During these early weeks of the January many of us make plans for a summer holiday. Given the increasing awareness of the damage that certain types of tourism have on communities and on the planet, there is an emerging interest in ecotourism, responsible tourism and sustainable tourism. These alternative options are worth exploring, whether we are booking our holiday in Ireland or abroad or if we happen to be a local tourism provider.
Canoeing on Lough Muckno, Castleblayney on a sunny summer’s day in 2013. According to the Castleblayney Town Development Plan, the “special character and serenity of Lough Muckno derives from its combination of tranquil lakes, drumlin topography, wooded parkland and integral location within Castleblayney”. The lake and surrounding park, now a top coarse fishing destination, have considerable potential for a range of ‘sustainable tourism’ activities.
When we go on holidays we usually plan to relax and enjoy what the destination has to offer. We probably dont consider that we are contributing to employment in the area and to the upkeep of attractions as well helping to ensure the provision of a wide range of local services. The Gathering in 2013 was quite successful in bringing visitors and revenue to Ireland but also in terms of social benefits for communities. As well as meeting friends and relatives who came to visit us, we also had the benefit of enjoying many local events organised as part of the Gathering.
Tourism can also have its downside. We can be unwittingly damaging local cultures and habitats and even contribute to global warming. Examples worldwide include the damage to coral reefs off the coast of Australia – sometimes their destruction has been undertaken in order to build hotels on the beaches. An average golf course in a tropical country such as Thailand needs 1500kg of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides per year and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers would use. As regards climate change, it is estimated that 5% of global carbon emissions come from tourism – and long distance air travel contributes significantly to this. Here in Ireland we have examples of the adverse effect of tourism such the considerable traffic congestion during the festivals in Galway over the summer. Another impact of tourism is the considerable number of often vacant holiday homes in Donegal and other counties – this contrasts sharply with large numbers of homeless and lengthy waiting lists for houses in this country.
The terms ‘ecotourism’ and ‘responsible tourism’ are often used synonymously with sustainable tourism. Responsible tourism goes beyond the ecotourism mantra of ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’, in that it suggests that something more positive than footprints, such as employment, would be left behind for the local community. While ‘responsible tourism’ is about creating better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit, sustainable tourism is more ‘holistic’ in that it embraces both ‘ecotourism’ and ‘responsible tourism’ as well the effect of the tourism product on economic, social and environmental sustainability – and this now includes its contribution to climate change.
So if we are going to a destination abroad we might consider how ‘sustainable’ is our choice of holiday. The number and length of flights determine the amount of damaging CO2 emissions. Ferries and coaches have lower CO2 emissions per passenger than most aircraft. The emissions from cars are high when one takes into account the small number of occupants. When you reach your destination, a cycling or walking holidays would have quite a low carbon footprint. The excellent Green Traveller website (www.greentraveller.co.uk) provides information on how to have a greener holiday. They feature many destinations that can be reached by train and ferry as well as a wide range of green accommodation, tours and activities. It has information on many different countries including Ireland.
Travel operators such as ‘Responsible Travel’ (www.responsibletravel.com) are seen as pioneers in the field of responsible tourism but there are many others. While some far distant places are listed as ecotourism destinations, people taking such holidays are sometimes criticised in that a substantial carbon footprint is incurred on actually flying to such destinations.
Here in Ireland the ‘Discover Ireland’ website has a ‘Green Holidays’ listing at www.discoverireland.ie/greenholidays. The site is divided into sections such as Stay Green, Play Green, Go Green and Taste Green. There are over 200 certified green tourism providers throughout Ireland listed, including accommodation, attractions, activities, pubs and restaurants. All green providers listed there have a recognised third party eco-certification. They have all taken steps such as substantially reducing their energy and water consumption, improving their waste management, and ensuring they source fresh seasonal produce from local suppliers.
The Greenway in Co Mayo is an example of a facility around which much sustainable tourism is developing. Also in Co Mayo there is also an initiative to begin ‘rewilding’ the Nephin Beg National Park for biodiversity enhancement and as a wilderness experience for visitors in the future. Here in Co Monaghan there is currently no Discover Ireland certified green tourism provider listed although many facilities in the county could easily achieve the accreditation. Ballybay Wetlands Centre already operates as a Centre for Ecotourism, environmental appreciation and learning while facilities such as the new Monaghan Greenway and Lough Muckno have great potential for sustainable tourism.
Ecotourism Ireland (www.ecotourismireland.ie) is an organisation set up to encourage the development of ecotourism countrywide. Its ‘Greenbox’ ecotourism initiative in Sligo, Leitrim and Fermanagh has almost 100 members. Two other organisations in the field of green tourism are the Irish Centre for Responsible Tourism (www.icrt.ie/) and Sustainable Tourism Ireland (www.sustourism.ie) – the latter organisation provides green tours in Dublin and to selected destinations in Ireland. A very useful app ‘Green Travel Ireland’ has been developed by the travel writer Catherine Mack. If you would like to read more about green holidays you will find interesting articles on her website www.ethicaltraveller.co.uk.