or mountain biking hundreds of kilometers each day.

Top Slovenian Green Destination Nuova Gorica (Copyright: Soul Travel Blog)

‘Soft Adventure’ is the rapidly growing segment of travel that includes glamping, horse riding, short treks, exploring rural villages or simply venturing just a little off the beaten track. With adventure travel, 65 cents of every dollar spent on adventure travel activities is likely to remain in the local economy of the community that hosts that activity. That’s compared with 5 cents for every dollar spent on mass tourism activities.  

For destinations, this provides an indisputably clear reason for them to be investing more and supporting adventure travel activities.  But getting our tourist dollars to those who need them can seem complicated and a lot like hard work. Where our money goes is often far from transparent.

As responsible tourism increases in popularity, our job as travelers is made more important in determining who is actually doing good as opposed to simply talking about it. Choosing adventure activities – those that interact more closely with communities and nature – will go a long way towards making tourism – even en masse – more sustainable.


Ellie Cleary is the founder of Soul Travel Blog, a blog that looks to help travelers create positive impact through mindful and responsible travel.

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