The definition of Sustainable Tourism is:
“Sustainable tourism is an industry committed to making a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate future employment for local people.The positive of sustainable tourism is to ensure that development is a positive experience for local people; tourism companies; and tourists themselves.” www.gdrc.org
Which means that we, as tourists should be conscious of the impact we are having on a community and country that we are visiting. Being eco friendly does come into it but it is more about supporting local people who rely on tourism as a source of income, and not just helping big companies make profit. Although there is something to be said for big companies creating jobs but i’ll say more about that later.
One thing to note before you continue reading my blog is that a lot of what I write is based from my own experiences of living in Weligama, Sri Lanka. My opinions of why sustainable tourism is important have been shaped by my experiences and have directed me to set up the work that I am doing with Freedom Surf School, establishing links and supporting local business.
So the top 5 reasons that you should support sustainable tourism, in my opinion, are:
1. You will experience the true culture of Sri Lanka.
Sustainable tourism promotes stronger relationships between tourists and local people. Staying with a family run business means that tourists get first hand experiences of local life and get opportunities to relax and get to know the family. This gives a deeper insight for tourists into the local culture and way of life and thus develops a respect not only for the beauty of a country but for the people and the way they choose to live. It creates a level of understanding that cannot be achieved from just observing culture but from experiencing a way of life from within, at a local level.
If you choose to stay in an establishment that has been set up from foreign investment and developed by foreigners, yes, you will experience western ways, standards and prices and most probably meet up with other tourists who want a western experience in a tropical climate. However, you will not open your mind to an alternative way of living and culture and you will not develop lasting and meaningful friendships with local people.
2. You will develop respect for the Sri Lankan community and their way of life.
When you get the chance to stay with a local family, whether in a guest house or hotel, you will be treated as their personal guests and they will go out of their way to make you feel at home. Sri Lankan people who own a business or are trying to make a small business from tourism have great respect for tourists and value their company. The majority will not try to rip you off but to try to give you the best deal and best experience possible. Being a Buddhist country, most live by the values of karma - doing good just to do good and not expecting anything in return. This all proves an excellent standard of service.
In my opinion, travel shouldn’t be just about lying on a beach or visiting different historical and cultural sights. Yes, that is definitely a part of it, but to get a well-rounded whole experience, I believe you have to take time to get to know the people of a country and their way of living. By spending time in Sri Lanka and getting to know the local people myself, I have learnt to appreciate the simple way of living that is not so materialistic as the West. I have learnt to value people and time spent with them and to appreciate the benefits of having community you can rely on, as well as upholding family values. By getting to know a different culture and way of life, I have grown as a person and that is an invaluable experience.
3. You will help to share knowledge and ideas.
When these deeper more meaningful relationships are formed between tourists and locals conversation about wider worldly issues will arise. I find it so interesting to discuss such topics and get a different perspective. To share knowledge and ideas and offer alternative views is an extremely valuable opportunity. We all have a responsibility to the environment and protecting the planet. Not all countries are as developed in these ways of thinking about recycling and waste management. As tourists, we can share these innovative ideas and explain the benefits of adopting them on a friendly level, not on an instructive level. If we as tourists can make a small change in the way some local people think and act to protect the environment, seeing the benefits it has for their own lives, hopefully the message will filter out.
Marine conservation is a huge concern in Sri Lanka. My very good friend studied Marine Biology and whenever she meets a local fisherman she will always explain the benefits of fishing responsibly. We both continuously explain the danger of using so much plastic and will go out of our way to reduce our plastic use - buying 20L refillable water bottles, collecting our rice and curry lunch in reusable plastic tubs, refusing to take plastic bags when we can put our items in our regular bags. Slowly we hope to have an impact as we explain to people how plastic is going into the sea and killing the fish. Weligama being a fishing town that has experienced a really low yield of fish this past season is already starting to realise and accept the implications of not considering the environment.
We all have a responsibility to be the change in the world and by engaging in sustainable tourism you can play a part in helping to preserve our planet for the future.
4. You will help to support local Sri Lankan families.
After the devastation of the Tsunami in 2004 many families were left homeless. In Weligama and the surrounding villages a lot of homes were completely destroyed. Money was given for families to rebuild and the entrepreneurs of the villages saw this as an opportunity to start their own small business. After rebuilding houses people started to build additional rooms on their remaining land. Some of these have now been developed into hotels and guest houses, some families just have a couple of rooms in their beautiful gardens, often quiet areas of town and not along the main tourist stretches.
Unfortunately, foreign investment is also being promoted in Sri Lanka. In Weligama there is evidence of how foreigners are coming and setting up large hotels and guest houses that they market to a high standard and over take these small local businesses. There is something to be said for foreign investment creating jobs and opportunities for locals but when they take a large percentage of customers and only appear to be taking profit for themselves and giving little back, I am not so convinced it is such a good investment for the country.
Sri Lankan’s struggle to out-shine the bigger, foreign hotels that know how to market themselves and this takes away from local families’ lives. That’s why it is my vision to promote sustainable tourism and give back to local businesses that are not so well marketed on the internet - and at Freedom Surf and Travel we do not take a 23% commission like booking.com. Tourism should be about sharing and giving back to a country and Freedom allows you to help share my vision and do just that with your holiday.
5. You will be part of a valuable cultural exchange.
To share knowledge about your country and lifestyle is equally as valuable as learning about a new one. This way we can all help to build a world of respect for other cultures and a curiosity about other countries. We are lucky enough to come from countries where travel is accessible. Sri Lankans have great difficulty to leave their country - only 4 countries in the world allow them to travel and obtain a visa on arrival. All other countries they have to pre apply and provide many documents to show that they have money and a job to return to. By travelling and sharing knowledge about our countries and cultures Sri Lankans can gain an insight in to parts of the world that few will be lucky enough to go and experience for themselves.
I feel it is incredibly important to actively support sustainable tourism so that local businesses are not overshadowed by foreign investment and part of the culture lost to tourism.
Do you really want to travel thousands of miles to arrive on a beach lined with coffee shops, cafes and restaurants like you would find at home?
We need to embrace the local culture and promote local business to keep the authenticity of the countries we want to visit alive.
To give back to a country you are privileged enough to travel to is a great honour and as tourists we should embrace that opportunity. Freedom Surf and Travel makes it easy for you to give back, develop meaningful lasting relationships with locals and experience true Sri Lankan culture, from a local’s perspective. The relationships Freedom Surf and Travel makes with local businesses allow us to help to support local families and so by booking with us, you become a part of this valuable process.