Choosing sustainable travel packages

Chris Simoens
13 June 2017
The UN World Travel Organisation (UNWTO) would like all forms of travel to become sustainable. Currently, this is far from being the case. Whoever wants to play it safe can choose specific travel packages. We can help you on your way.

We understand sustainable travel to mean a form of tourism which places emphasis on the three elements of sustainability: people, planet and profit. All three are necessary to ensure a community is liveable and healthy.

  • People: treating people and their socio-cultural identity with respect, preserving cultural heritage, contributing to more understanding and tolerance between different cultures.

  • Planet: Handling the environment and natural resources with respect, in other words, inflicting as little damage as possible on them.

  • Profit: ensuring that tourism provides the local population with employment and incomes.

A lot of choice

Moreover, a number of other terms are in vogue. For example, Fair Trade Tourism places emphasis on respect for local cultures, active involvement on the part of the local population, and a balanced distribution of incomes. Solidarity Tourism intends above all to improve the living conditions of the local population (for example, through international building camps). Eco-tourism places the emphasis on nature and the environment, and aims to keep the ecological footprint as small as possible

In Community-based tourism, you are the guest among the native population, and in agro-tourism, you follow the day-to-day lives of an agricultural family.

A couple enjoying a mountain bike journey.
© Red Tusoco

Sustainable label

Travel packages are increasingly incorporating 'sustainable' labels, but according to Marie-Paule Eskénazi, an expert in sustainable tourism, appearances can be deceptive (1). Indeed, they are awarded by the travel operators themselves, without adequate controls. Eskénazi does support the ATR (Agir pour un Tourisme Responsable) and ATES (Garantie tourisme équitable et solidaire) labels


In any case, you should always find out in advance exactly what the 'sustainability' of the travel package relates to.



Backpackers crossing a bridge
© Shutterstock

Volunteer tourism

Humanitarian tourism (or volunteer tourism) is not a good idea, in Eskénazi's opinion. 'For example, tourists can visit orphanages in Cambodia, but you cannot always be sure whether or not they are genuine. But tourists find it fun, take a few photos of cute children and hand out some sweets. We can't allow this kind of thing. We shouldn't mix up tourism and aid.’ Young people often give 1 or 2 weeks of English or French classes in places like Vietnam or Benin, without any professional experience. This does not benefit the local schools. 'Of course people can help out on a humanitarian project, but only in specific contexts, and if they follow certain rules.'

We shouldn't mix up tourism and aid

Marie-Paule Eskénazi

The NGO Service Volontaire International (SVI) opposes volunteer tourism. Its alternative solution consists of international exchange programmes for young people (16-35), in specific projects and under supervision. These range from nature protection and construction, to photography, awareness-raising with regards to hygiene, and children's entertainment. SVI emphasises that its exchanges are not tourism. The "Compagnons bâtisseurs" (Building companions) volunteer organisation also organises similar accompanied volunteer work. You can also often approach NGOs directly.

Immersion trips offered by NGOs are also perfectly acceptable. Especially if the local partners of the NGO invest the funds which they earn during the trip into long-term projects such as building schools, roads, water wells or medical posts. The local partners take care of welcoming tourists, often in families, and talk about their development projects.

(1) Taken from n’GO magazine, February 2017

More information (ATR) (ATES)

Sustainable tourism
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About the same theme - Article 9 /9 Red Tusoco: sustainable tourism in Bolivia