How To Be A Good (Read Sustainable) Tourist

UNDP India Edition

Let's start with the harsh truth that unsustainable living has landed us in the mess that we are in. Natural Disasters. Climate Change. Water Shortages. Pollution. In times like these, it serves as a useful reminder to budding tourists that while enjoying their well-earned vacations, they can limit their environmental impact – and channel tourism’s power for good.  

Tourism is a multi-trillion dollar industry, and billions of people experience new places and cultures every year. Travel and tourism accounted for around 10 percent of the total global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018. In India, too, the tourism industry contributed to about 10 percent of the GDP in 2018. This is bound to grow; more than half of international tourist arrivals by 2030 will be in emerging economies like India.

As tourists everything we do – boarding flights or taxis; hotels; bottled water – adds to our carbon footprint. Some of this is unavoidable, but there’s a lot we can do to minimize our impact on our journeys of (self-)discovery. Here’s how to chart your travel to be more sustainable:

1. Getting There Sustainably

Did you know that a return flight from London to New Delhi adds 1.07 tonne of CO2 emissions to your carbon footprint? That’s almost as much as what an average person in India emits in a whole year. If a curious wanderer indulged in “slow travel”, however, taking their time to go from place to place for a more immersive experience, their carbon footprint could be dramatically lower. Trains are getting greener all the time, with efforts underway to make them more energy efficient.
Read more about how India’s railways is becoming more energy efficient.

On Track

The Indian railways is one of the largest consumers of electricity in India. Implementing energy efficiency solutions and tapping into renewable energy is a crucial part of the growth strategy of one of the world's largest railways networks.

2. Staying There Sustainably

Do your research before you travel. If you’re using the services of a tour operator, ask about their environmentally friendly practices. Do their trips help protect and support wildlife such as the fishing cat in the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary on the eastern coast of India? Read more about this and one of the longest mangrove boardwalks designed to bring people closer to the environment.

Hotels are a notorious energy sink – the average hotel guest uses more than 300 litres of water per day. To put that in context, an entire village in Asia uses around 50 litres of water per day. So staying in a house or apartment, with locals, is a much greener way to experience a place. If a voyager does not wish to share lodgings in such a manner, they may consider staying at an eco-hotel. 

On The Trail of The Fishing Cat

Did you know that the presence of a fishing cat is an indicator of a healthy mangrove ecosystem? To find out more watch award winning environment journalist Bahar Dutt catch a glimpse of the elusive fishing cat.

And, perhaps above all – say no to plastic! At the majestic Sindhudurg fort of the Maharashtra coast, tourists are given a jute bag when they enter to dispose of waste in this plastic-free zone. Our oceans are drowning in miles and miles of plastic that will take centuries to break down, wreaking havoc on marine life in the meantime. Patronize zero-garbage hamlets like Vengurla, a half hour from India’s tourist hub of Goa, to promote recycling.

Ever wondered where the plastic waste from your hotel goes?

Who collects it? Where do they dump it and what really happens to it?

3. Exploring There Sustainably

Being a sustainable traveller means providing tangible social and economic benefits to local communities. That might mean buying locally made souvenirs, rather than those imported cheaply and in bulk. Or it could mean learning about endangered species, like whale sharks, from local guides, and scuba diving with fishermen trained to clean the ocean floor, like in Sindhudurg on the west coast of India.

Fishing For A Future

A majority of people living in the coastal region of Sindhudurg, Maharashtra rely on fishing for livelihood. Watch how newly adopted sustainable fishing technology, introduced by UNDP and Government of Maharashtra, has drastically reduced unwanted catch and is conserving the region’s rich marine biodiversity.

Oh, and don’t purchase or eat endangered species -- that turtle soup and crocodile handbag aren’t essential to the experience. Choose to eat sustainable seafood, such as the crabs and oysters farmed by these women in Maharashtra. Or you could enjoy a cup of "green" tea that's not just caffeine-free, but also energy efficient. Plus, get around using public transit as much as you can. Not only will that make for interesting stories when recounting your adventures, it’s much more environmentally friendly than hailing a taxi.

To learn about how you can do more for the environment, visit

Get out your passport to a greener tomorrow!