While viewing the Responsible Travel and Wildlife Conservation Hangout, I was inspired by Martin Hatchuel‘s conversation with Nombulelo Mkefa where she said, “Sustainable travel is the destination, responsible travel is the journey.” What are the principles that embody responsible travel?
1. Respect and care for the environment whether it’s land, air, water, animal or plant life.
2. Indigenous culture should be represented in an authentic way so that it is not a commodity, but a celebration of the culture and sacred sites with respect and dignity.
3. In the case of hotels, workers should receive competitive wages, work in a safe and clean environment, and live in the local area.
4. Travelers and businesses are responsible for buying local.
Tourism in the USA has a long way to go to meeting these goals, but with innovation, discussion and action, maybe tourism can work in harmony with the environment.
Over the last five years or so, I have become more aware of sacred sites both locally and abroad. In an effort to understand my experiences at sacred sites, I have looked for information about the native cultures that lived at those sacred sites.
For example, when I went to Peru and visited Machu Picchu, I was enveloped in the most wonderful energy, but noticed that the energy improved as one climbed higher in altitude. However, even mountains as powerful as they are, have to be honored from the work of the shaman, and by giving offerings and performing ceremony, the mountain spirits, and their energy are transformed. “The wellbeing of huacas [quechua word for sacred] depends on the constant flow of offerings from the living to deceased ancestors, and the spiritual domain as a form of reciprocity.” (Staller, 2008, p.276)
Here in Florida, the mounds here as well as throughout the mound culture in the rest of the US, are places of great power and complex energy. The complexity is most likely a result of years of environmental degradation and disrespect for these special places. Because there is a highly elevated energy associated with power places or sacred sites, when the land they are on is disrespected or degraded, the energy becomes more turbulent and sometimes very unhappy. “Sacred sites are living places. They have their own feelings like humans. And just like humans, they can be happy or sad” (Sabella Kaguna, Custodian, Tharaka, Kenya)
Also in Florida, it is the Gulf of Mexico that is a very powerful nature force instead of mountains. It is the Gulf of Mexico, the palm trees, plants, minerals and animals among many other things to whom we can offer our thanks. In historical context, the Seminoles in Florida had core beliefs of giving thanks to the land and having a deep connection with the land as if it is one’s mother. “Traditional Seminoles consider their environment a sacred source of life, and they themselves believe they are its guardians.” (Caufield, Catherine, “Selling a Piece of Your Mother”, 1998)
As I continue to learn more about sacred sites, I hope to integrate the same beliefs of reciprocity to the land as the native cultures who lived here before us.
On Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, the Keystone XL pipeline bill was defeated by a narrow margin. This is a victory for now but it won’t stop the oil industry from funneling millions of dollars in support of legislation that allows fracking and pollution to destroy the land, air and water.
What is the tourism industry doing to block legislation that promotes the destruction of the environment? Not much on a large scale. There has been some efforts by the National Parks Conservation Association to protect public lands from fracking, but we know that it takes big money to influence legislation, and it also doesn’t help that some environmental groups gave almost a million dollars in support of Keystone XL. In addition, various oil companies spend a lot more than a million dollars to influence legislation in their favor.
What does this have to do with tourism? To put it in business terms, the environment is the tourism industry’s “product.” Let’s take the product of the Gulf of Mexico, for example. Wildlife Tourism in the Gulf of Mexico generates $19.4 billion in spending— and that’s just wildlife tourism, then one would assume the tourism industry would want to protect its investment. It is for this reason that I wish there was a large scale effort on behalf of the tourism industry to combat every single legislation that is a threat to the environment.
I don’t personally view the environment as a “tourism product”, except within the context of this article. From a business perspective, it’s insane to let national wonders such as Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, or the entire Gulf of Mexico to be destroyed by the effects of fracking or other environmentally destructive policies.
How many people are going to want to visit the Florida beaches if the water is contaminated from fracking? I don’t think people will want to wear gas masks on the beach.
Yes, there are many organizations that do excellent work to preserve protected places which benefits the tourism industry. However, I have yet to see a large scale effort on behalf of the tourism industry to protect its “product”– the environment.
As I was writing my thoughts onto a screen instead of paper, I realized that we have all of this great technology and yet we haven’t eradicated poverty, still need to stop poisoning the earth, and build peace among all people. The cynic in me thinks that we have this technology only because it made several groups of people a lot of money. In addition to technology, groups control much of our basic human rights of food, water and shelter. I heard recently that one company that bottles water thinks that they deserve to own the water supply. What has happened to us as a species when our greed has overtaken so much of our moral compass that a few people are willing to let the masses not have basic rights of food, shelter and water? These basic human needs are non-negotiable and should not be owned by a privileged few.
One way to combat injustice is to let people know about the People’s Climate March on 9/21/14. 350.org is organizing in New York City, in all 50 states as well as worldwide. I am very happy to see that indigenous people are leading the charge as they are frequently bringing climate change awareness to the public. Indigenous people have always held beliefs that caring for the environment is of equal importance to all other needs in life. Everyone needs food, water and shelter–and indigenous people recognize that we get all of those needs met by taking care of the environment. Maybe everyone can’t make it to a rally or march, but we can all spread the word using social media. By sharing about this powerful event, we can empower ourselves to bring about positive change for ourselves and our environment.
Bocas del Toro, Panama, Part I
I recently read an article in Conde Nast about an area near Panama called Bocas del Toro. The article was well written and entertaining in its storytelling style of a man travelling in the area looking for experiences similar to the author, Graham Greene.
The author talked about the history of the island and there had not been as much development as other islands in the Caribbean. My interest was piqued as he seemed to describe some of the principles of sustainable travel. He elaborated on his experiences with local indigenous people, such as a visit to the local school of indigenous children where each had to take a boat (kayak) to get there. He had a poignant conversation with a local indigenous leader who basically said that sustainable tourism is what the area needed and not “real estate tourism”. The leader added that real estate tourism destroys the land and water, causes the animals to scatter and limits the locals’ ability to fish which is how they sustain themselves.
In other words, development has the ability to destroy and kill or work with local peoples in harmony. With this in mind, I searched for a video clip that illustrated the harmony that occurs when travelers take a moment to talk with local people. While the article referred to above and the video are from two separate entities, they seem have a common bond–the search for local authentic travel within the broader topic of sustainability.
[Note: I am not getting paid to promote anyone or any organization on this post. However, I do have to thank Ron Mader at Planeta.com for his online presentation, Global Workshop for Indigenous and Local Communities, as it sparked an interest in researching about indigenous travel.]
In an effort to learn more about the current state of affairs in the travel industry, I decided to search online for free resources regarding responsible tourism and social media in the travel industry. The World Travel Market 2012 was a good place to view online archived presentations that had occurred within the last 24 hours. The website has a “WTM TV” header that links to presentations ranging from social media basics and tech trends to activity/adventure/sports tourism trends. Once I saw all of the variety of topics available, I assumed since this was a corporate based audience that they would offer either 20 seconds of online viewing, or charge an astronomical fee. To my surprise, most of the presentations were no shorter in length than 20 minutes and the average was around 40 minutes. I was very pleased.
Since I am new to social media, I did learn a fair amount about overall trends like:
1) the importance of a mobile presence since the statistics are off the charts re: future mobile travel search and bookings.
2)But, here’s a refreshing change–one expert said to the audience of travel businesses that it was paramount to seek and hire travel bloggers to deliver on the SEO benefit of using social media. But, most importantly,
3) subjects that I am very interested in like indigenous travel, responsible travel, conscious travel were mentioned under the heading of ‘adventure travel’. A few of the adventure travel speakers commented on the importance of creating healthy relationships with indigenous local businesses
not just because it delivers ROI, but because it is the right thing to do. Paying fair wages, respecting healthy conditions for indigenous workers, respecting the environment are not just peripheral afterthoughts, but central beliefs in any successful travel business model.
In future posts, I will talk about other virtual presentations re: indigenous travel, responsible travel, conscious travel.