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Explore Advancing Sustainable Tourism Through Tour Guides

Updated: Apr 9

I believe tour guides & travel professionals not only have a role in promoting sustainable tourism, I think they have an obligation to support & be highly aware of the sustainability objectives & programs of the destination where they work. Our visitors, on Galveston Island Texas, often suffer from what we politely call “vacation amnesia”. What we mostly see is travelers who may be keenly aware of environmental issues & objectives at home & in their local communities and they come on vacation and lose sight of those objectives in their chosen destination. It isn’t generally malicious, they are just thinking about enjoying their vacation & having fun, not where to put trash or what could be recycled. We have to be the ones to remind them sometimes, because after all, this is our home too, not just our workplace.

I believe it is especially critical since many of the destinations that draw visitors, are in environments where the eco-system is very fragile, like here on Galveston Island. We have sensitive turtle nesting areas, critical bird and water foul nesting and key migration routes and highly diverse wetlands. These are things that tour guides & travel professionals have to highlight for visitors, we are vested in maintaining the environment in our home and our workplace.

As a resident of Galveston Island and someone who makes their living, in part, off the healthy and diverse eco-system, we have to be the frontline of communicating the message to visitors. Galveston Island has a great program to educate folks in the local travel/tourism industry, called the Certified Tourist Ambassador program. One of the key elements of the CTA program is communicating the critical elements of the sustainability goals of Galveston Island to our visitors.

One of the things we do, and instruct our tour guides to do, is fill the space between tour stops with things visitors can do to help maintain the sustainability goals of our Island. We also tell our guides to point out things as simple as not taking glass onto the beach and reminding visitors to make sure trash gets into trash receptacles and why that is so critical. With most of our employees being residents of the Island, they are best suited to make it personal for our guests. We find if you have someone talking from their heart, about personal experiences & personal impacts, it connects with visitors.

When you make it personal and speak to them with passion about your home, most visitors not only comply, they become advocates themselves.

Here on Galveston Island we have lots of constant reminders about the impacts of the environment on our Island home. They come by way of the paint marks on the exterior walls of buildings, showing the water level of different hurricanes and storms that have impacted Galveston, starting with the Great Storm of 1900 up through Ike in 2008. These offer perfect cues for our guides to speak about the environment and its impact on Galveston and how almost every resident has become and fast expert on coastal resilience, because we have to. As we tour on the Seawall, besides talking about how and why it was created and the grade raising after the 1900 storm, it also offers the opportunity to talk about using trash receptacles and the beach toy lending boxes we have at all our public beach access points.

Honestly it can be as simple as not offering any glass bottles in our drink coolers, everything is in aluminum cans and bottles. We shy away from single use water bottles and encourage guests to bring a reusable water bottle with them on tours. We also encourage customers to leave their trash with us when they buy boogie boards or beach toys in our gift shop. We also rent beach toys and boogie boards, to cutdown on the amount of trash that might be thrown away. We also constantly stress the pack it in - pack it out mentality for our more local visitors.

Most guests want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, so frequent & gentle reminders is all it takes to get folks onboard.

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