Tag: sustainable travel

Sustainable travel, how to be a sustainable traveler in 2023

The term sustainable travel comes with many interpretations. It can encompass anything from staying in eco-friendly accommodations to taking one less flight.  But, navigating what this means as a traveler can be complicated. In the simplest terms, sustainable travel refers to efforts to engage in environmentally friendly behaviors that limit tourism’s negative impacts on natural environments and local communities. Sustainable travel should be seen as a tool to help conserve natural resources, preserve and uplift cultures and protect the longevity of destinations for future generations. In this blog post, we will touch on some of the challenges the tourism industry faces and provide some thoughtful tips on being a more sustainable traveler in 2023.  

The problems with travel as we know it 

Pre-pandemic, travel was at an all-time high. But this boom did not come without negative implications. Destinations became burdened by overtourism, with some cities experiencing gentrification due to skyrocketing costs of living, increased congestion, pollution and strains on limited resources. Overtourism has also been an issue for destinations without the necessary tourism infrastructure needed to support an influx in arrivals, leading to detrimental environmental impacts on natural ecosystems. All of which ultimately impact a traveler’s experience as well as locals who call the destination home year-round.

In addition to overtourism and degradation of ecosystems, the way we get around results in a serious amount of CO2 emissions, further exasperating the climate crisis. The days of jet setting around the globe, hopping from one country to the next have led to increased emissions, with UNWTO reporting that flights have produced 915 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019 alone. With the interconnectedness of today’s world, low cost carriers and the ease of booking travel, it’s never been easier to get around. But the ease of travel has implications for the environment and society at large.

Overtourism in Italy

Tourism is one of the planet’s largest industries and one of the most significant exports and drivers of economic growth. Tourism accounts for 10% of all economic activity and supports 1 in 10 jobs. It is often the primary source of foreign exchange earnings in developing economies and the most viable option for sustainable economic development. This is true of no other industry. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the destinations we know and love are benefiting from our visit. 

Tourism leakage occurs when the revenue generated by tourism is lost to outside economies. What this means is that the money you spend in a destination rarely stays there to benefit the local economy. In developing countries, this is a major issue as the very economic activities aimed at catalyzing growth actually do very little. According to estimates by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), for every $100USD spent on a holiday, only around $5USD stays in a developing country’s economy. This equates to an average leakage of 95% and is a global issue that many key stakeholders are working to improve to secure an equitable future for local community members. For example, in the emerging destination of the Republic of Congo, Solimar International is working on developing projects where tourism dollars directly contribute to conservation efforts and to promote the country as an international ecotourism destination.

Our top sustainable travel tips for 2023

Visiting destinations close to home or halfway around the globe offer travelers the ability to engage with different environments, cultures, and ways of living. These experiences enrich our lives and ultimately shape how we perceive the world – not to mention the impact they have on our personal growth and development. But travel is a two-way street, and the importance of how local community members and destinations are impacted by individual travel behavior should not be undermined. We can all agree that travel gives us so much, but it’s time to begin reflecting on how we can give back to the people and places we visit.

Ditch short inter-destination flights and opt for a local transport option

It’s not all doom and gloom – travelers around the globe are becoming increasingly conscious about their choices when embarking on trips near and far. According to the Sustainable Travel Report published by Booking.com, a staggering 87% of respondents said they wanted to travel more sustainably. But what does that actually mean, and how do those intentions translate to more sustainable travel practices? While there is no single answer, there are many considerations that sustainable travelers of 2023 can consider before departing for their next trip. Below you will find our top considerations to making more well-informed choices during the planning process and while at your destination. 

1. Seek out information from a Destination Management Organization (DMO)

Today’s travel space is flooded with information that can be useful in planning your next dream getaway. From blog posts to Youtube videos, booking engines like Trip Advisor to the influence of social media, the sheer quantity of resources can be super helpful – but also incredibly overwhelming. With algorithms and optimization, the smaller tourism players can be difficult to find from a quick Google search, which leaves travelers in a difficult place during the planning process. But there are ways you as a traveler can seek out those local, equitable and authentic experiences. 

One such way is by looking for a Destination Management Organization (DMO) in the destination you plan to visit. DMOs are the backbone of tourist destinations as they exist exclusively to promote the area, attract visitors and develop a regional economy. Seeking experiences through a DMO can be helpful in guiding travelers toward lodging providers, attractions, restaurants, and retailers that represent the long-term goals of a destination. In short, DMOs can assist you in finding authentic interactions while supporting sustainable tourism initiatives that make the overall experience more enjoyable for you and local community members. 

2. Visit emerging destinations

Another consideration you should be mindful of is choosing where to go. As mentioned above, there are many popular destinations that receive far too many tourists, leading to the various negative impacts of over-tourism. When you’re brainstorming destinations for your next getaway, you should challenge yourself to visit more off-the-beaten-path cities, countries, and regions, also referred to as emerging destinations. Emerging destinations are places with significant potential, where policymakers and local stakeholders alike need to make significant efforts to turn available resources and attractions into appealing tourism products. 

While emerging destinations may not be on the top of your Instagram feed, they can provide incredible experiences for travelers through unfiltered and raw experiences, pristine environments and, the potential to be the only person at a key attraction. Some examples of emerging destinations are Georgia, The Cook Islands, and the Northern Territory of Australia. 

3. Stop in a second city

If visiting an emerging destination is a little too raw for you and your next adventure, a stop in a “second city” is a good alternative. A second city can be any lesser-known destination that may not be the most popular choice for foreign visitors, but still offers the cuisine, culture and attractions of a country. Venturing to a second city will allow you to escape the overcrowded tourist areas all the while providing you with a more immersive look at local life. Instead of checking out Berlin, Canggu, or Phuket – consider Hamberg, Amed, or Ko Chang. 

Wandering the road less traveled and avoiding mega hotspots allows ecosystems to regenerate and will give you a few extra benefits, some that may even be good for your wallet. In general, you can expect your money to go further in lesser sought-after destinations as heavily touristed areas usually charge a premium for food, lodging and even that coffee you get every morning. In addition to many other benefits, going to second cities helps contribute to the local community and economy that otherwise mainly caters to locals. 

4. Choose the right season to travel

When you travel matters and has an impact on the way you experience a destination. Getting your timing right can mean many things like catching that local festival, experiencing the Northern lights or wildlife migration, or avoiding the rainy season in a tropical destination. While all these factors will contribute to and influence your overall decisions, avoiding destinations during peak season will help you be a more sustainable traveler. Have you always dreamed of visiting the canals of Venice or the sparkle of the Eiffel Tower in the evening? We’re not recommending that you throw those aspirations out the window, just that you’re more thoughtful when choosing when to visit. Traveling to those usually packed destinations during shoulder seasons can help minimize your impact on an otherwise overtouristed destination. A shoulder season is the period between high season and off season. Some destinations may be entirely closed during off-season, while others may experience crowds year round. There are some significant benefits to venturing to a destination during a shoulder season for example lower prices, better accommodation options and less crowds. This type of travel is also more considerate to local populations, giving the over-touristed destination a much needed break and spreading out income generation throughout the year. 

5. Do your homework

But really, we mean it. Travelers have the responsibility of making themselves aware of social and environmental challenges destinations may be facing before embarking on their trip. Understanding some of the key issues helps you be more mindful of the way you interact while visiting. This doesn’t mean you need to spend hours researching before you go, but rather that you inform yourself of anything you should be aware of  in order to “do no harm” in-country. For example, tourism often puts additional pressure on natural resources through over-consumption, and this can be especially harmful in places where resources are already scarce. In developing countries where locals may live without the everyday amenities we are accustomed to back home, this can be especially harmful. 

Water scarcity is one such example. Swimming pools, golf courses, perfectly kept gardens and a shower in the morning, in the afternoon after a few hours spent by the sea, and a quick rinse before going to bed – you get the point. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with these activities (and personal hygiene routines), it ultimately depends on where you are staying. In arid environments, dryer regions, or destinations with less infrastructure in place, engaging in the overconsumption of scarce resources ultimately leaves residents high and dry. The same goes for energy usage. In places with frequent power cuts, you as a traveler have the responsibility to lessen your footprint. Whether it be resource scarcity with water, power, and land, or the pollution created by solid waste, and sewage, the golden rule is to act more in line with locals. It’s a privilege we are able to jetset around the globe! 

The same is true for social challenges. A big part of travel is learning how to be more sensitive to other people’s cultures. But know that these norms may not be the same as back home. Showing respect to elders, understanding how you should dress when visiting sacred places, and avoiding public displays of affection are some minor examples. But being a well prepared traveler requires you to also have a basic understanding of a destination’s political climate, laws and regulations and religious practices. Each and every destination is unique and comes with it’s own nuances and ways of life – that’s what makes travel so special, right? As you move through the world, embrace differences with an open mind, rethink the stereotypes and biases you may have had before your arrival and always respect social norms even if you don’t agree with them. 

6. Actively participate and reflect during your travels 

This one may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised with the number of travelers that bop from one destination to the next with few interactions with local people and places. In today’s globalized world, it’s easy to find the creature comforts of life back home – but is that what travel is really about? Get out of your comfort zone, venture off the main tourist streets, and push yourself to immerse in local experiences. The benefits of active engagement while you travel are two-fold. As a traveler, you’ll receive a multitude of benefits that span far beyond the end of your trip. You’ll have the ability to create more personal connections with the places you visit, which translates into a deeper reflection of the overall experience. Reminisce on your last trip, did you have a meaningful conversation with a local? Did you gain insight into daily life or see firsthand how the souvenirs you eagerly purchased for friends back home were made? Making intentional time for reflection during your travels may provide you with opportunities to gain that valuable insight and reconsider the preconceived narratives you may have had before embarking on your trip. You’ll also gain a deeper appreciation of the destination by having more participatory experiences, and locals will be greater for your eagerness to learn!

Be a more mindful traveler and lessen your environmental and social impact

You can do many things as a traveler to be more mindful when you go abroad. From packing a reusable water bottle, to staying local, the options to lessen your impact on the environment and the communities you visit are endless. As we explore the world, it’s our responsibility to lessen the burden we leave!

To be the first to hear about our future tips on being a more sustainable traveler, follow Solimar’s blog for future updates!

Shows overtourism at Trevi Fountain in Rome

Overtourism strikes back: Steps you can take to combat its return and become a more responsible traveler.

After being deprived of travel experiences for a larger part of the last two years, travelers have been itching to start exploring new destinations, cultures, and cuisines. But as travel re-opens in our post-pandemic world, the threat of overtourism once again looms over some of our favorite destinations. 

What is Overtourism? 

Overtourism is the increase in tourist numbers at such high volumes that it negatively impacts local residents, visitors, and the surrounding environment of a particular destination. The actual number of visitors is subjective to the capacity a given destination can manage without seeing detriment to their environment. But when a location’s hosts and its guests feel that the quality of life, the experiences offered, and the environment have deteriorated, it’s safe to say that destination is suffering from overtourism

In regions of Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa, countries have struggled to balance economic growth with the environmental regulations needed to protect the wildlife and ecosystems that attract tourists in the first place. In Europe, popular cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Venice are all struggling to reduce visitor numbers. Barcelona alone has seen 30 million tourists to its 1.6 million residents in one year. And Amsterdam is projected to receive around 42 million tourists to its estimated million residents in 2030. With those numbers, it’s no wonder anti-tourist sentiment has surged in recent years.

Tourists in Park Guell Barcelona
Park Güell, Barcelona has set daily limits on the number of visitors to combat overtourism (Vincenzo Biancamano, Unsplash)

For many places burdened by overtourism, the travel ban was a welcome relief for local residents and wildlife. Lamentably, travel in popular destinations has already started reflecting pre-pandemic levels. For both the health of locals, visitors, and the environment, it is essential to prevent overtourism from coming back in full force. But to do that, we need to know what causes it. 

What causes overtourism?  

There is not a single cause of overtourism. Rather, it can be attributed to the intersection of innovation across numerous industries. From advances in the airline industry reducing the costs of airfare, to the enlargement of cruise ships increasing the capacity of passengers on board, it has never been easier for travelers to go from one place to another in the sheer quantities possible today. The infrastructure simply was not in place, and arguably neither was the technology. 

Innovations in tech from the internet to smartphones have revolutionized our lives in countless ways, travel included. From online bookings and reviews, to home-sharing, ride-sharing and mapping services, technology facilitates every step in a traveler’s journey. Not to mention the major role that social media plays in augmenting the effects of overtourism.

Less visited destinations can become hotspots for mass tourism almost overnight thanks to the influence of social media. And while increased tourism promotes economic growth, most of these places don’t have the infrastructure or capacity to support thousands of visitors. Boracay, in the Philippines, recently saw a huge influx in visitor numbers thanks to its popularity among influencers on Instagram. The island eventually suffered from algal blooms because it lacked the sewage and wastewater treatment facilities necessary to support increased numbers of tourists. This is just one of the many ways in which overtourism can impact a destination. 

What are some more impacts? 

Overtourism alters the fundamental character of some of the world’s most popular destinations. Increased tourists cause congestion and traffic, litter and pollution, and the degradation of local cultures and environments. Residents have long complained about tourists driving costs of living so high that locals are eventually priced out. With locals gone, the authenticity of the experience for travelers is also at a loss. Maintaining the quality of life for locals is essential to creating a quality visitor experience. However, striking that balance can be difficult.

anti-tourist sentiment from overtourism
Overtourism leads to the kind of anti-tourist sentiment seen in graffiti above (Mark de Jong, Unsplash)

Mass tourism is not restricted to major cities or a specific destination for that matter. The impacts can be felt worldwide. From large-scale effects of increased carbon emissions from aviation contributing to climate change, down to the overcrowding of beaches in Phuket, Thailand inhibiting the successful reproduction of endangered leatherback sea turtles.  

Mass tourism undoubtedly causes detriment to all parties involved: locals, tourists, and the environment. The pandemic revealed what happens when these highly sought-after destinations are given a break from tourism. With cleaner air in major cities and the recovery of wildlife in the absence of tourists, we saw just how much of an impact over-tourism can really have on a destination. 

What can we do to prevent overtourism from targeting more of the places we care about?

As the travel industry recovers, we need to make travel more sustainable both for the stability of local economies and the enjoyment of travelers everywhere. Governments worldwide have committed to updating regulations to address the crisis. Meanwhile organizations like Solimar International are using destination management plans to help counties manage an increased number of tourists at up-and-coming locations. If we want to ensure that our favorite destinations last for generations to come, we all need to do our part to become more responsible travelers. Be aware of the impact your trips have on local environments so you can take steps to leave a more positive impact. 

Five steps you can take to become a more responsible traveler: 

1. Look for sustainable travel options that support local businesses 

There are many alternatives to choose from when planning your next vacation. Search for experiences labeled regenerative, responsible, or sustainable to find travel options that care for the health, longevity, and prosperity of a destination and its people. Try to avoid greenwashing and opt for locally owned operations. When compared to foreign tourism operators, locals will usually have more consideration for the places they call home.

2. Take the road less traveled (literally)

One of the biggest steps you can take to prevent over-tourism is to go to destinations facing under-tourism. Seek out less visited regions or locations that are actually welcoming visitors. For example, if you have always wanted to go to Bali, go to a place like Ataúro Island in Timor Leste instead. 

alternative to overtourism
Ataúro Island, Timor-Leste is a great alternative destination (Tanushree Rao, Unsplash)

 

3. Be respectful of local customs and cultural norms

Overtourism stirs up a lot of anti-tourist sentiment from local residents. Don’t add to it by coming off as a disrespectful traveler. If you are planning a trip, make sure you do your research first. Educating yourself on current social and environmental issues at a destination will make you a more mindful visitor. Plus, local residents will appreciate efforts made to be respectful. You wouldn’t want a guest in your home to be inconsiderate of your wishes and needs, so make sure to be considerate of their wishes as well!

4. Travel during the off season

Certain weather patterns or vacation schedules make a destination more popular at certain times of year. This concentrates an overwhelming influx of visitors to a two-to-three-month window. Traveling during the off season helps alleviate this stress by spreading tourists and local incomes out over a longer period. Next time you want to take that trip to a popular destination, go during the off season. You will be able to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more authentic experience.  You might even score a better deal on stays and experiences! 

5. Consider non-group travel 

Large tour groups tend to overcrowd popular locations. Think increased wait times for restaurants, museums, etc… No one wants to spend their precious vacation time waiting around. Or worse, unable to get tickets to popular attractions because there are simply too many people. Going in smaller groups will reduce the stress of increased visitors. And if you are feeling up to it, going solo will allow you to make even better connections to your destination.

solo travel
Solo Traveler at Cabo da Roca, Portugal (Fransisco T Santos, Unsplash)

Finding a solution to the overtourism crisis is not easy. Increased government regulations and cooperation across industries will be required to even begin to address the problem. Mitigating the impacts of overtourism is a challenge for businesses and individuals at all levels of the travel chain. But there is some good news. As travelers, we have the power to make better travel decisions by researching a destination in advance. We can rest assured knowing our trips will leave a positive impact on a destination, or at least avoid contributing further to the problem. If you don’t have time to look before you book, then you can still be part of the solution by checking out Solimar International’s current projects!

How to eat sustainably while traveling

How to Eat Sustainably While Traveling

Fall intern Megan O’Beirne has worked as a sustainability professional in the luxury hospitality industry, first in Laamu Atoll, Maldives and then in Cartagena, Colombia. Given her vast international experience and passion for the environment, she has adopted what she calls her “food philosophy” in regards to food on the road. Read on to find out her thoughts on how to eat sustainably while traveling:

We all grapple with the question of what to eat while traveling. Do you maintain a healthy diet or indulge? Do you try unfamiliar flavors or crave comfort food? Is my next destination vegan/vegetarian friendly? Throughout my time living, working, and traveling abroad, I have developed what I have come to call my food philosophy. It guides my efforts to make sustainable choices when it comes to dining on vacation.

Fisherman shucking oysters and urchins by hand on the beach
Eating fresh oysters and urchins on the beach in Cartagena, Colombia can support local, artisanal fishermen.

Putting my Vegetarian Diet on Hold

When I first started studying environmental science, I decided that if I was going to practice what I preach as an environmentalist, I was going to eat a vegetarian diet. Upon further realization that animals still need to be raised to produce their byproducts, and therefore still have the same environmental impact, I thought I had to become vegan. This lasted about six months until I left the United States for the first time and studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. With my first solo steps into the world came the desire to experience every part of the new culture I was immersed in, and a huge part of that is food. I put my veganism on hold while I lived in the land of smoked herring, crispy pork, and Danish street hotdogs.

Various foods and breads on a board
Denmark is one of the world’s largest pork producers, accounting for half of the country’s agricultural exports.

Shifting from Vegetarian to Locavore

When I started working as the Sustainability Manager at Six Senses Laamu, a luxury eco-resort in the Maldives, I was once again faced with a vegetarian’s dilemma. Maldives is a low-lying nation in the Indian Ocean whose 1,200 islands make up only 1% of the country’s territory, while the other 99% is sea. Staples include tuna, chili, and coconut in various forms for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here is where I came to terms with two important distinctions between cooking for myself at home and eating out in the world. The first is that Maldives has limited land area for crop production. The vegetables that are imported by ship or plane from abroad are not nearly as environmentally friendly as the tuna that was caught yesterday by pole-and-line fisherman with one of the most sustainable fishing methods in the world. 

Secondly, when someone invites me into their home for a meal, I find it difficult to ask for something special to be prepared for me if meat is being served. Sharing food is a universal language that connects people from different cultures, and I revel in trying new cuisines if that means sitting down at the table with someone new. With these sentiments in mind, I began shifting from vegetarian to locavore, or someone who eats locally and seasonally whenever possible.

Tuna, onion, chili, coconut, and banana on banana leaves
Tuna, chili, and coconut are staples of the Maldivian diet.

Do Your Research on What is Locally Sustainable

A few years later, I visited my brother in New Zealand and learned that deer were introduced for sport hunting. The population of the invasive species grew out of control, eventually contributing to deforestation. The deer would eat the pine tree saplings before they had a chance to grow into full-size trees. Hunters were given the task of culling the population, while some were captured for deer farming. Thus, venison chops, sliders, and pies popped up on menus across the country. 

I would never order a deer burger anywhere else in the world, but in New Zealand it made sense because of two more realizations that now contribute to my philosophy. Eating based on where you are is the way to eat fresh ingredients, with a low carbon footprint, that are culturally appropriate, and made by people who have practiced the preparation methods for generations. That deer burger also helped combat deforestation, which seemed like a worthy cause for me to break the environmentalists’ code of conduct and eat meat. There are endless examples of other ways our food systems can be climate positive through reforestation, restoration, and regeneration. Finding these is the key to how to eat sustainably while traveling.

Deer in a field with telephone poles and wires
Deer farming began in New Zealand and the country remains the world’s largest producer and exporter.

The Most Sustainable Diet is the One that is Right for You

Venison in New Zealand, tuna in Maldives, and pork in Denmark made their way into my diet during my travels, but did not reserve a permanent place in my home kitchen. These foods brought me authentic experiences that were closer to the people, religions, economies, and social structures of the communities I visited than if I had stuck to my principles as a strict vegetarian. I now avoid the vegetarian label, even though I cook plant-based meals for myself at home. Instead, I eat based on what is local, fresh, seasonal, culturally appropriate, and on special occasions — whatever the chef or grandmother in the kitchen says is the house specialty. How to eat sustainably while traveling is what works best for you.

We all know we should be eating less meat, buying less junk food, and using less plastic. But at the end of the day, we should all make decisions around what goes on our plate based on what makes the most sense for our own bodies, minds, and hearts. You can learn more about how to travel sustainably from these useful links, or by following Solimar International on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Bon appétit, buen provecho, and itadakimasu!

Two female chefs serving a bowl of soup and smiling
Words of wisdom: always make friends with the cooks and say yes to the chef’s special.

Liberia is a beautifully unique country with a less than favorable reputation. Researching Liberia leads to some interesting finds. For example, the country’s two civil wars, the Ebola endemic, crime and COVID-19 appear, leading curious travelers to believe Liberia is not a bucket-list tourist destination. The effects on the Liberian economy have been disastrous, leaving communities struggling to rebuild the country to the glory it deserves. Sustainable tourism in Liberia can contribute to regenerating the economy through providing significant benefits to local communities. This piece explains how Liberia can be restored through sustainable tourism. First, the effects of the wars and endemics are explained before diving into the importance of sustainable tourism in Liberia. 

Liberia tourism cultural performance
Sapo Cultural Performance, Solimar International

Civil War and the Ebola Endemic

Throughout the last three decades, Liberia has encountered 14 years of two civil wars (1989-1999 and 1999-2003), which killed approximately 250,000 people and displaced thousands. But how did these wars erupt? During the 1820s, the American Colonization Society in the United States began to send formerly enslaved African Americans back to their initial point of departure, Liberia. Overall, throughout the 1800s, around 16,000 freed formerly enslaved African Americans were sent from the United States to Liberia. Some decades later, the Republic of Liberia was established on the 26th of July, 1847, and the Americo-Liberians took power, often exploiting the natives in a segregated society. Although they were the minority in Liberia, the Americo-Liberians successfully established themselves as an oligarchy, controlling Liberian affluence, politics, and the economy. The exploitation and weaponization of ethnicity against the indigenous majority continued until 1980, when Samuel Doe staged a coup to forcibly seize power. However, Doe was also corrupt and discriminatory against different ethnic groups, exacerbating conflict between tribes. Yet, the moment that ignited the first civil war outbreak was when Americo-Liberian, Charles Taylor, laid a siege on Nimba County. As the conflict escalated, President Doe was captured and murdered in 1990. The second civil war broke out shortly after Charles Taylor was elected president in 1997, leading to clashes across Liberian borders to feed into the country. However, it was not until 2003 when thousands of women staged protests to end the decade of violence. 

Furthermore, in 2014, the Ebola endemic swept through Western Africa, significantly affecting Liberia. Almost 3,000 people died from Ebola in Liberia alone. Due to the great loss of life, people’s movement was restricted, which led to an enormous financial strain on Liberia. Additionally, these catastrophes weakened Liberia’s proficiency in adjusting to the challenges of climate change, including great coastal erosion. From a tourism perspective, the Ebola endemic stopped flights coming into the country. In addition, countries worldwide issued warnings to travelers to prevent people from visiting Liberia. The wars and the endemic led to many travelers ousting the idea of Liberia as a desirable travel destination.

The Importance of Sustainable Tourism in Liberia 

As previously stated, sustainable tourism in Liberia is crucial to regenerate the economy after the disastrous and long-lasting effects of the civil wars and ebola endemic. There are three significant benefits to growing the sustainable tourism industry in Liberia: it can conserve the natural environment, promote the cultural heritage of Liberia, as well as stimulate economic growth. 

sustainable tourism in liberia through beautiful pools and palms
Location: Marshall, Margibi County; Photographer: Rami Ramitto @theramiramitto

Conserving Natural Resources and Wildlife

Liberia has one of the most diverse ecosystems in Africa. Home to great apes, pygmy hippopotamus and other majestic forest beings. Furthermore, Liberia hosts unique flowers and butterfly species that attract wildlife enthusiasts and researchers worldwide to witness rare sightings of these creatures. However, many of the rare animals in Liberia are listed as endangered. For that reason, sustainable tourism is vital, as it generates income to ensure the continued protection of all wildlife and natural resources in Liberia. As stated by Matt Humke of Solimar International, people are often at the center of conservation solutions. 

sustainable tourism in liberia preserves these cute endangered pygmy hippos
Endangered Pygmy Hippo; Location: Sapo National Park; Photographer: Solimar International

East Nimba Nature Reserve

Hiking to the peak of this reserve results in a panoramic view of three West African countries. Hiking, however, is just a small token of what tourists may experience in this destination. The wildlife and birdlife in the East Nimba Nature Reserve can be found nowhere else. For example, the largest butterfly in the world, the African Giant Swallowtail (Papilio antimachus Drury), can be found here, alongside 100 different species of orchid. Visiting this nature reserve ensures the continued promotion, protection, conservation, and growth of the unique biodiversity found in Liberia.

Mount Nimba, Liberia: an abandoned mining site and the highest point in West Africa. Hike to the top of the tallest peak in West Africa and the point where three countries converge

Sapo National Park 

Deep into the West African rainforest in swamps and near rivers, rare and beautiful creatures are thought to be endangered due to hunting and accidental pesticide poisoning. Like the other animals unique to Liberia, deforestation is also a considerable threat to species’ survival. Many endangered species exist in Sapo National Park, such as the Liberian Mongoose. Tourists may visit this park during Liberia’s summer months to witness the conservation of the biodiversity in Liberia. 

sign post welcoming visitors to sapo national park, a massive sustainable tourism in liberia

Location: Sapo National Park; Photographer: Solimar International

Kpatawee Falls

Located in the centre of Africa’s oldest republic, Kpatawee is the perfect sustainable tourism destination for a wholesome weekend getaway in West Africa. Only a three-hour drive from Monrovia, Kpatawee is a nature lovers’ paradise. The Kpatawee waterfall is a Ramsar site, meaning that the water is a significant reservoir for the people of Kpatawee. Furthermore, the water is essential for locals as it is used for consumption. Therefore, ecotourism at this waterfall and the Kpatawee Waterfalls Resort is crucial to conserve local’s natural resources. Furthermore, the Kpatawee Falls organization ensures the protection and conservation of the area’s unique biodiversity. For this reason, visitors who infringe on the waterfalls may threaten the conservation efforts made in Kpatawee. 

Location: Kpatawee Waterfall, Gbarnga, Bong County; Photographer: Kunal Chotrani, @1world1vibe

Promoting Liberia’s Cultural Heritage Through Sustainable Tourism

As previously mentioned, Liberia’s reputation has been tarnished by the calamities of wars and endemics. However, Liberia is so much more than its past. For instance, the unique culture and history of the country have attracted people from all over the world, eager to dive into the rich cultural heritage of Liberia. Providence Island is the perfect example of a destination that highlights the strength of this West African country. 

Providence Island

Providence Island was the point of departure and no return for many Africans that were forcibly removed from their homes and sold as enslaved people. According to UNESCO, African chiefs, governors, and family leaders in the community saw a fast way to conjure material necessities by exchanging human cargo. The Africans that were sacrificed and sold as enslaved people and sent to the United States included “less important community members” and people captured during tribal warfare.

As previously mentioned, the formerly enslaved were set free and sent to Liberia throughout the 1820s. Providence Island was the arrival point for the arrival of the formerly enslaved. Due to the history of Providence Island, many Liberians can trace their ancestry back to the United States through the slave trade. These Liberians now honor their ancestors and the pain and hardships they endured by preserving Providence Island in their memories.  

Visitors to Providence Island can spot many historical attributes that represent the island’s deep roots in the United States. For example, one of the oldest cotton trees in the world (250 years old) can be found on Providence Island. Furthermore, other attributes of the island include an ancient water well that is believed to have been used by the formerly enslaved that arrived on the island in the 1820s and an old landing dock that was used when the island was a former trade post. This landing dock is still a platform for incoming canoes and ships to Monrovia. Furthermore, the foundations of original settlements were formally inhabited by the formerly enslaved African Americans. At the same time, newly constructed huts, such as a palaver hut, were built as a replication of the many homes built after the African American settlers arrived. 

Interestingly, a metal tree on the island was created from AK47 machine guns to represent the country’s desperate wish for peace after many brutal years of internal conflict in Liberia. This tree serves as a reminder of these years. Moreover, a cement pillar and concrete flooring can be observed on the island, which is thought to be the very first concrete work in Liberia’s history. 

Location: Providence Island, Monrovia, Liberia; Photographer: Rami Ramitto, @theramiramitto

Location: Providence Island, Monrovia, Liberia; Photographer: Rami Ramitto, @theramiramitto

Traditional Dance 

Tourism to Liberia leads travelers to promote the traditional dances of different tribes. Dancing is a significant part of Liberian culture. People dance for all types of special occasions, such as weddings, burials, holidays, and traditional events. However, dancing is not just reserved for special occasions. People often take to the streets and dance for their own joy or to communicate messages. For example, some performances are spiritual, and they share that the cultural heritage of Liberia must be reserved. 

Furthermore, the traditional dances of Liberia vary from tribe to tribe and in different regions. However, regardless of the traditional dance performed, when Liberians hear the sound of drums (sangba), they frequently drop their work activities to watch the performances on the streets. 

As seen in the photograph, cultural dances are performed wearing traditional Liberian clothing. This young Liberian woman has had her face painted before dancing. This picture was captured by Solimar International in attendance of a Sapo cultural performance. As you can see, cultural dancing brings immense joy to Liberians as they are hugely passionate about this tradition. If you intend to visit Liberia, it is worth your while to appreciate a cultural dance performance as it is an experience unlike any other. 

Stimulates Economic Growth

Many countries worldwide count on tourism to be their key economic driver. Therefore, the economy will be positively impacted if sustainable tourism is established and supported throughout Liberia. Here are a few examples of travel destinations that support sustainable tourism as well as provide careers for Liberians. Suppose more Liberian tourist spots are pinpointed and improved to support sustainability and customer experiences. In that case, the country can eventually develop into a desirable travel destination. 

Libassa Ecolodge 

Libassa Ecolodge is an excellent example of job creation in Liberia. This luxurious ecolodge allows tourists to unwind by the pool or beach after a week of fun-filled activities. Hop into the lazy river, soak up the Liberian heat, and float along the water with your family and friends. Liberians have been hired to maintain the pool, and chefs and servers were employed for the ecolodge’s restaurant. 

Furthermore, Libassa Ecolodge can fill a tourist’s day with enjoyable activities as people were hired to entertain guests throughout the week. For example, the ecolodge provides massages, yoga, gym, sports on the beach, a cultural dance class, scuba diving, sea turtle beach patrol, boat trips to Chimp Island, a wildlife sanctuary, Liberian cooking classes, bonfires, a Liberian dance show, and so much more. Click here to see more activities that Libassa Ecolodge provides. All of these wonderful activities have created the opportunity for Liberians to earn a living. 

Location: Libassa Ecolodge, Margibi County; Photographer: Rami Ramitto, @theramiramitto

Royal Grand Hotel 

Like Libassa Ecolodge, the establishment of the Royal Grand Hotel in Monrovia created hundreds of jobs in the capital of Liberia. Thousands of people pass through Monrovia yearly, staying at places such as the Royal Grand Hotel. Therefore, the demand for a reliable workforce grew. The hotel provides tourists with a gym, a spa, a restaurant and a donut bar. In addition, people were hired to maintain the hotel and clean rooms. Establishing a hotel like this is crucial for rebuilding the economy as travelers leave this destination with positive experiences. Therefore, they are more likely to promote Liberia as a desirable travel spot online or through word-of-mouth to their friends and families at home. 

Kpatawee Falls

In contrast to the Royal Grand Hotel, Kpatawee Falls is a relatively small tourist destination. However, the establishment of the organization has still provided jobs for people in the area. For example, tour guides are hired to take visitors on an exciting tour of Kpatawee falls from one of the local eco guards of the site. The tour guide shows tourists the true hidden beauties that surround Kpatawee waterfalls. You can feel the passion emanating from the guides as they take great pride in the conservation of nature and the protection of the diverse ecosystems that make up the area of Kpatawee. 

Furthermore, during your stay at Kpatawee Waterfalls Resort, you can engage in various uniquely Liberian activities. For example, you can harvest the nutty-flavored vegetable, cassava, from their garden and learn how to cook delicious Liberian dishes. The people hired to give classes and tours also promote Liberia’s cultural heritage by sharing local dishes and highlighting the rare wildlife. 

Location: Kpatawee Waterfalls Resort, Kpatawee, Bong County; Photographer: @kpatawee_waterfalls

Location: Kpatawee Waterfalls Resort, Kpatawee, Bong County; Photographer: @kpatawee_waterfalls

The Future of Liberia is Sustainable Tourism

As shown in this piece, sustainable tourism can have a tremendous positive impact on a country such as Liberia. After years of endless tragedies and strife, the people of Liberia deserve to have their country recognized for its present glory rather than its dark past. The country’s traditional dances, dishes, crafts, surf waves, historical sights, and friendly people can potentially attract travelers worldwide. Unfortunately, the country has a long way to go before the positive economic effects of sustainable tourism can be seen. Still, Liberia is more than worthy of any visitors it currently receives. 

Want to learn more about Liberia?

If you are interested in sustainable tourism and want to learn more about our work in Liberia, check out three of our Liberia-based projects:

USAID Liberia Conservation Works Activity (USAID – CWA) 

Liberia Ecotourism Business Planning on behalf of the Forestry Development Authority

Liberia Ecotourism Study

polar ice caps climate change

In part one of this series, we discussed how tourism and climate change are inextricably linked. Nature-based tourism is becoming increasingly vulnerable to changing weather patterns, while the nature of tourism itself contributes 8% of global emissions. The landmark Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism – launched at COP26 – urged destinations and the tourism industry to reduce carbon emissions by 50% before 2030, and reach Net Zero as soon as possible by 2050. Solimar Internationa’s recent white paper publication echoed this commitment, designing Five Principles for tourism businesses to invest in Nature-based Solutions to respond to the causes and consequences of climate change (see photo). In addition to a mitigation pathway of measuring and reducing emissions, it is imperative for governments and businesses to simultaneously invest in climate change adaptation – using tourism as a means to build, finance and sustain climate resilient destinations.

Five Principles for Effective Nature-based Solutions in Tourism from Solimar International’s report

Five Principles for Effective Nature-based Solutions in Tourism from Solimar International’s report Climate Action through Regeneration: Unlocking the Power of Communities and Nature through Tourism

The World Economic Forum (2020) estimated that over half of global GDP, US $44 trillion, is potentially threatened by loss of nature and biodiversity, while the transition to a nature-positive economy could create 395 million jobs by 2030, or around one fifth of the total projected increase in global labor force (World Economic Forum, 2020). Global investments in NbS already surpassed US $133 billion in 2020—only 14% of which came from private finance (UNEP, 2021a; UNEP and IUCN, 2021). The UN State of Finance for Nature report 2021 argues this investment must triple by 2030 if we are to meet global climate and biodiversity goals.

The second in this article series showcases how we can increase investment in nature in destinations around the world–including those that we support through our international development projects–to respond to the consequences of climate change by investing in actions that will protect and restore nature and communities.

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest – Bangladesh 

The Sundarbans Reserved Forest in Bangladesh is the largest mangrove forest on Earth, home to the Bengali tiger and hundreds of bird, fish, mammal, and reptile species. Spanning three wildlife sanctuaries across 317,950 hectares, including Ramsar and World Heritage Sites, the Sundarbans provides sustainable livelihoods for millions of people and act as a shelter belt to protect communities from storms, cyclones, tidal surges, and seawater intrusion.

Sunderbands reserve forest in Bangladesh

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest in Bangladesh. Photo by Chloe King

A total of 7.79 million people live in the Sundarbans Impact Zone, with about 28 percent of people from this zone directly dependent on the Sundarbans for their livelihoods, including as woodcutters, fishermen, and gatherers of honey, leaves, and grass. However, according to a recent study, Bangladesh lost 73 percent of mangrove forest cover since the 1960s, with only 11 percent of the country remaining forested (Bangladesh Forest Inventory). Nearly 2.5 million people depend upon the SRF for their livelihoods (Gopal and Chauhan, 2018), and the mangrove forest naturally shields millions from increasingly erratic weather events, such as Cyclone Amphan that hit the coast in 2020, the most powerful to strike Bangladesh in 20 years (AlJazeera, 2020). Unsustainable development, such as the Ramsar Coal Fired Power Plant, under construction only 4km away from the buffer zone of the SRF may provide jobs, but ultimately risk undermining the natural climate protection the SRF offers (Chowdhury, 2017). 

USAID/Bangladesh, in partnership with the Bangladesh Ecotourism and Conservation Alliance (BECA) implemented by Solimar International and the Government of Bangladesh, is currently focusing on interventions in and this iconic tourism destination and arguably most important protected area. By ensuring that tourism develops sustainably and is better distributed to local communities, this project hopes to reduce pressure on natural resource extraction, while also deterring environmentally destructive industries from developing around the periphery of the reserve. The communities living around the periphery of the last great mangrove forest cannot afford to lose the living lungs of the Earth. Without nature and wildlife, humanity can neither address the climate crisis as a whole, nor save those who are most vulnerable to its consequences. 

map of the sundarbands reserve forest

Climate Change Adaptation in the Maldives and Sri Lanka

Climate risks in the Maldives and Sri Lanka are growing in frequency and intensity. Sea level rise, coastal storm surges, and flooding pose a significant threat to the Maldives, where more than 80% of the land area is less than one meter above sea level. Flooding and drought in Sri Lanka are among many of the consequences of climate change that negatively impact the most important elements of Sri Lanka’s economy. For these reasons, both countries have policy frameworks in place that identify climate change risks and prioritize adaptation strategies.

The USAID Climate Adaptation Project (CAP) is a five-year project in the Maldives and Sri Lanka where its purpose is to enhance the adaptive capacities of the public and private sectors and local communities to respond to the impact of climate change. The first year of the activity (2022) is focused on the Maldives, and Solimar International is leading the private sector engagement for the project. CAP will help identify and scale up solutions to climate-related challenges, strengthen governance to address climate-related risks, and improve access to high-quality information for decision-making to reduce vulnerability to climate change. Solimar will support this work by identifying innovative solutions to adaptively manage climate-related risk through market-driven private sector and community engagement.

Tourism operators in the Maldives have the unique ability to take advantage of increased interest in and funding for Nature-based Solutions for climate mitigation, while simultaneously utilizing these same solutions to respond to societal challenges and help their respective destinations adapt to the realities of climate change. Tourism can play an important role in helping communities adapt to this new reality and build resilience to future risks. For example, many of the resorts and tourism businesses in the Maldives are already investing in coral reef restoration through organizations such as Reefscapers. However, interviews with businesses revealed that this restoration work is not being done in a consistent or effective manner, with lack of national policy guidelines for tourism operators.

coral reefs threatened by climate change

Coral reef ecosystems in the Maldives are threatened by climate change and coastal tourism development. A more sustainable industry can help to mitigate both of these threats. Photo by Chloe King

An example of nature based solutions include mangrove tourism projects. On the Maldives’ Huvadhoo Atoll, mangroves were covered with sand to reduce mosquito populations; however, flooding also increased as a result. Local communities pushed for restoration and the construction of eco-huts which linked tourism and mangrove restoration. Solimar is exploring opportunities for destination management at other mangrove sites in the Maldives, linking mangrove ecotourism to support conservation. These models of nature based solutions can be further explored to link tourism and climate change adaptation.

Another opportunity for tourism to be involved in climate adaptation includes creating structures that protect and nourish sand and shorelines in ways that are nature-based and nature-positive. For example, living sea walls can be created as a blend of hard engineering seawall solutions that foster growth in coral and other marine life. This could offer an opportunity to resorts in the Maldives that are looking to invest in sea walls to create more environmentally-friendly and adaptive solutions.

Are you a tourism business or destination with innovative ideas for climate adaptation? Are you financing nature restoration or protection in new or exciting ways? Take our survey here for a chance to be a featured business in an upcoming white paper publication: https://tinyurl.com/enterprise-nbs-survey

By Shivya Nath, Alexandria Kleinschmidt, Annie Combs, and Chloe King

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