Sustainable Destinations To Visit In 2024 Shutterstock
Travel is a necessary break from our demanding daily schedules, providing opportunities to explore unfamiliar territories and gain insights into various cultures and traditions. In 2024, travellers are already aware of their pivotal role in addressing the climate crisis. This awareness is evident in an increasing number of studies that indicate that global travellers intend to embrace more sustainable travel practices in the coming year. Furthermore, 76 per cent of consumers actively seek sustainable options while travelling, expressing a preference for minimising adverse effects on local cultures and the environment.
While tourism significantly impacts a country’s economy, it is essential to grasp the concept of sustainable tourism and its significance. According to UNWTO, tourism should consider its present and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, considering visitors’ requirements, the industry, the environment, and host communities. Guidelines for sustainable tourism development apply to all types of tourism in various destinations, encompassing mass tourism and niche segments.
Here are 10 destinations promulgating sustainable travel:
High Atlas Mountains and Marrakesh, Morocco
In September 2023, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Morocco, resulting in over 2,900 deaths and the destruction of 50,000 homes, mainly near the epicentre in the High Atlas Mountains. Despite the resilience of Morocco’s tourism industry, Marrakech witnessed a decline in hotel bookings, and artisans in the damaged old medina are awaiting aid. Although some areas remain closed, major attractions have reopened. While parts of the High Atlas Mountains are still under reconstruction, tourism operators like Abercrombie and Kent and intrepid travel support the region’s recovery by focusing on less-affected areas such as the Ourika Valley and the Ait Bougmez region.
Saba, Dutch Caribbean
Saba, the smallest special municipality in the Netherlands, is becoming a leader in sustainable tourism in the Caribbean. Despite its size, the island balances the carbon impact of travel with various initiatives. These include a solar park providing 35-40 per cent of the island’s power, a recycling system, a marine park for diving, and a plastic ban supported by a local water bottling plant.
Valencia has been awarded the European Green Capital for its consistent commitment to environmental improvement. The city aims to achieve 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2025. Known for its 500 hectares of green spaces, including the Parque Central that connects previously divided neighbourhoods, Valencia also boasts the Huerta, a 120 sq km area of farms supplying local markets and restaurants. The city prioritises sustainability with improved mass transit, pedestrian-friendly spaces, and 200 km bike lanes, allowing easy access to national parks.
Singapore initiated its sustainability efforts in 1967 with the “city in a garden” vision. With over 50 years of urban development, including the creation of 300 km of green corridors in the Park Connector Network, Singapore was the world’s first nation to receive sustainable destination certification in 2023 from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. This certification aligns with Singapore’s Green Plan 2030 goals, such as quadrupling solar energy deployment by 2025 and reducing landfill waste by 20 per cent by 2030.
The UK supports the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, with 172 signatories. At the same time, Belfast has improved its sustainability ranking, moving from 47th to the top 11 in the Global Destination Sustainability Index within 18 months. The city’s Belfast Resilience Goal, launched in 2021, aims for an inclusive, zero-emissions, climate-resilient economy. Over 90 hotels, attractions, and restaurants have committed to sustainable tourism through Visit Belfast’s Green Tourism program.
Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Approximately 90 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef’s two million annual visitors stay in Cairns and Townsville in the north. However, the Southern Great Barrier Reef offers rewarding and low-impact experiences. Lady Elliot Island, rehabilitated from a guano-mined coral cay, operates as a renewable energy-powered eco-resort. Bundaberg, a sustainable destination since 2023, has hosted tours to the Mon Repos turtle education centre and indigenous-guided experiences by Taribelang Bunda Tours. The region offers farmgate experiences, including Bundaberg Rum Visitor Experience, the first Australian tourism operator with Ecotourism Australia’s Sustainable Tourism Certification.
Panama, Central America
Costa Rica is recognised for sustainable tourism, and now Panama is emerging as a leader in community-based tourism, focusing on its diverse indigenous cultures and abundant biodiversity. Traditionally centred around the canal and Panama City, the country is expanding its tourism to encompass rainforests and islands. The government-run digital portal SOSTUR lets visitors book adventures with indigenous and rural communities, facilitating meaningful experiences in less-explored regions. Activities include visits to Naso communities in north-western Panama and learning about legends from an indigenous Ngobe guide on Deko island.
Maui, United States
Wildfires devastated Maui in August 2023, causing significant loss of life and property. Initially, Hawaiians discouraged tourism, but economic hardships have prompted officials to request responsible returns. Lahaina, severely affected, remains closed, and the Hawai’i Tourism Authority suggests checking nearby communities for accommodations. The east side offers exploration opportunities, like the Road to Hana, a 103 km trip with coastlines, beaches, waterfalls, and trails. Hana Lava Tubes near road Marker 31 and the “alien” forest of Hosmer Grove in Haleakala National Park are worth visiting.
Dominica, Lesser Antillies
Following the devastation caused by a category-five hurricane in 2017, Dominica’s prime minister aimed to transform the nation into the world’s first climate-resilient country. With a focus on early-warning systems and resilient housing, the island now promotes sustainable tourism through initiatives such as the Waitukubuli Sea Trail. Over 60 km along the west coast, this sea kayaking route showcases local communities, beaches, scenery, and cuisine. The recently established Colibri Ridge eco-resort serves as a starting point for the kayaking adventure near the trailhead at Scott’s Head.
Greenland, often overshadowed by sustainable tourism efforts in the lower Nordic nations, is now taking steps to protect its icy territory and growing tourism industry amidst the climate crisis. In 2020, Nuuk became the world’s first capital city, certified as a sustainable tourist destination by EarthCheck, a sustainable tourism firm. Visit Greenland ceased support for conventional cruise tourism in 2022 for sustainability reasons and, in 2023, called on the tourism industry to commit to more sustainable and responsible development. With a new international airport set to open in Nuuk in 2024, operators are encouraged to back the pledge’s five themes, promoting local products and providing unique seasonal opportunities for tourists.
Unfortunately, when tourism grows without the integration of sustainable practices, the accompanying negative impacts also see a corresponding increase.
Despite progress, current travel behaviours remain unsustainable. The complexity of managing sustainable tourism is evident, requiring continuous monitoring of impacts, robust political leadership, and efficient coordination among all stakeholders. Solutions are not one-size-fits-all, with the application of sustainable tourism models varying based on destination-specific features.
Adopting a sustainable tourism strategy is crucial for the industry’s success, providing development opportunities that benefit visitors, locals, and the global environment. The importance of sustainable tourism lies in the responsibility of the resource-dependent industry to ensure its availability for future generations. The challenge lies in successfully implementing theoretical frameworks requiring constant vigilance, political commitment, and stakeholder collaboration. While complete sustainability may be unattainable, incremental improvements are achievable, enhancing our positive impact on the planet.