Picture this: you’ve booked an unbelievably cheap flight to a country in the tropics, with multiple layovers; you’re participating in a packaged deal on a cruise ship where you stop at multiple towns, disembarking en masse for 8 hours and then departing; you are backpacking through a continent, staying in one place each night, doing a whirlwind budget tour. What do these all have in common? They continue to perpetuate a concept called climate debt.

This concept was first developed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, where 197 parties participated in the discussion regarding the perpetual worsening of the world’s climate. The climate debt concept states that wealthy countries and companies should be held accountable for their long-term exploitation (Oxfam 2020).

What’s different about this type of debt? Because it’s based on a systemic problem rather than a financial problem, it flips the script on who are the debtors and who are the ones that are owed. This theory operates on the idea that poorer, marginalized countries of the “Global South” are the ones that are owed to by the richer developed, industrialized nations of the “Global North.” Marginalized countries are also typically the ones that bear the weight of budget travel. An influx of citizens from Global North countries descend upon the Global South each year, taking up resources and leaving behind deep scars in tourist-heavy areas. What’s owed to these developing countries is not for their individual gains, but rather for the benefit of humankind and the planet (El Transnational Institute 2010).

The Global South has a myriad of reasons why they are owed from the Global North. According to the Head of Climate Policy at Oxfam, 10% of the richest, most developed countries in the world are responsible for more than 50% of the carbon emissions added into our atmosphere between the years of 1990 to 2015. The results of those emissions disproportionately affect the Global South. For example, the increase in the global temperature of 1°C has resulted in catastrophic cyclones in India and Bangladesh, ruined crops from locust swarms all across the continent of Africa, and incomparable heatwaves and deadly wildfires in Australia.

So how can this debt be paid? Theoretically, the climate debt structure focuses on three main elements: adaptation debt, emissions debt, and reorganization.

Adaptation debt pushes for the developed nations of the world, who are responsible for the majority of climate change to provide compensation to the developing countries that are unequally the victims. According to Dissent Magazine, “compensation would cover not only reparations for the damage already done but also the costs of absorbing and combating impacts in the future,” meaning that both the past and the future deserve to be paid back.

Emissions debt refers to the idea that most of the atmosphere’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases has been depleted by the Global North, leaving no space for the developing nations of the world to advance. In today’s world, the Global South is being told to limit their economic growth to be more climate-friendly. This debt would be repaid in the form of developed nations severely cutting their emissions to allow for others to grow.

The final piece of the puzzle lies with the mitigation debt. This debt focuses on the extreme cost of a complete reorganization of societies to produce far fewer greenhouse gases. For developing countries to achieve this level of reorganization, almost every industry would need to be altered. This includes agriculture, global trade, transportation, city development, and many other facets of human life (El Transnational Institute 2010). Every aspect mentioned has a relationship with the travel industry.

We, as travelers, play a huge role in the perpetuation of this climate debt by choosing to travel in an unsustainable way. This type of tourism includes taking multiple flights to reach a destination, city-hopping day-to-day, and not operating under a “leave no trace” policy. Participating in this kind of “fast travel” negatively affects developing nations where it is more prevalent.

So how do we travel more sustainably to help mitigate this harm? Trying your best to take as few flights as possible can drastically reduce your carbon footprint. If you can, purchasing carbon offsets can be even more helpful. Additionally, supporting locally owned and operated businesses directly benefit the people that live in the areas you travel. While traveling, it is important to adopt a slow travel mindset. According to the Independent Traveler, where this concept was first discussed, this type of mindset states that “rather than attempting to squeeze as many sights or cities as possible into each trip, the slow traveler takes the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture.” Finally, acting under “leave no trace” is an excellent way to live and travel. The basic premise is that wherever you go, you leave nothing behind but your footsteps.

Our planet is a magical wondrous place filled with both natural beauty and amazing achievements built by humans. Taking the time to travel in a way that both benefits the Earth and the people in more developing countries can help begin to pay off the climate debt owed.

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!