Confessions of a sustainable tourism writer

I am a sustainable tourism writer, and this is my confession. Epilogue as prologue: I didn’t realize it, but this is a post I’ve actually been needing to write for a while. Here goes nothing!

Featured image by Johannes Plenio at Unsplash.

After completing my Master’s in Sustainable Development, I was excited to refocus my brain on sharing ideas through this site rather than writing academic essays. I could hardly wait to apply all this new knowledge, and above all to do my bit towards making sustainable tourism the norm rather than the niche.

Yet here I sit, struggling through one of the worst cases of writer’s block I’ve ever had while trying to put together an article, any article, on sustainable tourism. Two freakin’ years spent learning and writing about sustainability, and I can’t seem to cobble together a single piece on one of my favorite topics…at least not one I’m able to finish without giving up in frustration on a text I can only judge as complete c**p. Wtf?!? Sorry for the colorful language, but seriously, what’s going on here?

My husband encouraged me to write about my writer’s block instead of trying to just push through it. Huh? He’s a smart guy, though, and in some respects knows me better than I know myself, so let’s give it a go.

I know that part of the problem I’m having in putting words to page is the ‘heaviness’ of the topic. I want to keep things lighthearted and entertaining because that’s how travel websites are supposed to be, right? Nobody wants to visit a site full of beautiful images (I hope you think they are, at least!) but full of doom and gloom as far as commentary. But well, that’s why I created the introspection section, where this article will surely appear if I publish it…and in my opinion we ignore the issues surrounding tourism at our collective peril. So, I guess what I need to say to this particular ‘problem’ is, sorry not sorry?

Another, perhaps bigger issue is the contradiction I sense in the term ‘sustainable tourism’ itself. The cognitive dissonance I associate with it confronts me on a regular basis. For instance: according to the UN World Tourism Organization, transport-related emissions from tourism will account for 5.3% of all human-produced CO2 emissions by 2030. That figure (interestingly) excludes cruise travel, and it’s only the transport piece of the rest – emissions from things like food importation and waste, electricity to run hotel air-conditioning, etc., aren’t included, either. Given this picture, and the projected 50% rise in tourist arrivals worldwide from 2016 to 2030, who in their right mind could call tourism (in any form) sustainable?

But what’s the alternative? Are we going to outlaw tourism in the name of emissions reduction? Hardly! And what effects would the absence of tourism have, on communities reliant upon the revenue it brings, or on the cross-cultural understanding it fosters? Indeed, we’d be worse off in many ways if it weren’t for tourism.

I suppose being a strong advocate for sustainable tourism thus involves acknowledging its limitations (we can’t make travel entirely emission-free, after all – at least not yet) while highlighting the huge benefit it brings to us as a world society. And of course, shouting from the rooftops all the many opportunities we have, right now, to make it better!

Okay then, I guess I’m over the writer’s block? Thanks, hubby, looks like you were right once again. 😉

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Erica

    Sometimes looking at your shadows is the hardest thing.
    You may have addressed this already, but when did the switch flip for you as a tourist? What trip or experience did you have that led you to the light side of ‘sustainable tourism’?

    1. Jennifer

      Interesting question, Erica! I think the first seeds were planted in 2018 when I took an 8-week trip to South America, but perhaps not in the way that you might think. That trip was great but I did some things wrong, too. We flew around too much, and there was one day tour in particular which (at the time) I thought was so terrific and authentic, but I cringe at the very idea today because it was all very performative and perhaps even exploitative. I’d feel super uncomfortable participating in anything like that today.

      Fast forward to 2020 and the launch of my (no longer operating) travel planning business. The pandemic lockdowns allowed a lot of time for learning and reflection – I did some online sustainable tourism courses at coursera and edX, for example. All of those past experiences started going through my head, and I had to acknowledge some of my ‘bad behavior’ and learn how to do better. That experience (the courses and introspection) were primarily what led me to the Master’s program, and here I am! 🙂

      So, short answer, the ‘switch flip’ was a multi-stage process that took place over 3 years or so!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Like what you’ve read so far?

Sign up to receive updates (no more than once per week) when new content is added!
No selling or sharing of email addresses.