With a rise in tourism comes a set of challenges to the environment. How serious are these challenges? Serious enough for countries and the media to speak about their growing concern and how we are unable to cope with growth in international tourism.

Countries in which the tourism sector thrives mainly off of their natural resources (whether flora or fauna) suffer the most from the environmental threats that come with increased tourism: this is the case for many counties in Southern Africa.

Increased tourism can damage the environment in a myriad ways, including increasing litter, pollution and emissions, soil erosion, overconsumption of water, natural habitat loss and heightened vulnerability to fires – which we’ve seen more than our fair share of in the Western Cape in recent months…

Economically, a boom in tourist numbers means more stress on infrastructure, reducing availability and quality of service for local needs. While it does bring money into an economy, a boom in tourism does not necessarily benefit everyone in society. Income generated can trickle down through society very slowly, especially in countries where resources are often mismanaged and “irregular expenditure” is a buzzword.

To maintain the balance between the growth in tourism and the wellbeing of the local community, sustainable choices need to be made.

Luckily, a large and growing number of millennial tourists seem to be steering the tourism industry in this direction. Consider the types of tourism popular in this demographic: volunteering tourism, ecotourism, working holidays: all experiences that are authentic and unique. On the flipside of this issue is that many of the places that this growing demographic want to travel to are less “touristy”, closer to nature, and as such are less equipped to deal with a rise in their number of visitors.

What can you do, as a Tour Operator, to ensure that you cater not only to this market, but also to the issue that they care about – the environment?

Make sure to communicate about the local issues currently facing your destination and your company’s role in tackling them. Your role is now to educate your customers about the challenges and the sustainable practices you’ve initiated. Trust me, people will admire your work for the communities and the environment, and will be more willing to leave a positive review regardless of the tour itself because they believe it is the right thing to do to preserve a beautiful destination like yours.

Do not expect your customers to know everything about sustainable practices and to pay premium for a green tour. The offer must be competitive because people won’t understand why they should pay more for something that seems to be your responsibility and for which they would rarely give a second thought.

Ensure you are legally compliant with all necessary organizations and bodies that are relevant in the countries you provide accommodation or operate tours in.

Be involved in the communities that you are a part of – plant trees, donate to local charities, buy as locally as possible and so on. However, avoid tokenism, this is easy to detect and can turn people off easily.

In an ideal world, tourism helps make destinations good places to live as well as to visit. Tourists need to become more aware of the issues they can be a part of, and think of how they can be a part of the solution too. However, the duty also falls to businesses that operate in the tourism industry to set examples of taking responsibility for the future of our environment.