Editorial: This post is sponsored by our partners, Better Places Travel, who have now launched Impact Travel Itineraries. More on the itineraries below, or follow them on Facebook for more!
Positive Impact Travel
“A few years back we were struggling to pay the rent and the heating bills – it gets very cold here in the mountains in winter”, Ameen sighed. “Back when the Cooperative was founded in 1993 we had funding, but then after that we had some difficult times. Sometimes we wondered if we’d be able to keep this project going – we didn’t have many tourists visiting and we faced challenges from many sides”.
“Now we are grateful for the support and steady flow of visitors that have come to visit our foundation: not only have they helped us to keep the foundation alive, but they have allowed us to work. Tourists have changed our lives”.
The Iraq al Amir Womens’ Cooperative in Jordan is just one example of positive impact travel in Jordan. The story of the women who started the project of Iraq al Amir is a compelling one: frustrated by the lack of employment opportunities in their rural surroundings, not being allowed to go and work in Amman by their families, they were driven to create something closer to home that would bring them a sense of community and purpose through work. The foundation; offering pottery and paper making classes to visitors struggled to start with. Few had heard of the initiative and the ladies fought to make ends meet.
Times have changed – for the better – and the foundation now receives support from some of Jordan’s top sustainable tourism advocates as well as regular groups of visitors on tours of Jordan. Visitors to Jordan get to hear the stories of the women and learn about traditional Jordanian cooking as well as different handicrafts. As of this year, Iraq al Amir offers airbnb style accommodations too.
Our experience in Jordan at Iraq al Amir is just one example of how tourism can create a real, positive difference to lives around the world – and there are plenty more. From hiking with female guides in the Himalayas to rustic village stays, to eco lodges that respect our planet there are plenty of examples of positive impact travel around the world. Here we share some of our favourite ways to create a positive impact while travelling.
How to Be a Positive Impact Traveller
Creating positive impact through travel requires a little more than the now over-used hashtag #traveldeeper implies. When it has become all too trendy to get “off the beaten path” it can be hard to work out how to enjoy a travel experience that is genuinely meaningful as well as beneficial for both the traveller and the destination/its people.
We define Positive Impact Travel as travel that is enriching for the traveller as well as for the people of the host country / destination (this is usually economically but could also be socially), and causes as little harm as possible environmentally. Positive Impact Travel is the enabler of possibility, supporter of local initiatives, and gives voice to the stories of a place that are less heard.
Why do we need Positive Impact Travel? Travel and tourism is one of the largest global industries; it is directly responsible for 11% of GDP globally and provides 1 out of every 10 jobs. Travel is increasing rapidly in prevalence with many more people travelling each year. However tourism is also responsible for nearly one tenth of carbon emissions. Tourism has also been held responsible for erosion of culture, over-crowding and pollution. If we want to continue to be able to enjoy travelling, now’s the time to collectively clean up our act.
Top Tips for Positive Impact Travel
Here are some of the hacks and tips that we have tried to stand behind wherever possible on our travels.
Avoid Flying, Whenever you Can
This is the tough one. Although the airline industry is improving their efficiency and therefore pollution, flying still contributes a huge 80% of all carbon emissions created by the travel and tourism sector. What to do? Not all airlines are equal when it comes to their impact: Choose newer planes, direct flights vs layovers, and take the train, bus, ferry or drive instead if that’s an alternative. Many destinations in Europe for instance are connected via train or ferry instead of that cheap but damaging flight.
Stay Longer and Travel Less Often
This is a hard one for travellers who like to whizz around the globe to hear. But the truth is when we stay longer in a destination we have more opportunity to get to know the local people, culture and food, and we have more chance to travel slowly and avoid internal flights as well as travelling to areas that could benefit more from tourism.
Reducing long-haul trips (or trips that require flying) to once or twice per year, helps reduce our overall carbon footprint, too. For 2019 we’ve chosen to explore more locally in Canada for the blog and save up our flights for visiting family back in London and Mumbai – which unfortunately are both long flights away from Toronto! If travelling for business, extending that stay for leisure vs flying elsewhere is also an opportunity to extend the positive impact of your trip while not flying more.
Take Part in Immersive Opportunities to Support Locals
No-one is saying there’s anything wrong with a sun lounger. But tourism tends to be more of benefit when we actively participate in events, workshops or visit initiatives that are started by locals. One of our best memories from Amman, Jordan, was learning to cook Maqloubeh (a traditional Jordanian dish translated into upside down) on the balcony of a historic Amman home as the sun went down and the evening call of the Muezzin sounded all around us.
Stay in Small-Scale Accommodation
From Agriturismos to farmhouses to homestays to eco lodges, there are so many more interesting places to stay than large hotels. Finding sustainable accommodation is one option, but in many places there aren’t eco lodges or eco-friendly hotels. Instead a great option is to choose family run and small operations where your money is more likely to be of direct benefit to the community and you may have some of the best hosts ever!
Experience a Bit of Slow Travel
Idyllic as Slow Travel might sound, it’s not a reality for many of us with 9-5 jobs and less than infinite amounts of holidays. One way to get a taste is to allow a few days with nothing planned where you can move at your own place, or decide to travel to a different town / area of the country on the local transport without flying. We are fans of a good train journey – and even though they may not be the quickest in some parts of the world, we find they make for the best experiences and stories, often with beautiful views along the way.
Many of the destinations we visit do not have the same resources as we are used to at home. Water is especially valuable in the tropical places that we visit – with countries such as India and Jordan coming under heavy pressure for clean water. Avoiding hotels with pools in favour of a dip in the ocean, reducing our shower time and not leaving taps running makes a huge difference.
Plastic remains largely un-recycled around the world, regardless of whether or not there is a recycling program in place where you are visiting. Avoid single use plastic altogether by carrying a stainless steel water bottle, a bamboo or steel straw, a cotton shopping bag, your own cutlery and a thermos cup for hot drinks. Eating in restaurants vs taking away not only allows us to skip the plastic cutlery and take-out containers, but also allows us to get chatting to fellow diners and soak up the atmosphere. Consuming less meat and eating what is grown locally is helpful for reducing our footprint too.
When done the right way, after all, travel can be one of the most enriching experiences of our lives: both for the traveller and for the people we meet along the way.
What are your favourite ways to create a positive impact while travelling? Let us know in the comments below!
You can find out more about Better Places Travel Positive Impact Itineraries here.
A Londoner by birth Ellie has lived in the UK, Netherlands, India and now Canada. Prior to blogging, she worked for 12 years in hospitality and online travel. Ellie started this blog during a sabbatical trip in 2015 around South Asia, to help conscious travellers find the best inspiration for their next sustainable trip. When not travelling, she is happiest with wine, pasta and a good (travel) book. Ellie is also Founder of Soul Travel Consulting which helps travel brands communicate their sustainability initiatives.