Rising tourist numbers create jobs and economic growth, but do not always go hand in hand with the preservation of environment and landscape. But the awareness for the importance of preserving an unspoiled and functioning nature is rising. There are several examples around the world that show how tourism and nature preservation can work hand in hand. I would like to showcase two of them:
South Tyrol’s natural landscape thrills tourists and locals alike. Since the onset of mass tourism in the 1970s, however, the Alpine regions, especially Austria, have struggled with harmonizing rising tourist numbers and nature preservation. For South Tyrol it early had been clear that an unspoiled nature is basis for the success of tourism. That was when the idea of sustainability has been introduced in South Tyrol’s tourism industry.
Gentle tourism is the slogan under which tourism projects in South Tyrol are developed. This is also supported by the European Union and its „Agenda for Sustainable and Competitive European Tourism“. And it is the motto under which many hotels, travel agencies and tourism specialists have already specialized in ecological or sustainable offers in South Tyrol and around the world. Eco-hotels that create quality jobs, instead of tourist traps and massive all-inclusive hotels.
This is closely linked to sustainable mobility which includes incentives to use resource-conserving forms of mobility, such as a mobile card for tourists using public transport and sustainable mobility with activities such as hiking or biking itself to become a tourist experience. In South Tyrol, hiking and cycling are popular with tourists. The problem remains the arrival and departure with private cars. Therefore several South Tyrolean communities have joined the „Alpine Pearls – Pearls of the Alps“. The association of different Alpine communities in Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Slovenia and Germany is devoted to the concept of sustainable tourism and environmentally friendly and innovative mobility.
A completely different approach is Song Saa Island in the Koh Rong Archipel in Cambodia. Cambodia is facing, besides many other problems that need to be solved, a huge garbage problem. The reason for all these problems is that the country still needs more time to recover from one of the worst genocides in modern history. A garbage collection system is not on top of the To-Do-List although there is a rising awareness of the necessity.
When Melita and Rory Hunter started for an adventure trip through the Koh Rong archipelago in southern Cambodia, they discover some of the last untouched island paradises in the world. But paradise had a huge problem. Knee highs accumulated plastic bottles, packagings and bags in the villages and along the beaches. They were partly swept by the mainland, and partly thrown by the inhabitants themselves. Melita and Rory decided to take action against the grievances. This was the birth of the Song Saa Foundation. What started as a garbage collection now includes a large number of projects on land, sea and in the municipalities. The Marine Conservation Center, in collaboration with marine biologists, is responsible for the protection and rehabilitation of coral reefs, the rearing of sea turtles and sustainable fishing. On land, schools, a health care system and a waste disposal system have emerged. Workshops and a diverse team of experts support the villagers with training on topics such as agriculture and education. Micro loans offer new prospects for life support. The work of the Foundation is funded by donations – and the luxury resort Song Saa Private Island, which Melita and Rory opened in 2012 on a small private island.
These are two examples I visited myself and that show how tourism and nature preservation can work hand in hand. There are many more around the globe. The responsible traveler has the choice. The more people support the efforts of sustainable destinations and hotels, the more awareness will be created. Other destinations and hotels will follow on the path to Sustainable Tourism.