Why responsible travel matters

Co-founder of Pluto, Harry Williams, describes his company’s commitment to responsible tourism and why we must all make better choices when travelling.

When we set up Pluto it was important to us that we gave something back, so as part of our commitment to responsible travel we wanted to partner with a like-minded charity. Teaming up with the Travel Foundation has been a great way to show our support for sustainable tourism, learn from the experts and educate our customers. We all share a passion for travel, but we’ve become increasingly conscious of the impact poorly managed tourism can have on local communities, ecosystems and cultural heritage and how important it is to create positive change within the industry. With that in mind, I wanted to reflect on what we’ve learnt through our partnership and hopefully inspire others to get involved and make a difference.

Looking after the places we love

It’s such an exciting time to be alive for anyone who loves to travel. Never before in history have we had more options available to us. We can travel further, faster and more often than ever before, and if we’re ever short on ideas about where to go, there’s always some amazing photos on Instagram from friends, influencers and travel companies to give that wanderlust some direction.

“It’s travelling responsibly that makes it possible for future generations to continue enjoying the wonders of the world.”

While the idea of travel inspires a sense of adventure however, it’s travelling responsibly that makes it possible for future generations to continue enjoying the wonders of the world. It’s also how we get the most fulfilment and enjoyment out of our own holidays as well.

Meaningful travel

Being a responsible traveller doesn’t have to be boring or even difficult. But it does go beyond the Insta-inspiration and involve being mindful about where and how we travel. Travel can be a more meaningful experience if we know we’ve made a positive difference.

Responsible travel means lots of different things. It means making sure you have the proper vaccines when you go abroad, so you protect yourself and don’t put other people at risk. It means making sure you have thought about what would happen if your things get lost or stolen so that you’re safe and your loved ones don’t need to worry about you. For us it also means making sure you have travel insurance in place so that if bad things do happen, you have a plan and limit the fallout.

san marco square

The problem with overtourism

However, responsible travel also means thinking about the environment and local communities you visit, and how you can play your part to have a positive impact, or at least not have a negative impact on them, when you go on holiday.

For example, one of the big issues facing tourism at the moment is overcrowding. The result in places like Venice (pictured) and Amsterdam is crushed tulips at one end of the scale, but also damaged ecosystems, skyrocketing rents, and local shops being replaced by cheap souvenir stores, dramatically changing the quality of life for local residents. It also negates the reason for visiting in the first place.

A few years ago when I was visiting my brother in Australia, I wanted to explore somewhere that had a different culture and natural environment. I’d heard the stories of excessive numbers of people visiting Thailand and Laos and I was wary of the impact that was having on those places. Instead I ended up visiting some of the smaller islands in Fiji and had an amazing time. We explored the islands and met local villagers, exchanging stories, eating in local cafes and buying gifts that the villagers had made. It was a beautiful experience, both thanks to the friendly people and the unspoilt surroundings.

Empowering the individual

How overcrowding’s handled by the international travel community is also up for debate. Some places, like Machu Picchu already limit the amount of time you can spend there. National parks in the USA, such as Yellowstone, are considering caps and reservation systems; and some tour operators follow a community-based tourism model that works directly with local populations.

As individuals however, we also have the power to make changes, and that’s really empowering to know. We can choose to visit places that are less travelled instead of the tourist hotspots. We can do our research to understand local areas and what we can do when we get there to be mindful, considerate and contribute rather than take away from them.

On a personal level it really means thinking, researching and making conscious rather than passive decisions about where and how we travel, making sure we look after ourselves as well as those we encounter along the way. In doing so, we all win.

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