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Is conscious travel a form of elitism?

Recommend this?

Sustainability in tourism often means higher costs, limited accessibility, etc.

Is it only for the elite?

I've been asked this question a lot, so I'm curious to hear your thoughts!

I'm a new member in this amazing community. Born and raised in Italy, I've been living in the US for the past 12 years. I'm starting a lifestyle brand for the conscious traveler... let's connect!

4 days ago (edited)
Ian
Founder, Travel Massive

Hi Ricardo, welcome to the community and great question.

A quick Google for “Conscious Travel” and there’s dozens of results with a few variations on its definition.

Now I have to preface my response with my own view that I think terms like “conscious” and “transformative” travel are buzzwords. But people have built entire businesses on these themes of travel, so maybe I’m wrong. I just humbly believe that travel can be great, sustainable, empathetic, powerful, and life changing without needing to say so. To me, these things are kinda obvious.

Whether this kind of travel is considered elite probably depends on who claims ownership of the term. Is someone who paid $4,000 for a “conscious travel” group tour to Mexico more entitled as a planet-saver than say, someone who bought a tent for $200 at Cosco and went hiking for a weekend? I’m making this up, but you get my drift.

The more introspective we become in our travels (and the more buzzwords appear), the more I believe that travel is ultimately about going from A to B and what you make of it in between.

If it floats your boat to call it conscious travel, and you’re not misleading anyone in the process, then go for it!

4 days ago
Founder, Made to Wander

I don't think it needs to be only for the elite. It's a bit like fine wine in a way. Not everybody can afford Lafite or DRC but you can still drink something that gives just as much joy. Travel is no different.

4 days ago
Founder, Business Development, Painted Circle

Ciao Riccardo! This is an important question for all of us in travel to ask ourselves. If our goal is to make travel more sustainable, regenerative, more "any of Ian's buzzwords here ;)" then we have to be able to welcome all types of travelers into those efforts. Sustainable places and experiences can not be just for some - they must be for all.

There is a great deal of education that could happen in our industry. It's possible that many travelers would make better choices if they knew more of the behind-the-scenes and the impact of what they are purchasing. Not everyone is going to want to travel sustainably all the time, but I'm optimistic that with more options coming online, we can make sustainable travel less about being trendy and more about being desirable and more fulfilling. There are also more diverse voices being heard in the travel space, and we all need to help support expanding the narrative from just one perspective to many - all part of the process of getting less buzzwordy and more authentic.

Ricardo - feel free to connect as I'm curious about what you are building!

4 days ago
Chief Impact Officer, Tourism Cares

Hi Ricardo. In my experience sustainable travel does not mean more costs. I often hear that it means higher costs or limited accessibility and then the next day I hear its only for the budget traveler. Sustainable travel is about not harming the environment, local cultures or communities. Its about makings sure more money stays in the destination (very little does). Sustainable travel is using local transportation, using locally owned hotels, restaurants, working with local artisans, contributing to impact organizations whenever possible, and behaving in a way you would want visitors to your own home to behave. And every travel business should be moving toward incorporating sustainable practices into their business models. Travel businesses should be using these principals as a management tool and not a marketing tool and then we will all be able to travel sustainably not matter where or who we travel with.

4 days ago
Head Chef, Travelfish Pty Ltd

Strong disagree on equating sustainable tourism with higher costs and agree with Ian re the industry embracing new buzzwords more often than I buy new flip flops. Think one of the big issues in this is there is an army of consultants who, dare I say, sustain themselves by making a living out of telling anyone that will pay to listen that it the high-end sustainability play is the only play in town.

Case in point, I Googled conscious travel, as I couldn’t remember what it was (I confuse it a lot with meaningful tourism—another buzz word) and the second result was some start up that would charge me 1,200 quid to teach me all about it. LOL no—though I guess I did need to Google it.

I interviewed the Chief Purpose Officer for a major mid- to upper-end tour company the other day, they’re busy carbon counting for all their operations to affix a carbon value to each tour. I asked how they’re treating small businesses (ie joints backpackers use) that can’t afford to get on the greenwashing certification train vs the lux joints that can, and she said “we usually consider homestays as responsible per se.”

To my mind, that says a lot.

3 days ago

That's an excellent point and part of the reason why I think that the focus should be on educating the public instead. Thanks for sharing!

16 hours ago

Thanks for the insights! I see many great points here. I’d like to share my point of view and keep the conversation going. With so many people traveling all over the world, I think it’s crucial to raise awareness about the often-overlooked side effects of tourism.

I don’t believe that encouraging to travel consciously is a form of elitism, but many people imagine it to be.
Just like healthy eating is often considered more expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. It just requires different choices and usually more work. Similarly, anyone can travel in a way that respects the environment and the local community. On any budget. But doing so will require some flexibility and effort. It will require more researching, planning, and picking certain options over others. It may require saying no at times and discovering alternatives. And this is a good thing, because we force ourselves to look beyond the mainstream, so we are more likely to have authentic experiences and create connections.

Our choices, even the small ones, matter. And they add up. This is why awareness and education are so important, like Charles said. Simply thinking about where your money goes and focusing on directing it to the local community is a powerful tool that any traveler can use regardless of how deep his/her pockets are. As Paula mentioned, too much of our spending goes elsewhere.

I’m glad that several of you agree with Ian on conscious tourism being a buzzword. Because it means that to you and me it represents the standard way to travel. It’s simply tourism. I think that this terminology helps distinguish it from other types of tourism that are, instead, disruptive. This distinction (and labeling) is helpful when we must educate the public, in my opinion.

Thanks again for all the upvotes and comments!

16 hours ago