Promoting sustainable family travel in fostering sustainability awareness, positive impacts of tourism, and responsible choices for a brighter future.
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Can we do better? Sustainable family travel

Promoting sustainable family travel in fostering sustainability awareness, positive impacts of tourism, and responsible choices for a brighter future.

More and more people are becoming aware of the impacts of climate change and the need to ensure that the planet and people are considered alongside profit. There is a large body of literature that claims travellers are concerned about the environment and its impact on communities. Many of these studies have explored attitudes, values, ethics and behavioural intentions related to sustainability, yet few focus on the family dynamic.

How can family travel help travel become more sustainable?

Travelling with children can be an integral way to help shift travel to be more sustainable for a number of reasons. First, children exposed to sustainability issues from a young age may be more likely to become ambassadors to the earth’s pressing problems, such as waste, climate change, equity, etc., as they develop self-confidence by contributing. For example, the UN has a number of programs involving Youth in Action, which has helped build ambassadors.

Second, traveling with children helps them develop problem-solving skills and independence. As parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles can have an enormous impact in terms of creating an environment where children thrive, travel experiences where children can solve problems and try new things can help them build resiliency and gain experience.

Indeed, there is a need to actively engage youth in tourism education that encourages social responsibility and global awareness and allows them to question their mindset and actions and their ability to affect social change.

What are the impacts of travel?

Tourism has both positive and negative impacts. In many countries, more than half of all jobs in tourism are held by women, and over half of tourism income benefits the lowest populations. Tourism can also help develop infrastructure and be a key source of foreign exchange. Tourism, however, also has negative impacts. Local people’s living expenses can increase due to tourism; wages are often inequitable, and often money doesn’t stay in the local economy as it ‘leaks’ out.  This is called leakage and can be as high as 80% in some destinations. 

Leakage is defined as “tourism leakage takes place when revenues from its economic activities are not available for reinvestment or consumption of goods and services within the same destination”. Tourism can also create vast amounts of waste, crowding, resident resentment, as well as huge carbon emissions from travelling.

What can parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles do to encourage more sustainable travel with children?

There are multiple areas where traveling with children can be more responsible. These range from choosing a type of holiday to deciding on when and where to go to activities, accommodations and dining experiences while on holiday.

For example, many restaurants and hotel chains or all-inclusive, do not contribute much to the communities in which they operate. It has been estimated that leakage is approximately 40-50% for small economies and 10-20% for advanced economies. “Observed differences between paid and received prices for developing country tourism services (lodging, food, entertainment, etc.) suggest external leakage or pre-leakage levels of up to 75 percent.” This is because they are foreign-owned and so the money leaks out of the country and goes back to where that company is from.

Making an effort to stay in a locally owned accommodation, eating in locally owned restaurants, booking with tour operators who work with local guides, and buying locally made souvenirs will not only provide a better opportunity to interact and understand the local culture it also means you will be contributing to the local economy which benefits the local community.

Promoting sustainable family travel in fostering sustainability awareness, positive impacts of tourism, and responsible choices for a brighter future.
Credit. Midjourney

Another way to reduce impact is choosing what time of year and where you travel with your children. Many places around the globe have become too crowded due to excessive tourism numbers, which has resulted in “the acceleration and growth of tourism supply and demand, the use of tourism destinations’ natural ecological goods, the destruction of their cultural attractions and negative impacts on their social and economic environments”.  Families can choose where to travel and when to avoid this. Avoiding places that are overcrowded or travelling in the off-season may lower these negative impacts.

Several ways travelling with children can become more responsible include choosing a type of holiday with less impact on the environment, choosing accommodation or transportation with less environmental impacts, supporting community and locally owned and operated experiences, etc.

Implications for tourism operators

With the increase in the desire for more sustainable options by travellers and the increased focus on negative impacts, there is an increased pressure for travel operators to showcase how they are addressing and mitigating the negative impacts of travel. In addition, policymakers must set and uphold regulations to shift and support more sustainable practices. There is a need to address greenwashing and report and measure efforts to become more sustainable.

Information alone is not going to change the tourism industry, but giving back is one step. 100% of the profits of these author’s book will go to World Animal Protection

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Journal reference

Dodds, R., & Butler, R. (2019). The phenomena of overtourism: A review. International Journal of Tourism Cities5(4), 519-528. https://doi.org/10.3727/108354220X16072200013427

Dr. Rachel Dodds is a seasoned Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and former Director of the Hospitality and Tourism Research Institute. With 25+ years of industry experience, she collaborates with various tourism sectors, promoting sustainability as a consultant. Dr. Dodds is renowned for her contributions to sustainable tourism globally, co-authoring influential books on responsible travel and overtourism. Her research explores overtourism, responsible travel, consumer motivations, and tourism development. She has actively engaged with Canada's tourism ministries and was appointed to the Federal Council for the Visitor Economy in 2019. Dr. Dodds is a multi-award recipient, including the Scholarly Research and Creativity Award, and she led the Institute from 2014 to 2018. Her involvement extends to editorial boards, non-profits, and the management of sustainabletourism.net. Her extensive travels have taken her to 80+ countries across six continents.