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Do you promise to tread lightly and protect the places you love to visit? Be a green traveller by taking a tourism pledge.

An underwater image of a turtle off Lady Elliott Island, Australia
  • Sarah Reid
  • March 2020

So, you’re never caught without your reusable tote and your own water bottle. But have you really got it covered when it comes to travelling sustainably?

With overtourism becoming such a global concern that the English Oxford Dictionary made the term its 2018 word of the year, tourism bodies are recognising the need not only to increase awareness about how to travel more responsibly, but also engaging travellers to become proactive participants in the process.

An increasing number of destinations are creating region-specific guidelines called tourism pledges that encourage travellers to be respectful and mindful of the local environment and culture and, consequently, make a positive contribution to the destination.

According to a survey conducted by AIG Travel, 52 per cent of global travellers believe sustainable travel is important, but one in three do not know where to start. Clearly, the trend is speaking to the current zeitgeist.

A smiling woman working on a laptop
It doesn't take a lot of effort to take a tourism pledge - most of them are online.

It all started with the Palau Pledge. The Pacific island nation (reached via Manila, Seoul or Taipei) now requires visitors to sign a passport stamp promising to act in an ecologically responsible way to be granted entry. Other tourism pledges are less formal, with destinations simply prompting travellers to voluntarily abide by guidelines usually listed on their websites.

In New Zealand, tiaki means “to care for people and place” in te reo Maori and visitors are now asked to take the Tiaki Promise, pledging to be good stewards for New Zealand’s environment, respect the culture and take the necessary safety precautions during their stay.

On Maria Island in Tasmania, known for its wildlife and just 45 minutes by ferry from the east coast town of Triabunna, visitors are asked to help keep its wildlife wild by vowing not to chase animals with selfie sticks or get too close to their babies.

2 people observing a wombat from a safe distance
In Tasmania's Maria Island, visitors are discouraged from getting too close to the wildlife.

And Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, the only resort on a coral cay at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, asks guests to help protect the ecosystem, which provides a sanctuary for over 1200 marine life species, by pledging to take sustainable actions such as refraining from collecting seashells.

Apart from inspiring legions of travellers, the pledge concept is also motivating the industry. For example, in Phuket, a collective of hotels and tour operators have joined forces to reduce, reuse and recycle single-use plastics, encouraging their customers to follow suit.

“Since launching New Zealand’s Tiaki Promise in 2018, we’ve seen a groundswell of support from operators across the country, from the introduction of grassroots recycling initiatives to new sustainability programs,” says Andrew Waddel, Tourism New Zealand’s General Manager in Australia.

2 hikers looking out over view at Mt Roy, New Zealand
The Tiaki Promise helps preserve New Zealand's pristine natural environment.

And some 81 travel companies, including adventure travel specialists Exodus Travels, have taken the ‘Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency’ pledge, which is working to reduce the environmental footprint of the tourism industry, with Exodus aiming to halve their carbon footprint per client within the next decade.

So, like these initiatives, give back to your next holiday destination as much as you get from it, by taking a tourism pledge before you visit.

Want to travel greener? Here's how to be a zero-waste traveller.