We are aware of the problems our planet is currently facing and slowly our behaviours are shifting towards a more sustainable way of living. We’re using less plastics, less energy, less water. However, what we haven’t slowed down on is travel. We are travelling more now than ever before. So how can our new sustainable practices fit into travelling? How can we travel and do it responsibly?
Sustainable tourism is a word used pretty often. But what does it mean and what does it actually look like in action?
On a research trip to Costa Rica earlier this year I was invited by a Foundation to witness an example of sustainable tourism first hand. Isolated communities, hidden away from the main Costa Rica tourist hotspots, are being helped to set up small businesses to cater for the growing demand of authentic, responsible tourism. During our trip I was fortunate enough to meet Johnny and his wife Naomi.
Their story is very humbling.
Costa Rica's Entrepreneurs
Arriving at the farm we are introduced to Johnny, a man with a kind face and gentle nature. Our guide translates as Johnny tells us, “15 years ago we felt abandoned by our government. We felt no hope, no future for our family. We desperately wanted to improve our lives, but in a way that wouldn’t affect the natural world”. For Costa Rican’s, conservation and an unwavering love for nature is central to their being. Johnny was no different, “we are the protectors of our land and when we produce in an artisan way, not producing huge quantities, we do it without destroying the natural earth
Johnny and Naomi are part of a wider community project set up by the 30 or so families in a remote region of the Osa in southern Costa Rica. With the help of the Foundation the community envisaged a brighter future. Johnny explains the plan had two pillars; “produce natural products and to have tourists experience the cultural, artisan ways of our countrymen”
Sustainable honey & rural tourism
Johnny’s father in law has been harvesting sugar cane for over 70 years and has taught him everything he knows. The family have set up a business selling small quantities of organic honey made from sugar cane and offering tours of the farm and workshop, allowing travellers a fascinating insight into their lives. They only have a few people visit at any one time and are keen to keep the numbers low in order to protect the area. Johnny explains “we don’t need much, and we don’t want to produce more than we need, to waste the precious resource”.
The future’s bright
With gracious sincerity Johnny thanks the Foundation’s representative. The tears are falling as he describes how his family’s lives, their futures have been transformed. Two of Johnny and Naomi’s children have completed high school and are now at university, one is studying English and the other Accountancy. The raw emotion is palpable and I can’t help but wish my children were here, listening to this man express such gratitude about something we take completely and utterly for granted.
A positive impact
For me, conservation and tourism are intrinsically linked: one cannot survive without the other. Listening to Johnny’s story is testament to that. For those of us who believe travel is a vessel to help secure our planet’s future, we have to keep finding ways that have a positive impact on the countries we are visiting. And we could do a lot worse than take a very green leaf out of Costa Rica’s book of ‘responsible tourism’