The words ‘sustainable tourism’ are quickly becoming one of the most clichéd and over used in the travel industry. I see this politically correct language being applied superficially. I’m acutely aware that travel (and other) companies all too easily define themselves as sustainable simply because they put ‘Only print if essential – save the environment!’ messages at the bottom of their emails. Because of this, “green washing” is rapidly becoming a synonymous term. This is frustrating for those who are genuinely and legitimately fighting to make a difference for what they know is right, and must be addressed right now.
Technically speaking, the UNWTO defines ‘sustainable tourism’ as: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities“.
One of the most exciting aspects of travel to me is the people that I meet along the way. In my recent travels to both Botswana and Myanmar, I had the great fortune of meeting two unique, but like the places they live, very different individuals that stripped away the rhetoric and pomposity of the overused sustainability expression, but through the very essence of their existence are making a difference. They’ve encouraged me. Here’s why:
Map has always lived in and remained committed to his life’s calling to understand and conserve Africa’s wild places. Today he is leading the charge on rhino conservation in Africa to ensure that our generation is not the last to see African rhino roaming freely. Listening to Map, it is impossible not to get completely absorbed and inspired by in his personal commitment for the African bush and its rhinos. He has been on the forefront of developing new approaches to a previously accelerating worsening situation. It was this realisation and establishing systems and new practices behind the re-location of rhino that for the first time there are now a few minor shoots of hope. And he does it without any wish for praise, fame or attention. He does it because he feels in his heart it is the right thing to do. His love for his homeland and its creatures both great and small is his quiet yet powerful legacy.
Similarly whilst discovering Myanmar, fortune enabled me to meet another genuine individual. Myanmar is a remarkable country, rich in spirituality and the most striking smiles of its people. It is here that fortuitously I met meeting Ye Htut Win. He is the son of a Diplomat who has travelled the world, yet his heart never left his homeland. An obvious maverick, he returned home with a vision for success, his passion for food and a desire to make a difference.
He has established a business that showcases Myanmar’s magnificent produce, but with a difference – their produce is inspired by the foods Mr. Ye tasted around the world, and then made better. Crafted using his own Myanmar organic produce and artisanal methods, his fare is true artistry. He has developed and trained a network of artisans as well as farmers who are now growing organic heirloom fruit & vegetables as well as raising animals. Both the plants and local breeds are carefully chosen for those that can become accustomed to Myanmar’s climate and soils. All are cultivated using only sustainable, environmentally friendly methods.
So extraordinarily, whilst in Yangon I found myself in his eatery and unexpectedly savouring some of the most astonishing delicious cheeses (and I live in Switzerland!), breads, chili fondue and heavenly gelato. If your travels take you to Myanmar, ensure that you make a trip to Sharky’s. You will be amazed too. But what will warm you, wont just be the quality and delectableness of the food you eat but understandably the passion and pride in what has been achieved.
In meeting these two very different but unique individuals, in two completely parts of the world, what I found so enlightening was that through their shared example, sustainable tourism is not about doing what looks good today, it is about doing good for tomorrow regardless of who is looking today. Thank you gentlemen for keeping it real. In doing so, you are leaving a true legacy.