One of travel’s most significant but least talked about issues is a phenomenon called tourism leakage. As part of our series on fundamental sustainable tourism concepts, we spoke to Nikki Padilla, a Guide Trainer and Advocate from the Global Guide Alliance. She provides insight on how travelers like you can learn to recognize what tourism leakage looks like and how you can do your part to avoid it. As travel lovers, we must lead the way towards sustainable travel as the new normal. By traveling sustainably you help preserve destinations and provide benefit to local communities, instead of the resource depletion and the environmental harm and harm to communities that occurs with mainstream travel.


What is tourism leakage and how does it show up in real life?

Nikki Padilla: "Tourism leaking means you, as a tourist, are taking up local resources (water, electricity, food) and causing other negative effects like a rise in apartment rental costs or overcrowding in the main areas, and yet, the local community isn't getting the benefits of your presence, the money."

Where does tourism leakage occur?

NP: "It happens around the world, but it's certainly worse in developing countries. But that's also related to the fact that in many developing countries, travel is a huge driver of jobs, on top of the fact that Western Europe takes in a huge percentage of Global Tourism. So it's difficult to compare."

When did this start

NP: "I would LOVE to know the answer to this question! My guess is it would have been worse before, but there isn't much research on it that I know of."

According to research from as early as the 1970s, travelers default to the comfortable and familiar, investing money into hotel brands from back home and foods that are recognizable.

Why should we, as travelers, care?

NP: "If you look at it selfishly, as a traveler, you should still want to prevent tourism leakage because too many negative effects without money coming in to benefit the local communities mean that place will not be able to exist as it is much longer."


Go local!

NP: "The number one thing you can do is to make as much effort as you can to buy local.

To take it to an extreme degree, you could:

  • book with an airline based in the country you're visiting,

  • make sure you stay in a hotel that is locally owned (and employs locals with a fair wage)

  • book your tours & activities through a locally owned tour operator (who employs local guides)

On a much easier level, you can simply commit to buying locally while you're already in the destination, researching locally-owned restaurants or bars ahead of time . Or you can look up locally produced goods so that, instead of bringing home that scarf or magnet as a souvenir, you can bring home amber from Krakow, or a woven basket from Mallorca."


NP: “Another trick is to use ‘minority-owned’ or ‘Queer-owned’ or ‘female-owned’ when Googling, instead of ‘local owned.’ Those searches will pull up more niche or local results. I always check the Feminist Travel Guides that Unearth Women produce before I head on a trip."

Ask Locals

NP: "It is important to be aware of 'Green Washing' (or, in this case, 'Authentic Washing'). ‘Local’ and ‘authentic’ are trendy right now, so you'll have to do your research to truly find local spots where you know your money is going directly into the local economy.

The best way to do this is to ask a local (you can find a local easily through global travel Facebook Groups like:

  • Impact Travel Alliance

  • Wanderful

  • Girls Love Travel

  • The Nomadness Tribe”

Choosing a sustainable tour company like ExplorEquity is also a way to ensure that money benefits the local economy. Look for a company’s values and ask them questions about their partners and who they work with. ExplorEquity only works with locally-owned businesses for its travel experiences, encompassing all aspects of the trip from lodging and transport, to experience providers. In sustainable tourism, there are going to be companies that co-opt the language and do not actually have good practices in place. Do your research and ask for transparency before you make a decision!

Becoming a responsible traveler means holding yourself accountable for the impact of your travel and trying to have more positive impact than negative. Being aware of tourism leakage is an important first step. We hope that you decide to take action and avoid contributing to tourism leakage in your future travels. By doing additional research and outreach when planning a trip, you can help keep money and resources within a local economy while creating memories of a lifetime. Are you already taking action?

If you have any suggestions on ways to create a positive impact and less economic leakage while traveling, please let us know by commenting on this blog post.

To connect with Nikki Padilla, visit her website or Global Guide Alliance.

Now more than ever, travelers are recognizing that the vacations they take impact the locations they visit. Ecotourism has been popularized as a solution to minimizing environmental impacts of travel while still creating a memorable trip for the tourist. Sustainable tourism takes this initiative several steps further as it also creates opportunities for local businesses and economies. So which one is the better option for your next vacation? Here we discuss the differences between the two types of tourism and how your next trip can be one that helps in more ways than imagined.

What is ecotourism and what are its benefits?

Ecotourism is a type of travel that is rising in popularity, directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, intended to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife, according to the Oxford Dictionary. This type of travel is meant to minimize the ecological impact, while still visiting natural habitats. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests. The benefits of traveling in such a way include preserving the environment, as there is much less mining and agricultural destruction. Tourists want to see the beauty of the nature and corresponding wildlife, so there is an emphasis on practicing conservation. Additionally, locals gain employment to help these tourists by running wildlife or game parks, preparing food, and running lodging.

How does sustainable tourism go beyond ecotourism and its benefits? Why should you do this over ecotourism?

Sustainable tourism is a way of travel that offers a unique and amazing experience to the traveler and connects people, while also protecting our best assets: our nature, our culture, our communities, our history, and our planet (World Travel & Tourism Council). Sustainable tourism goes beyond ecotourism because it focuses on more than just protecting the environment. This holistic approach is important because it means that your impact as a travel is overall a more positive one.

Kelley Louise, the founder of the Impact Travel Alliance, has shared powerful words on what sustainable tourism means: “In its simplest definition, sustainable tourism is just travel that has a positive impact on the environment, culture, and economy of a destination. When most people think about sustainability, their knee-jerk reaction is to connect it with voluntourism or ecotourism, but it’s really important we shift this mindset.”

Sustainable traveling benefits a multitude of areas. These benefits include the encouragement of the preservation of environment and natural wildlife, the support of local economies and cultures by creating jobs for locals and supplementing normal incomes, heightened awareness of social justice issues, and a mutual understanding between both the traveler and the local.

How does ExplorEquity fit in?

We are a sustainable travel company that works exclusively with locally-owned businesses. Additionally, we do in-depth research to decide who to partner with and consider sustainability in our decision-making. For example, sometimes small family-run hotels don’t have great environmental sustainability practices. We would still partner with them because we prioritize the human aspect of sustainability and would choose to work with a locally-owned hotel over a foreign-owned hotel that may have environmental sustainability practices in place. Ideally, we would aim to partner with locally-owned businesses that are also environmentally sustainable. And we’re committed to providing feedback to partners encouraging them to develop improved environmental sustainability practices, while also spreading awareness of sustainable tourism through our digital platforms.

Our Last Words

Ultimately, a place is more than just its natural environment. By deciding to engage in sustainable tourism, you can go beyond helping just nature, but also helping locals, their businesses, and their economies to succeed. You don’t walk away empty-handed- you gain a better understanding of a people’s culture and country, You can develop more authentic connections with locals, based on a more ethical exchange found in typical tourism. As we all look ahead to the future of travel, we hope all of you will ensure it is more sustainable and supportive to the destinations we are excited to visit. Let’s all continue to spread the word about sustainable tourism and its powerful impacts!


Travel has always been an exciting way to escape the monotony of life. In the movies and on television, we often watch stories unfold in countries and locations far away from our own. The characters seem to walk through nearly empty streets, visit charming restaurants, and share life-changing moments with others in front of historic buildings and postcard versions of tourist attractions. We make our own travel plans hoping for the same: an emptiness or serenity that allows us to fully appreciate the beauty of the location. But when we arrive at a destination, often times our experience is completely different than what we saw in the movies or on television.Travelers like you might be both surprised and dismayed to find that these “perfect” destinations are bustling with traffic, global business chains, and swarms of other tourists. While this situation is inconvenient for us as travelers, we have the ability to leave and head back to our own homes; meanwhile, locals are stuck in an endless cycle of tourists, crowdedness, and little recourse of their own. Welcome to a destination plagued by overtourism.

So what is overtourism? Overtourism is, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, “the impact of tourism on a destination, or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and/or quality of visitors experiences in a negative way.” This situation, most often misconstrued as only occurring in large cities, can also impact smaller towns where tourism is a fundamental staple of the economy, such as a cruise ship destination or port. Reports from around the world describe the canals of Venice as having cloudy water due to the amount of boat traffic caused by tourists. If you want to take a scenic photo of the ruins at Machu Picchu, you will find tourists everywhere and extremely limited time for visiting the ruins due to overcrowding.

While all of these detract from the experience of the visitor, many locals within these cities find their home’s resources depleted in multiple ways. An economy based primarily on tourism means jobs for locals will consist of lower pay and fewer opportunities within the job market. A phenomenon called tourism leakage also takes place as large global brands establish their foothold in these areas, meaning that over 93% of the money generated within a popular tourist site will leave the local community and benefit only global corporations. As tourists spend money in a destination, prices for most products, including rent and housing, inflate making it that much more difficult for locals to purchase what they need on a regular basis.

As prices rise, locals still need to find ways to make up for this new cost of living. This can further accelerate the negative impact of overtourism. Land is sold as global businesses build more hotels and other accommodations for the influx of tourists. As construction increases, animals’ habitats and food sources diminish as properties lay their foundations where vegetation used to be found. Resources taken from the shrinking forests and jungles are used to supply the growing populations (both local and tourist). Former markets and locations frequented by locals are now overrun with tourists. Meanwhile, rural residents find that they need to venture into the city to make any money and witness the slow decay of a place that will not benefit as much as the cities that tourists flock to.

The data can be overwhelmingly depressing but politicians, scientists, business owners and travel enthusiasts alike are working together to create a world in which the conditions for overtourism are reduced and more people can benefit from the tourism industry. The primary ways that this change is occurring is through ecotourism and sustainable tourism. Ecotourism and sustainable tourism promote the growth and care of natural habitats, animal populations, and economies while helping prevent leakage of incoming tourist money. They also help to create environments where locals can value nature and its preservation because that, in and of itself, is an experience a tourist will pay for.

Ecotourism and sustainable tourism practices have already been implemented in many destinations. Here are some examples.. Venice has begun charging an entrance fee of $3.42 USD for daytime visitors to help make sure the city receives an economic benefit from the high tourism rates. Paris no longer allows tour buses into the city but advises individuals to walk, bike, or carpool. Kenyan safaris use the money generated from sales of tickets to prevent poaching and aid in conservation. Amsterdam instituted a program called “Marry an Amsterdammer” which partners visitors with a local who, for a day, will “marry” them at the airport before taking them on a journey around Amsterdam’s local businesses and sights for the “honeymoon.” Each of these locations faces a different set of issues caused by overtourism and are using ecotourism and sustainable tourism practices to make positive changes.

Individual travelers can also participate in sustainable tourism and travel more responsibly. Here are some of the ways to implement these practices in your own travels:

  • Travel to less populous areas. The Incan peoples lived in Machu Picchu but they also created several smaller cities, like Choquequirao and the Sacred Valley, in the surrounding countryside. Besides getting a more perfect shot for your scrapbook, you will have an equally memorable experience without contributing to the deterioration of a cityscape created centuries ago.

  • Travel out of season. Locals rely on income year-round (not just during summer or the “convenient” travel seasons). By traveling out of season, you will find fewer crowds when sightseeing while also providing income to locals and preventing the overuse of resources whether natural or man-made. For example, the Grand Canyon can receive 1.5 million visitors during the summer and less than 250,000 during winter months.

  • Consider options besides globally-branded hotels and lodging. Locals’ living costs are directly correlated with independently-contracted bed and breakfasts or franchised hotels: the more global brands move in, the higher rent and the cost of living become. By staying in local, family-run hotels and lodging, money is kept in the community without driving up the cost of living.

  • Patronize family-owned and locally-owned businesses. This will provide additional income to individuals first-hand while you enjoy an authentic product or experience.

  • Purchase fair-trade or sustainable products. Whether home or abroad, this is probably the easiest technique to introduce to life now. Fair-trade ensures that all individuals participating in the production of a product are paid fair and equally as opposed to providing a cheap product at the cost of an employee’s living conditions. When purchasing souvenirs, look for ones that are locally-made rather than imported.

ExplorEquity organizes travel experiences that highlight less-traveled destinations to create an authentic experience connecting travelers to local communities. Honduras, Belem and the Para State in Brazil, and Las Marias in Puerto Rico are just a few of the locations that ExplorEquity has visited or is currently planning trips for. While these locations may not be well-known, each of them provides a unique experience that is valuable and memorable for anyone visiting.

Overtourism benefits no one and seriously harms local economies, peoples, and nature. By instituting one of the many practices of sustainable tourism, we as travelers are able to create a more memorable experience for ourselves while contributing to a sustainable economic, natural, and local environment for the people that live there. Do you currently travel responsibly? If not, how do you plan to travel more responsibly in the future? Share in the comments!