The consensus on the question I posted before seems to be that it's okay to encourage travel, but that we need to encourage traveling BETTER, whether that means encouraging choosing trains over planes, taking longer trips, seeing things in a different way, etc.
My question now is HOW? How do I as a content creator do that? I mean, just lecturing people about sustainability or whatever isn't going to help. I'd love some PRACTICAL ideas on how to encourage better travel.
So far I'm trying - not always succeeding - to avoid writing about the places that are very popular and instead focusing on lesser-traveled places. I'm avoiding big general listicles and instead trying to write about much narrower topics. As much as possible, I'm traveling by train or bus rather than plane and that'll come through when I write about a place. Any other suggestions?
great question. My attempt at answering this complex, never-ending question would be to *define what it means* to travel sustainably. what does it look like? what decisions are weighed to make a travel moment a sustainable one vs ..unsustainable. is it simply trains over planes? is it not going by car? I'd also ask - sincerely - is 'going somewhere else' really part of the solution? Might that just be *expanding* the degradation of travel to different places? I appreciate you working on this.
I try to stick to a journal-style of sharing, detailing how I'm traveling sustainably, the values and resources that assist, and how it all goes, in hopes that others will see that they can do it, too. It would be great to hear other suggestions! 🙏🏼
Good question—one I’ve been thinking through for the last year with relation to my site, and, relatedly, am now doing my thesis on an aspect of exactly this!
1) As already mentioned, I think it is important to define what sustainability means to you—and what aspects of it you want to impart onto your readers and why.
2) Big picture stuff (train over plane etcetera) might feel boring and repetitive, but it is worth keeping in mind that even baseline stuff like this is breaking news to many travellers. While it can be tempting to stick it all in one section, it is worth repeating over and over, especially as with search people might be landing on a destination page and not your sustainable tourism section for example. Small cosmetic changes can help—in my case a simple site-wide change was to re-order the 700-odd transport pages to list air travel last.
3) The carbon stuff is the low hanging fruit and other aspects of travel are often small (and not so small) touch points for travellers that, when put together, matter far more. A couple of Thailand-specific examples:
a) Many low-end service jobs in the accommodation sector are undertaken by Burmese/Khmer/Lao migrant workers. These workers are commonly paid lower than Thais would, and often below minimum wage levels. On the Gulf islands (Samui, Pha Ngan and Tao) some of the Burmese workers there are in almost bonded labour situations. The situation is complex, and hardly limited to the tourism scene, and while I wouldn’t suggest encouraging travellers to start organising protests and so on, it is important I think to let people know this is the case.
b) Slavery within the fishing fleets remains common in Southeast Asia’s waters, and this is one of the reason those beachside seafood barbeques are so affordable (particularly given the point in (a). So it is important that travellers ask where their seafood comes from. 99 times out of 100 the vendor is going to say “the market,” and so it is again left to the traveller to determine what they want to do with that reply. At least by informing them of the situation, you are giving them the tools to consider what they want to do—perhaps skipping the seafood buffet would be a good idea?
c) If you’re staying in family-run homestays, it isn’t unusual to see kids “helping out.” Where does helping out become “skipping school to help Mum and Dad so they don’t need to hire someone.” Again, providing base information—what are the typical school days/hours for example—helps to inform travellers.
d) Water use is another great one—did you know the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore goes through almost a billion litres of water a year? I bet none of their guests do—tell them.
A simple “direct action” sort of thing I do is when I check into a hotel, I gather up all the plastic stuff (shampoos/soaps/water bottles/in one case a panda) and neatly put it outside the room on the floor in the hallway. Hotels do not like you doing this as it clutters up the halls, but it is a simple thing to do. It is amazing how often it is all back in the room the next day!
Aside from re-ordering the transport, I’ve implemented none of this on Travelfish yet, but I plan to have a section for every destination that points to this sort of stuff, either through images ala SDGs, or text links to further reading and so on.
The deeper you integrate it, the faster people will realise that through almost every step of their travels, there is a way for them to step lighter. That seems a good small win for information providers like ourselves—and the planet.
It’s a super-intersting topic, good luck!
I'm on my way to Thailand soon so your comments on Thailand are very interesting to me. I'll be writing about Thailand, and I'll be flying there, but I won't fly within the country or to neighboring countries - only land transport to get around, and your #2 point is relevant there. I've written about these decisions separately up to now, but you're right, I need to keep mentioning it. As to your points under #3, how does one even find out information like that? And how does putting all that stuff out in the hallway help? Doesn't it just create more work for the Burmese/Khmer/Lao migrant workers?
AP won a Pulitzer for there coverage of slavery + fish in 2016 (summary of some of their coverage here: www.ap.org/explore/seafood-from-slaves/ ) but it is a very long running issue, and not unique to Thailand. for issues around kids, Child Safe International is an excellent informational resource around issues of trafficking, sex tourism, exploitation etcetera. It does lots of good work with hotels in particular.
As for finding stuff out, I’ve been in the region since 97 and read a lot, so that’s how I try to keep abreast of stuff, aside from news, academic research, journals, gasbagging with journalists etcetera.
Re the junk that hoteliers fill hotel rooms with, if everyone did the same, perhaps hotels would rethink their buying policies!
Oh, I see. But is there a movement to do this? Or are you the only one? I've never heard of it. And thank you for the resources!
I think there is a pretty big movement around this, especially since Seaspiracy came out. I highly recommend watching it, if you can. It's incredible.
I agree with others, that it is important to define what it is. I am focusing on how you can bring some positive to the place, you travel too. Like buying local, visiting non turistic places etc. I have done this for some years now, and the readers love it.
By celebrating and giving spotlight to the great work that many organizations are doing to offer better travel experiences (that are better for people and the planet), especially stories of those efforts that may otherwise be unknown.
By helping normalize talking about such examples as part of the usual great, fun, interesting travel content (not in a separate category with a sustainability label).
Some great comments below on what you cover + how.
I'll add a different angle to this, from my own expertise in publishing + marketing. Unless you're a hobby blogger doing it just for the fun + passion, you probably care about things like your website traffic, which means you care about things like Google and other big sources of traffic. Sadly, by putting these big tech platforms as the gatekeepers of eyeballs, we've bound ourselves to their rules. Publishers who care about search traffic for their business model (most of us) have to write about things that have some search interest. This becomes self-perpetuating and is, I think, one of the main drivers of over-tourism. Things that are already popular get more coverage, and it becomes exponential. The same sort of thing happens with influencers & their followers trying to capture the same perfect Instagram shot.
So I think a big part of responsible publishing in travel is about diverting interest and demand away from places and themes that are over saturated. Or just telling the unvarnished truth rather than repeating the marketing platitudes.
A lot of this is much easier said than done, as we've found over the years at Horizon Guides.
Yes, this is something I actively do. I don't bother writing about heavily touristed places - there's just no point, since I can't rank for "X things to do in Paris" etc. But I have sometimes written about lesser-known things to see within a popular destination. For example, I have posts on lots of small museums in Amsterdam (I live in the Netherlands) like the Tulip Museum and the Willet-Holthuysen Museum. I think that can help in a small way too, to spread the crowds out in a popular city.
Great term “responsible publishing”!
As a Travel Advisor I attended many conferences last year. During one conference I was enlightened to learn a new take on “sustainability”. It isn’t just about environmental issues, it is about sustaining a community. As we come out of the height of the pandemic businesses and communities need support to “sustain” their survival. Focus on the community of people and I think you will have many talking points.
Also, many are choosing to travel “smaller”. By this I mean to more remote, off the beaten path destinations or on smaller cruise ships. This promotes a communal feeling by venturing toward less crowded options.
Yes, I agree. Sustaining a community is things like shopping at local shops instead of chains, or staying at locally-owned hotels. We as bloggers, I think, can help these enterprises by writing about them. I'm curious about smaller cruise ships. They tend to be more expensive and more boutique, but I wonder about them in terms of sustainability. I know some companies (Hurtigruten and Havila come to mind) are doing things like adding hybrid ships and I've seen canal boats with solar panels, but does small necessarily mean better?
I’m going to be the antagonist in this discussion.
First, I totally agree that content creators should not promote unethical activities.
However imagine for a minute we are writing about food recipes. If I want the recipe to a deep fried ice cream sundae, then I would expect to be able to find it without being guilt tripped into eating a banana. I feel the same goes for travel - I’m the reader and I’m smart enough (I hope!) to decide if something is “better” or not.
More important to me is whether the content is independent or not. Did the author get paid or given a free trip to write the article? A good example of this are the blogs/videos of going to Antarctica. I’m sure the creators didn’t pay the full $15-20k but I feel the content can a) promote something unethical (imo) under b) the guise of sustainability.
👆To clarify: I have no issues with a cruise to Antarctica but if it’s presented as sustainable then I totally disagree.
If we use reductive logic then “no travel” will always be better than travel. But that ain’t gonna happen, so I believe we should give people the information (both good and bad) to make their own decisions.
This has been a long-running discussion for me. I even presented about it once at a WITS conference. I did an (admittedly unscientific) survey of lots of travel bloggers, just asking them what they would do if they were sponsored for something - a hotel stay for example - and it didn't go well. The shower had no hot water or the service was bad. What would they do?
I got basically three different answers: 1. I would tell the manager about it, and then write about how responsive they are when there are problems. 2. I would go to the manager and let them choose whether I would still write the article or not. 3. I'd ignore it and not write about the problem and only write about the good things because "I don't want any negativity on my site." (I got that last one a lot.)
In my view, none of these are acceptable, though the first would be okay if the problem with the shower or whatever was actually named. When a stay is comped, the staff of that hotel is likely to make damn sure everything goes well, but we need to make sure to write about it honestly. That means first of all, disclosing prominently in every article or social media post that it was #sponsored - and a lot of people don't do that - and secondly, asking hard questions about things like sustainability and then writing about it.
At the WITS conference I was arguing for a system of ethics statements where each blogger could choose a badge to place on their site, and the badge would represent what their particular policy was. One would be the New York Times style - I don't accept sponsorships. One would be "I'll accept sponsorship but always prominently disclose it and always try my best to be honest." Another would be something like "No negativity on my blog." I don't know what the other categories would be. I was asking for other bloggers to join me in a committee to flesh out the idea and then let everyone else use what we came up with.
Well, very few showed up for the session and most of those who did weren't bloggers. They were businesses trying to work with bloggers, and they were very enthusiastic. They wanted a standard that was recognized. And I agree that we need one, but bloggers need to write it, not the businesses that sponsor bloggers.
Wow, thanks for sharing this story and what interesting findings from your discussions!
You could argue that it’s harder for a content creators to encourage “better” travel if the supplier is paying for it, or if they are monetized via affiliate revenue. But most content creators are in it to earn revenue so this is the compromise in a world where we want to earn a living.
Perhaps content creators could be encouraged to “nudge” travelers and commit to producing a set number of posts a year that champion a cause, or a lesser known destination, or a more sustainable style of travel.
Yes, that makes sense. I agree that it's hard not to be biased if the supplier is paying for it, though at least for me I don't find that a problem with affiliates. Sometimes I'll even say things like "I don't recommend driving here, but if you want to rent a car, you can compare rental car prices here" with a link to an affiliate. It seems to me that there ought to be a way to follow your conscience and still earn a living. Of course, this may explain why I'm not actually making a living at it yet...
I think the "nudging" is what I've been doing so far and expect I'll do more of: just stating what choice I made and why and leaving it at that, without any extensive lecturing.