Around the world the tourist guide community is mindful of World Environment Day – not only on one day, but every day. How do Tourist Guides contribute to the protection of our natural environment? How do we engage in a beneficial way with local communities? Is it possible to earn a living in the tourism industry within these parameters? It is not only possible, it is essential to apply the parameters of Sustainable Tourism Development . Our job wouldn’t exist without our planet’s beautiful places to visit and cultural experiences to share. As interpreters of the cultural and natural heritage we tourist guides have a responsibility to our environment, which we take seriously. How you may ask …
Tourist Guides are ideally placed to turn tourists into ‘responsible travellers’. Simply mentioning World Environment Day and local challenges or concerns, creates interest. Pointing out fragile eco-systems or rare wildlife, makes people stop and think. Using our interpretation skills to reveal the impact our visits can have, makes people understand and appreciate the bigger picture. When we engage with visitors, not only on an intellectual, but emotional level, we are beginning to change behaviour.
All we need to do now is empower our guests with specific knowledge and give them opportunities to make a positive impact. Which resources, perhaps water, should we preserve in certain locations, and how can we do it? Where can we recycle our waste? Where can we buy authentic and sustainable souvenirs, which benefit the local community? Do we really need air conditioning or can we open a window? Why not combine the next beach walk with collecting plastics?
Hands on experiences can have long-lasting effects. Why not sponsor a community or an animal sanctuary on your return home as a lasting memory of your holiday? Why not come back again on a ‘voluntouring’ trip and help restore damaged areas?
Protecting the environment is not always easy. It is also part of the tourist guide’s job to remind of rules for behaviour, restrict access and possibly disappoint visitors. It is our role to explain why certain restrictions are necessary and help visitors enjoy alternative experiences. If we cannot land on an island with breeding bird colonies, let’s provide binoculars. If our visit could cause wildfires, we need to wait for a change in weather and change our programme.
Sometimes it also means challenging our partners in the tourism industry to become more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. It takes courage to ask a coach driver to switch off the engine in the National Park … . As Dr Harold Goodwin said when asked about the role of tourist guides: ‘Tourist Guides with backbone are fundamental in making sustainability work.’
So, if we use our professional skills to be best of or ability, we can help prevent, halt and reverse damage and know that there will be a next generation of travellers and tourist guides. All it takes is a bit of imagination or re-imagination. Enjoy World Environment Day 2021 … responsibly!