09/27/2017 13:21 EDT | Updated 09/27/2017 13:26 EDT

Fellow Travellers: We've Seen The World. Now Let's Save It

If travellers use their purchasing power to influence travel suppliers to operate in a sustainable manner, there's no limit to what can be accomplished.

Travellers, by their very nature, have an awareness about the world. Most Canadians are conscious of the damaging footprint travel can have on the environment and communities. They're witnessing the potential for destruction as they explore. They've observed attractions such as Angkor Wat, Cambodia's famous temple complex, deteriorate under the crush of vandalism, theft and blatant disregard as scores of tourists descended on the site every year.

They've seen elephants forced to suffer through appalling conditions to lug tourists around on their backs. They've absorbed the reports on Canada's Arctic melting as a result of climate change and they've seen cultural traditions swept aside in exchange for cheap tourism dollars.

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Tourists enjoy the figures carved on stone at Angkor Thom on Jan. 2, 2016 in Siem Riep, Cambodia. Angkor was the capital city of Khmer Empire, which flourished from approximately the 9th to 15th centuries. Angkor houses the magnificent Angkor Wat, one of Cambodia's popular tourist attractions.

Whether it's damage to the landscape, litter, pollution, exhaustion of resources or cultural erosion, an inundation of thoughtless tourists can overwhelm and desecrate a destination. Today as we mark World Tourism Day, conscientious travellers must demand more from their travel suppliers.

When I first joined the travel industry at the beginning of the decade, sustainability was not exactly the order of the day. That's not to say travel and sustainability coming together was unheard of — the travel sector first witnessed discussions and debates about the "new promising field" of sustainable tourism in the 1970s — but, in my experience working for a magazine that covered the Canadian travel industry at large on a daily basis, I think it's fair to say the ideas of "sustainability" and "responsible travel" were rarely front-page news just a few years ago.

The last decade, as climate change compelled thinking on sustainability forward in general, a constantly growing number of responsible travellers are no longer willing to be part of the problem. Increasing power is being given to travellers to use their purchasing power to shape a more sustainable future for travel. If travellers use their purchasing power to influence travel suppliers to operate in a sustainable manner, there's no limit to what can be accomplished as it to relates a more sustainable future.

It's not complicated. Canadians simply need to know what to look for as they make their travel-related purchases. One thing that's valuable to keep in mind is that the best travel companies are great at executing unforgettable trips, but that doesn't mean they have the necessary expertise to deliver practical and impactful sustainability projects.

That's why progressive travel companies are increasingly partnering with leading sustainability organizations to help save wildlife and elevate communities in the places they visit. In doing so, they are giving agency to those leaders and organizers who are already knowledgeable and capable of delivering effective sustainable travel solutions and helping to ensure that what starts as good intentions actually has a positive effect on the world.

Travel companies are proud to talk about these critical relationships. They recognize that operating responsibly is valuable to their bottom line, and that's a good thing for everyone. By simply doing a little research online before booking your next trip, you can quickly discover which companies are supporting sustainable organizations in their efforts to ensure the negative impacts of the experiences they provide are minimal and managed.

It's also important to recognize that sustainability is a journey, not a destination. No travel company is going to flip a switch and become completely sustainable overnight, but those that are leading the charge towards a sustainable travel future are continually adopting new best practices and policies to reflect this ever-improving field.

Canadians have to ask about these policies. Let travel companies know that these things matter to you. For example, next time you're preparing to book a trip, inquire as to whether the operator has an animal welfare policy. Agreements or policies established with leading animal welfare organizations ensure that the animal-related experiences travel companies offer meet globally recognized animal welfare criteria.

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Tourists click pictures of a Rhino crossing a road during a Jeep Safari in Kaziranga National Park on World Wildlife Day on March 3, 2015 in Assam, India.

You can also ask about their approach to in-destination purchases. Forward-looking travel companies work to help ensure the money you spend while travelling remains in the communities you visit, rather than simply taking as much as they can for themselves. Do their itineraries include stops in local shops and restaurants? The sale of locally made artisan handicrafts and products are vital to local economies. Culture and heritage-based work helps to create jobs, champion economic development, and build connections to the global marketplace. Companies that work to create itineraries that patronize local shops as often as possible put themselves in the best position to empower locals.

You, the consumer, have the power. We must now use it effectively, obliging the travel industry to ensure that our beautiful planet can continue to provide us with the unforgettable opportunities to explore, experience, and exchange.

It's now up to us all to apply the tenacious dedication and resolve we've demonstrated in exploring our planet to saving it.

As travellers, as explorers, we've always demonstrated our deeply rooted capacity to push beyond, to venture into the unknown, and to overcome the impossible. We do all this to satisfy our desire to push beyond preconceived limitations. We overcome oceans, deserts, mountains, political borders, language gaps and cultural differences because we believe in the beauty of our planet and we have a need to seek out and appreciate everything it has in store for us.

It's now up to us all to apply the tenacious dedication and resolve we've demonstrated in exploring our planet to saving it. For everything it's given us, we absolutely owe it that much.

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