Reflections on Sustainable Tourism

The anticipation of adventure, being outdoors and a change of scenery. That’s what makes people save thousands of dollars for months on end just to be able to get away for a holiday each year. Sustainable Tourism is more than just going on holiday and maxing out on R & R. Sustainable Tourism also means leaving minimal negative impact on the environment at your holiday destination.

Each Destination Is Unique

We live in a beautiful world but often-time, we take its beauty for granted and assume that the finite resources we enjoy are self-replenishing.

Sometimes it’s because we’re too busy in the ‘business of living’ to notice the speed and extent of resource depletion. Other times, it’s because many of us still think that it’s not that bad….. Or that it’s someone else’s headache.

You see, each country and each city has its own unique aspects of art, culture and beauty that cannot be found in another. It’s only when we go on holiday that we get to stop and take it all in:

  • The contrast of white sand against the deep blue of the ocean;
  • Views of the breath-taking Aurora Borealis in the North Pole;
  • Breathing in crisp fresh air and listening to birds singing as you hike through a rain forest.


But there’s a Catch…. Not everything is fresh and rosy behind all this beauty.

Environmental Issues in Some Beautiful Cities

More and more, we read and hear about environmental issues facing many parts of the world, such as:

  • Summers getting warmer
  • Deforestation on the rise
  • More wildlife species getting classified as ‘endangered’ or have actually become extinct
  • Floods getting worse
  • Air pollution getting to critical levels
  • Plastic pollution reaching unmanageable levels
  • Declining water levels especially for household use

Let’s take a look at how some beautiful tourist destinations are managing their environmental challenges.


Take Venice, for example: This city is literally built on water. In Venice, you get to travel from one part to another through a system of canals and waterways, on water buses, or on traditional boats called Gondolas.

A traditional Venetian gondola sailing across the city

But, the key reason Venice is so unique is that it has such a rich history. It also has the most picturesque art and architecture found nowhere else in the world. Most of these date as far back as the 13th Century. Venice receives about 30 million tourists each year and is one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

However, Venice faces serious climate change challenges such as rising ocean levels, acidic ocean water and flooding. The city is sinking, since its foundation was built on a sandy base. In the last century, Venice has sunk 9 inches into the sea.

Flooding is a constant concern and has already damaged the first floors of hundreds of buildings around the city. In efforts to manage this and the rising sea water, Venice has invested millions of Euros into the construction of an underwater sea gate and a sea wall, known as the MOSE Project.

Despite those measures, the concern is whether this will be enough in the face of higher global temperatures and melting glaciers. Sadly, they are likely to cause even higher sea levels in the near future.


Milan, on the other hand, is a whole different experience that can totally bring out the fashionista in anyone.

The Milan Cathedral Duomo di Milano at night

Image: Cathedral in Milan at night

Milan is known as a leading Alpha Global City. It is a Power City with strengths in the fields of art, commerce, design, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, services, research and tourism.

Italy’s stock exchange (Italian: Borsa Italiana) is hosted in Milan’s business district, as well as the headquarters of national and international banks and companies. In terms of GDP, it has the third-largest economy among EU cities after London and Paris.

Along with New York, Paris and London, Milan is recognized as one of the fashion capitals of the world. It is especially famous for the Milan Fashion Week, which is held twice a year: In February/ March and in September/ October. For football fans, Milan is the home of 2 major football clubs – A.C. Milan and F.C. Internazionale.

Does Milan struggle with Environmental Challenges?

Definitely, Yes.

Because Milan is one of the most car dependent cities in Europe, it struggles with serious levels of air pollution. These has had negative effects on the health of its residents in the past. In addition to air pollution, polluted rivers, acid rain, inadequate waste treatment, and disposal systems are also concerns for the city.

To manage its environmental challenges, especially the serious levels of air pollution, Milan is ‘Going Green’. Its local authorities have announced a plan to plant at least 3 million trees by 2030.

The goal is for the trees to improve the air quality in the city, and consequently improve the health of its over 1.4 million residents.

But the most noticeable ‘Going Green’ development in Milan is the recently completed Vertical Forest. The locals call it the Bosco Verticale.

Bosco Verticale, the two towers containing thousands of trees

Image: Bosco Verticale – Italy

Built by Stefano Boreli in 2014, the Vertical forest features two residential tower blocks. These towers feature over 700 trees and about 20,000 plants and shrubs on the balconies of the apartment units. This vegetation present in Bosco Verticale is said to equal approximately 3 hectares of forest (20,000 sq. meters).

Not only have they created a micro-habitat for insects and bees, but these two residential blocks are able to absorb about 30 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

What’s even more Eco-friendly about these ‘green’ buildings is that they have their own geothermal heating systems. They also have solar panels and grey water systems that irrigate the vast spread of trees and plants.

For a city that is struggling with high air pollution levels, these buildings are definitely steps in the right direction to improve air quality in Milan.

Malaysia’s Biodiversity

Let’s take a look at how sustainable tourism is managed in my beautiful home country. Most of Malaysia (about two-thirds of the country) is covered by rain forests. Needless to say, they host a huge diversity of animals and plant species.

These rain forests are estimated to be about 130 million years old. The biodiversity in these rain forests is so wide, that Malaysia is listed as one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world.

Just to give you an idea of the extent of Malaysia’s amazing megadiversity, let me share some quick statistics. Malaysia is estimated to have:

  • 361 mammal species
  • 794 bird species
  • 250 reptile species
  • 150 frog species

Source: Wikipedia

This mind-boggling variety represents a huge chunk of the world’s animal species. So, tourists can witness of a wide mix of modern, cultural, ocean and jungle attractions to marvel at. Take a look at some of the best places to visit in Malaysia here.

An Orang-Utan family in their natural habitat

Image: Orang-Utan Mother & Baby

Because Malaysia’s wildlife is among the most diverse on earth, the Malaysian government is keen to protect it. However, despite its good intentions, the government struggles to balance economic growth and environmental protection. It keeps passing really good policies on protection of ecosystems, but fails executing them.

Major Environmental Concerns in Malaysia

Here are the biggest environmental concerns in Malaysia:

1. High rate of Rain forest Loss

This is due to logging and deforestation to make room for palm oil plantations and other cash crops. At the current rate of deforestation, the rain forests in Malaysia are likely to disappear in under a generation.

2. Threat of Extinction and Population Depletion of Wildlife

The Orang-utan, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Hornbill and all 3 tiger species are among some of the species that are considered critically endangered in Malaysia. Several other species of marine life and flora are facing critically depleted numbers. All this is as a result of human activity that has led to habitat loss.

3. Illegal Fishing

This has led to critically depleted numbers of marine life. It is estimated that in Sabah alone, about 3000 turtles are killed as by-catch annually. Leatherback Turtles are among the world’s endangered species due to illegal fishing. Their numbers have dropped by 98% since the 1950s. In addition, the use of illegal fishing methods such as poisoning and dynamite fishing have led to damaged and depleted marine ecosystems.

4. Animal Parts for Profit

The illegal trade of animal parts for profit has contributed to depletion of animal species, because they are hunted or poached for certain body parts that are deemed valuable for medicinal or wealth purposes. Sadly, Malaysia is a source and transit country for internationally trafficked animals and animal parts. These include:

  • Rhino horns
  • Turtles and Tortoises
  • Tigers and tiger parts (Teeth, pelt, claws, etc)
  • Pangolin scales


The Good News………


A Great Hornbill bird in its natural habitat

Image: Great Hornbill

While the national outlook for Malaysia’s rain forests and environment looks rather grim, there’s action being taken to change things. The Malaysian government, as well as several private institutions, is making milestones in trying to preserve the rain forests. Reducing habitat loss and curb the rapid slide towards extinction of animals seems to finally be a priority.

However, the government struggles to find a balance between favoring big businesses and enforcing environmental protection legislation. That being said, there has been progress towards reducing:

  • Loss of rain forests,
  • Damage to marine and mangrove ecosystems
  • Habitat loss
  • Illegal trade in animals and animal parts.

Some of the measures being implemented in Malaysia to protect the environment, animals, and promote Sustainable Tourism include the following:

  1. Creating Awareness and a sense of ownership among citizens of Malaysia
  2. Rain forest Protection: Today, most of Malaysia’s rain forests are found within protected national parks.
  3. Animal sanctuaries have been opened to protect vulnerable and endangered species. Examples are:
    3.1. Semenggoh Nature Reserve – a sanctuary primarily for orang-utans but also hosts other endangered wildlife
    3.2. Sepilok orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre
    3.3. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
    3.4. Sabah Pangolin Sanctuary and Research Institute – for critically endangered pangolin
    3.5. Royal Belum State Park – It is home to 14 of the world’s most threatened animals, including the a Malaysian Tiger, Sumatran Rhinoceros, among others. It’s also home to 10 hornbill species and 3000 species of flowering plants, including the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia.

Costa Rica

Getting to visit such modern cities as Venice and Milan is an experience of a lifetime. However, many travelers also opt to experience the rawness of nature and wildlife found in exotic destinations like Central America and Africa.

Some good examples are Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. The richness and diversity of bird-life and animals in a country like Costa Rica is simply mind-boggling.

A toed sloth hanging from a brach

Image: 3-Toed Sloth

Just imagine: Over 50 species of hummingbirds are found in this One Place. Amazing! Added to that, Costa Rica is said to be one of the Happiest Countries in the World – how cool is that! It ranks 12th on the UN World Happiness Report of 2019.

Sustainable Tourism in Costa Rica

Known as the ‘Butterfly Capital of the World’, Costa Rica is one of the top Environmentally Sustainable countries in the world, according to the World Energy Council.

Costa Rica was ranked the 7th most Environmentally Sustainable country in the world in 2019, according to the World Energy Council report. This amazing country uses 99.2% renewable energy, with hydroelectric energy sources contributing 78% and geothermal contributing 18% of the energy. They even plan to be carbon neutral by the end of 2020! We’re watching out for that development with excitement.

The Costa Rican government, corporations and communities all work to enforce programs and practices that promote environmentally-friendly practices throughout the country.

Some programs in place that promote sustainable practices in environment and tourism in Costa Rica are as follows:

1. Blue Flag Ecology Program:

This is an award given to communities that are seen to embrace the most impressive sustainable practices. There are 10 categories of the Blue Flag program:

  1. Beaches
  2. Communities
  3. Neutral weather
  4. Education Centres
  5. Community Health
  6. Micro Drainage
  7. Sustainable Homes
  8. Special events
  9. Protected Natural Spaces
  10. Against Climate Change

Being awarded a Blue Flag is a big recognition in Costa Rica. It prompts the local communities to work together in protecting their environment through practising environmentally- friendly activities.

Want to know more about the Blue Flag program of Costa Rica? Read more about it here.

2. Sustainable Nosara

This organization was created by a partnership between the Nosara Chamber of Tourism and the Nosara Civic Association. Its key aim is to promote practices of sustainable tourism in Nosara.

The organization puts together many different activities which protect, preserves and cleans up Nosara’s forests, beaches and rivers. Read more about Sustainable Nosara here.

3. Rancho Mastatal

This is a sustainability education center established in 2001, which teaches local Costa Ricans as well as tourists how to live, build, and eat sustainably. Rancho Mastatal has courses such as:

  1. Permaculture Design Certification (April 22nd – May 5th 2020)
  2. Evovillage Design Course (May 24th – June 6th 2020)
  3. Syntropic Farming (June 21st – 26th 2020)

These courses are in line with the mission of Rancho Mastatal, which aims to teach and motivate everyone to adopt sustainable lifestyles. Read more about what the inspirational Rancho Mastatal has to offer, and see how to get involved here.

Lessons from Top Countries with Sustainable Tourism

A jaguar in its natural habitat

Let’s be honest, every country that hosts tourists experiences challenges of one sort or another. Especially environmental challenges. However, we can learn lessons from each other, and from others who are further along on the road of Sustainable Tourism than we are.

Costa Rica definitely seems to be on the right track in its environmental sustainability approaches. And, they have lots of useful and practical lessons that other countries can adopt.

I was amazed to find that Costa Rica is a favorite holiday destination. Not just for regular adventurers, but also for top celebrities that I would never have imagined would have known about such a small country, let alone choosing it as a holiday destination. People like:

  • Matt Damon
  • Angelina Jolie
  • Selena Gomez
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Beyonce and her husband, Jay-Z
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones and her husband, Michael Douglas
  • Mel Gibson
  • George Clooney
  • Leonardo di Caprio
  • Rafael Nadal (Currently ranking as the No.1 Tennis player in the world)
  • And many others

The fact that this beautiful country is one of the happiest in the world clearly has thousands of people flying there for that elusive touch of ‘Happy Vibes’.

However, despite its unspoiled natural beauty, scenic beaches and mountains, Costa Rica did not make the 2019 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations of the World.

Keep it here for our post on 10 Sustainable Holidays post COVID-19. Let’s face it – We all need something positive to look forward to when the crisis is over. Why not look up some destinations that practice sustainable tourism and start planning a trip there!

Get to know why:

  1. Portugal was awarded the Best of Cities Community and Culture Award
  2. Botswana, a little known country in Africa won the Best of Nature Award
  3. Best of Seaside Award went to the Netherlands
  4. The Earth Award went to the Kingdom of Bhutan in South Asia

We will explore the sustainable practices these countries implement to see what we can learn from them going forward. If you’re more into ocean protection and marine conservation, we’re passionate about that too. You would enjoy our related post on “Top 5 Reasons to Protect our Oceans“, as well as “Top 5 Ocean-Friendly Skincare Products“. Have you started living consciously? Are you involved in any Eco  activities?

Have you started holiday-ing sustainably? Are you involved in any Eco Tourism activities? We would love to know: Drop us a line on any of our Social Media handles, and share your thoughts and experiences with us.

Let’s Do this Together!


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