Traveling sustainably isn't just your job--it's a two-way street, and a city or town should make you want to do it.
Last week on JetSet, we talked about the idea of sustainable travel and how it differs from backpacking and staying at eco-lodges. Instead, the concept means to culturally immerse oneself in a place by eating and shopping locally and learning about the way of life there.
"It does not need to cost anymore money because it's just a local experience," said Patricia Serrano, a New York-based travel agent.
Beyond putting the onus on the tourist to travel sustainably, could cities and towns have been developed in a way that promotes it?
Serrano, who also owns a travel blog called Fresh Traveler, said "yes." She points to the town she grew up in--Pattaya Beach in Thailand--a place she said used to be pristine.
"I think if there were zoning laws implemented in Pattaya, the whole town would not have become a red light district; they're starting to market it as more family-friendly, but it's still like a lot of clean-up to do. If you had started with that, if you led with that in the beginning--you wouldn't have to do this clean-up, the re-branding to the point, where even local people who used to go to those beach towns, they don't want to go there; they don't want to buy houses there," she said
She also pointed to a closer to home example: Atlantic City.
"Which could have been developed into a super family-friendly beach town, but it didn't, it never did. There were restaurants I would go to in Atlantic City, but a lot of the city itself is not developed; they're starting to or trying to do it now, but the thing is the image of Atlantic City isn't like bring your family and kids--even though it could have been; they're trying a little there's like some museums and stuff but if they had thought in the beginning--let's develop this so it's not just casinos."
Casinos that, in large part, have failed and closed their doors.
"Think about all the local people there that lost their jobs when a casino would close. If we had a little forefront in the beginning, and developed it in a sustainable way, where it wasn't just 'let's make a quick buck'....but actually thinking about what sort of job would give hte local people long-lasting careers they could actually be passed on through generations, if that was implemented--imagine! I would love to go to Atlantic City--it's so close--hop on a bus and go. But I tend to go to Atlantic City and just pass it and go to Brigantine. I'll go to Atlantic City and have a meal on one street, but I'm not like, 'Oh let me spend my money ,bringing all my friends to Atlantic City' and staying there...but had it been developed in a different way, I would've, and I would've liked to."
But can the power of the traveler's mindset force a town to change by doing something as simple as bringing their own re-fillable water bottle?
"I try to not buy water bottles; I like to bring my own water bottles, but I realize in places people use water bottles because they don't drink tap water. I found myself in Thailand filling my bottle from a bottle--what I'm trying to say is, you can be a conscious traveler, but there's only so much you can do--like bringing a water bottle--the regulations of how much bottled water is around--that needs to be done by the city," she said. "I'm such an idealist here, but if enough people are like 'Hey we don't have nay filling stations to fill our water bottle that we bring, can you as a town provide that or provide solutions to that?' Maybe the town will think about solutions that they wouldn't have otherwise."
But Serrano challenges the tourism industry to think about development of their country in a different way so tourists don't want to get away from their own people.
"You see these pictures of beaches where there's nobody on it...then you go there, there's people on it, loads of people, usually in February. Sometimes, I'm like 'well that's false advertising.' Then you try to go even further away from the crowd. Basically what I'm saying is maybe if travelers aren't trying to just get away from everyone, but just try to go to the beaches in places that are like more integrated with the local culture, you wouldn't have to try to get away from the touristy areas," she said. "As a travel agent, I get people are like 'I want to go this place, and I want to go away from the touristy areas. What if we didn't even have the touristy areas? What if it was all culturally-integrated? Then, you wouldn't have to get away from the tourists."
For example--a fight is brewing in South Lake Tahoe, where residents are on the verge of approving a ban on vacation rentals like Airbnbs in residential neighborhoods. Some say it will hurt the economy, but residents say it will greatly approve their quality of life. Fights like this make sustainable travel harder.
"That's not good because what happens is you're not creating a town--you're just creating a bunch of apartments that are being subletted...you're not creating an organic community, because then who would care about the community? It becomes like a shallow, hollow place. And the thing is what makes the town are the people. As a traveler, you go to the town and people are angry at you? What type of travel experience is that? They have animosity against these tourists and end up pick-pocketing or taking money from these tourists, when it doesn't need to be that type of relationship that's 'oh I'm scared of the local people they might steal stuff from me, and the local people are like these people are coming to ruin my hometown and I'm not getting anything from it, so sustainable travel is reducing that animosity and actually have a conversation--an immersive experience, where both parties understand each other."