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Sustainable Travel and Eco-Tourism in Southeast Asia

Contributed by reader Susie Hamilton

The idea of sustainable travel is still a fairly new one but, as more research is conducted on climate change and human impact on the eco-sphere in general, it is fast becoming an area of growing importance. A common misconception is that by choosing an eco-friendly holiday, or sustainable tourism in general, we might be losing something of our holiday experience. All Points East, however, shows us why this is in fact not the case, and that we are more likely to have a memorable and lasting experience. Touring parts of Southeast Asia as part of an Eco-Holiday, for example, may lead us to parts of a country that we may not have visited, compared to taking a traditional package holiday.

Hpa-An - off the beaten track Burma
Hpa-An – off the beaten track Burma

The Facts and Impact of Tourism

According to research, the global tourism industry as a whole was valued at just over $1 Trillion as of 2013. The travel and leisure industry is a huge market, and steadily increasing. In 2012, tourism was listed as the worlds largest industry, beating even the sprawling automotive sector. As a result, global tourism also generates a large amount of carbon emissions, and has other far reaching environmental impacts, most notably to the countries that base their economies around this industry in general. Already, we can begin to see the importance, and need, for a shift in how both operators approach holiday packages, and how we, as holiday makers, can contribute to making a real change. If not carefully controlled, the expansion of tourism in an area, especially natural environments and sensitive ecological areas, can have a very damaging effect. Bali, for example, is an very popular destination for many UK and international holiday makers. However, the island itself has seen unprecedented amounts of visitors over the years, which it was not prepared for, and has caused serious strain on the island in a number of areas. Localised flooding, pollution, and the destruction of coral reefs are just some of the problems that are unfortunately the direct result of mass international tourism. In response to the demand, much of this damage is also caused by local companies and tourism operators quickly attempting to increase capacity and facilities available to international visitors, often at the expense of the natural environment. This is of course, just one example, and similar practices occur in many other destinations all over the globe, but especially in increasingly popular Southeast Asian holiday destinations.

Unsupervised snorkelling can cause a lot of damage
Unsupervised snorkelling can cause a lot of damage

Making Changes as Holidaymakers, and the Advantages

In response to this issue, sustainable tourism practices and travel have been growing in popularity, and by choosing an eco-friendly holiday in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or any other destination, you as a holiday maker are helping to cut down on pollution, emissions, and environmental damage. In addition to this though, there are a number of benefits to holiday makers, that can in many ways make a more sustainable holiday a great choice all round that may surprise you. Overall, the sustainable approach is one that is becoming more widely embraced by travel operators, tourists, and the destinations themselves. Travel itself has a large part to play in reducing emissions of course, with air travel, which according to news sources accounts for 5% of the world’s carbon emission levels. The changes we can make as tourists ourselves are relatively minor, and can in fact enhance any holiday experience. Organising your holiday through smaller operators, who specialise in Far Eastern, or Southeast Asian holidays in rural communities for example, can go a long way to reducing tourism’s impact on an area. Additionally, you will find places and experiences that often wouldn’t be found in traditional package holidays, such as authentic cultural experiences, and secluded natural wonders. There is also financial advantages to sustainable tourism. Generally, living expenses during a break will be much cheaper, as you will be away from price hiking tourist hotspots. Additionally, the average cost of a standard European Holiday is estimated at around £2000. For the same price you can take an eco-friendly holiday to China for a longer period of time. This means that you can make travel finances go much further too.

Family holiday - Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Family holiday – Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Preparing for a sustainable holiday does have slightly different priorities than a standard break however. When getting right out into the natural environments of the Far East for example, making sure you have good quality travel packs and clothing can make your time much more enjoyable, and let you dive in to the local culture, food and sights for an holiday experience that will stay with you forever during your tour of  Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, or any Southeast Asian holiday.

Using local restaurants spreads the tourist $ around as well as getting you the best food!
Using local restaurants spreads the tourist $ around as well as getting you the best food!

Cheers and thanks to Susie!