As the middle class travels the globe with bucket lists that concentrate on select destinations, the byproduct is sometimes that the original character of these places is in jeopardy.
Kurt Kutay, founder and president of Wildland Adventures, said the aim is to enhance, rather than exploit, the place and people travelers come to visit.
Destinations are always changing and we have many choices to make when we travel, “but the important thing is to be mindful of our impact on the people and places that give us so much and help others to do the same … and to keep traveling,” said Kutay.
He offered these six ways to travel responsibly in an age of overtourism.
1. Manage expectations and emotions.
Aligning expectations with reality is half the battle. If we allow preconceived notions of the Taj Mahal or Machu Picchu – without crowds – to drive desire to travel halfway around the world to experience these iconic destinations first-hand, we may indeed leave disappointed.
The proper research will help align expectations with reality. Ask many questions, and don’t be afraid of the answers. Most importantly, stay open to the experience before you and don’t let annoyances like crowds distract you from what drew you there in the first place.
2. Find a local connection.
A passionate, local guide can help to deepen the travel experience and skirt the crowds at popular sites and even introduce less-known sites for a unique perspective.
For example, a good guide will take you to the Taj Mahal twice, once to get in line before it opens and later in the afternoon before it closes to experience variable lighting. Kutay remembers his last visit: “Instead of passing through the main gates twice, our local guide took us to the Mehatab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) across the Yamuna River, far from the tourist hordes, where we stood arm-in-arm, standing alone and moved to tears by the beautiful silhouette.”
3. Rethink your bucket list.
Discover the wonders of the world beyond UNESCO's at-risk sites and favorite ports of call of the cruise industry. Instead of the crowded hilltop towns of Tuscany, try the hills of the Istrian peninsula of Slovenia and Croatia. Rather than being part of the problem of overcrowding in Venice, take the ferry to the small fishing town of Rovinj, where you are welcomed by locals who take you around in a traditional Batana fishing boat.
4. Timing is everything.
Plan your day at famous sites carefully and be sure to get the latest information. as local conditions and regulations change constantly. In Croatia, tour Dubrovnik before cruise ship passengers disembark. While in Cambodia, visit Siem Reap before tour buses disgorge. And in Peru, arrive at Machu Picchu before the daily trains do. Follow “slow travel principles” and linger longer, but in fewer places.
5. Pay to play.
Many worthwhile experiences cost more. Whether a part of a private and exclusive event or of a carefully managed eco-tour that limits the number of visitors, the extra dollars spent help to protect fragile habitats and visitor experiences.
In Africa, this may look like tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, for which there are limited permits. To protect the experience, some safaris are very exclusive and conducted in a private nature reserve, like Timbavati in Greater Kruger N.P. In Tanzania, the remote camps of Katavi and Mahale require bush flights to access some of the wildest places on the planet.
In South America, the fragile cultural patrimony of the Inca Trail in Peru and delicate balance of nature in the Galapagos Islands are carefully managed by limited permits and fees that control access and provide a source of revenue for critical conservation programs. Advance planning is required to enjoy the privilege of being among the few, where limited numbers of permits are allotted.
6. Consider where you stay.
Accommodations are one of the most important considerations in minimizing impact on the local environments, while maximizing the benefits you bring to the local community, Kutay said. Many hotels, camps, ecolodges, yachts, and expedition ships are rated for their level of sustainability, based on energy sources, recycling, waste management, water conservation, food sourcing, and other sustainability-focused initiatives. In addition, many are actively involved in nature and wildlife conservation, and in educating guests about ecosystems and biodiversity.