Sustainable Living

Sustainable Tourism: Is it an Oxymoron?

One of my favourite words, a word which instantly takes me back to my English GCSE studies, is oxymoron. We make oxymorons by combining contradictory words: icy hot, deafening silence, honest politician… But how does this term relate to sustainable tourism? Can’t tourism and sustainability work together?

Let’s take an imaginary scenario. I have decided to travel abroad, but want to ensure that my trip is done “sustainably”. After much googling – and plenty of map referencing, given the far-flung countries that crop up – I decide upon Costa Rica. With its unspoilt rainforest and fiercely-protected wildlife, it would appear to tick all the sustainable boxes. Even better, it is soon to become the world’s first carbon-neutral country. My carbon footprint, on the other hand, is far from neutral.

And herein lies the problem. Sustainable tourism is, by its very nature, an oxymoron. Our everyday carbon footprint pales in comparison to that generated by air travel. Flying to Central America to cycle through nature reserves is not, by any definition, sustainable. So what is the imaginary me – the one with the finances for such a trip – to do? Should I change my plans and, in so doing, stay true to my sustainable goals? Or should I brush my reservations under the carpet and do the trip anyway?

Perhaps counterintuitively – and here, each to their own – I might opt for the latter. Sustainable tourism is, above all, a flight of the mind. It is about learning new practices and seeking to adopt or adapt them to our own lives. It is a journey to be continued once home, as we seek to promote the cause of sustainability wherever possible. Sustainable tourism need not be an oxymoron.


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  • I beg to differ. Multiply you and the justification for proceeding forward with travel plans despite sustainability concerns by all the people with the same working justifications and we continue business as usual , whether concerned or not, flying hither and yon with no care for ramifications of the accumulation of emissions into the atmosphere caused by our constant trekking. Better would be to decide honestly how many trips and to where it’s really gonna take before you get it, this how to learn new practices and adapt or adopt them to our lives. It’s all there, we know how to do it. If you need instructions, they’re online. But that sure isn’t as much fun as the ubiquitous travel that the industry loves to promote and have travel writers support.

  • So let me check I’ve understood. You write about environmental issues and you genuinely believe in promoting environmentally friendly practices. You get that sustainable tourism is an oxymoron. You recognise that carbon emissions from flying are massive, environmentally unfriendly, and one of the biggest contributors to climate catastrophe. But you would still hop on a long haul flight just for a bit of inspiration. Do as I say, not as I do, right?