Like other major economic sectors, tourism has evolved drastically over the centuries. Gone are the days when the only way to explore the world was to pack your best buds and your scraps of a map in a sail boat, with a chance of never coming home again. Even until a 100 years ago, travel meant taking a fleet of horse drawn carriages for a few days, to visit your great aunt living at another kingdom.
It is only in the 20th century that tourism became such as integral part of our lives. Now, we board transcontinental flights and visit a few different countries within a week. The thought about a “vacation” brightens up our perspectives and opens up endless possibilities. We travel to take a break from the monotony of life, to learn about cultures, see places we have only read about, to run away, to discover ourselves or just have fun.
While most people still travel the traditional way i.e. stay in a hotel, eat at recommend restaurants, visit popular tourist attractions, and bring back souvenirs, the travel landscape is continuously evolving. There are many unique forms of tourism that people are slowly warming up to as they begin to realize that one can explore a destination in more than one way.
Volunteer Vacations are becoming increasing popular, especially with residents of US, UK, Canada and Australia. This is based on the concept that you experience the local culture by giving back to the community for a few hours each day, while also indulging in sightseeing activities. Most agencies specializing in volunteer vacationing provide you accommodation, meals, local transportation, a placement site to work at and some cultural experiences. Typical volunteer vacations are 1-2 weeks long. After volunteering in Russia, Morocco and Nepal, I personally find volunteer vacationing to be economical, safe and a enriching form of travel. Read Volunteering in Nepal.
Sustainable Tourism or responsible tourism means you minimize your environmental impact while helping economies to grow. You may visit cities, parks or remote places, but take special care to ensure you don’t cause more damage to these areas after your visit. Sustainable tourism also includes social responsibility, meaning improving the well bring of the people and conserving cultural heritage. Many hotels, restaurants and airlines advertise the measures they take to ensure environment protection in order to attract tourists of a certain mindset. Read Sustainable webs across continents and World’s first four sustainable tourism destinations.
Eco Tourism focuses on visiting natural habitats without disturbing their delicate balance. Such tours take you to jungles, islands, mountains, etc. Generally, the eco tours are smaller groups and only a limited number of visitors are allowed each year. Tourists may want to learn about how people live in the Amazon Rainforest, see the diverse fauna and flora at the Galapagos, or witness the magnificent Inca creations at Machu Picchu. Sometimes embarking on an eco tour can mean staying at lodges that have no electricity or running water, so it is not appealing to everyday travelers. Read Heart of lightness.
Geo Tourism takes you a step beyond environmentally friendly ecotourism. It’s focus is on benefiting the local population. When destinations highlight the things that make them special, it not only draws more tourists, it also helps the local community appreciate its own uniqueness. That, in turn, motivates them to preserve the cultural or natural resources that keep tourists coming. It gives people a sense of pride in who they are and what they do, also creates jobs that employ local people and income for local business owners. The tours offer visit to small farms, businesses, villages and cultural sites.
Culinary Getaways are a fun way to explore the food of a destination. Many visitors to New York City embark on Manhattan’s Chelsea Market tour, sampling the city’s rich ethnic and historic food culture. Practically every city in US now offers walking food tours. Even cruises offer movable feasts featuring world renowned chefs, demonstrations, wine tastings and multiple course dinners. Most tourists cite that they have taken a food tour, enrolled in a cooking class, toured a winery or participated in culinary activities as part of a vacation. Many people believe that if they have tasted the food they have gotten closer to a particular culture.
The common theme across all these different kinds of travel plans is that they encourage people to learn about the authentic culture of the destinations. By engaging with locals, giving back to the communities and respecting their land, travelers can create a sense of awareness within themselves and back at their homes. When you firsthand experience how people live, what they eat at their homes, what traditions they follow and how they sustain themselves, you get a better perspective about the foreign land. It also opens doors for mutual dialogue and understanding, which could ultimately lead to global peace and harmony.
The International Week of Cultural and Environmental Fondazione Florens‘ 2012 deals with the theme “From Grand Tour to the Global Tour”, prepared by a Directorate of Cultural renowned teachers of the University of Florence, Turin and Rome La Sapienza who are developing the content of the research.
To enhance global learning on this effort, please add a comment about your experience with alternative tourism and cultural explorations below.