An Alternative Travel Guide To Vietnam & Mexico in Light of Climate Change
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Did you know that tourism accounts for 5% of the world’s carbon emissions? Some experts pitch it at a whopping 10%.
Climate change is no longer a projection of the future but a reality of the present. The days of merely planning the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of travel are long gone: we need to consciously pursue low-carbon, responsible travel if we wish to save the planet.
The tourism industry itself faces significant risk from climate change, and it is greatest in countries with the highest tourism growth projections. While the effects of climate change will be felt worldwide sooner or later, developing countries will be the first ones to face the consequences.
Quilt.AI’s Climate Change Analysis Tool explores these geographical skews across 3500 cities in 144 countries. It showcases people’s online search behavior and public data pertaining to climate change vulnerability and related socio-economic risks.
The magnitude of these risks will also be determined by the choices we make today.
Extreme weather conditions, low water levels and droughts, high air pollution levels, increasing plastic waste, and carbon footprint are just some ways in which climate change and tourism are interconnected. Low-carbon holidays and responsible tourism, encompass more than just reducing air travel. Sustainable tourism initiatives, renewable energy innovations like solar-powered accommodation and electric vehicles, road travel over frequent flights, less single-use plastic, zero-waste cooking, water conservation efforts, and slow travel need to be encouraged and made viable- such that they become the ‘default’ option. Equally important is exploring lesser-known places, instead of flocking to over-crowded tourist hotspots, particularly in countries that are more vulnerable to climate change.
This week’s virtual travel blog is slightly different from our usual ‘36-hours’ format. We take you to three tourism-heavy countries through a two-part blog series: Vietnam and Mexico this week and Japan next week. For each country, we will give tips and insights on how to be a responsible traveler, visiting alternative places and experiencing amazing cultures and people with less of a carbon footprint!
Vietnam has seen steady growth in tourism over the last few years. 14 million travelers visited the country in 2018. This has brought employment opportunities and economic development, but also increases in beach pollution, over-crowded destinations, a high carbon footprint, and pressure on natural resources.
Quilt.AI’s Climate Change Analysis Tool indicates that Vietnam is highly vulnerable to climate change. The country faces high climate variability (that is, increasing temperatures, frequency of floods and droughts, and rising sea level), as well as socio-economic risks (that is, GDP, land use, food security, livelihoods, and inequalities). In spite of this, a large number of people in cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Da Nang deny the existence of the climate crisis.
One way to reduce the effects of climate change is for visitors to travel more responsibly and consciously, weighing the impact of their travels on the places they’re visiting.
For example, Ha Long Bay hosts thousands of tourists every year. As a result, the water is contaminated, and accidents are common due to the increasing demand met by poor-quality supply. Further, the Vietnamese government has banned fishing and implemented several restrictions to minimize environmental damage and overcrowding in fragile areas, resulting in the fishing communities losing their homes and jobs.
Therefore, instead of heading to Ha Long Bay, visit Lan Ha Bay with the same waters and cliffs minus the crowds!
Similarly, skip the Insta-famous hill station of Sa Pa and head over to beautiful greenery in Mai Chu. Instead of overcrowding the picturesque Ancient City of Hoi An, visit the ancient town of Hue, taking you back in history!
If you’re keen to explore the enormous limestone karsts and caves, visit Van Long Nature Reserve instead of Tam Coc, both of which are located in the Ninh Binh region.
Other parts of South East Asia may be better known for their beaches, but the southern shores of Vietnam, such as the Con Dao islands, are equally delightful with pristine sandy beaches and excellent scuba diving spots.
If you’re more of the adventurous kind, do a bike ride through the Ho Chi Minh Trail traversing through remote villages and oyster farms. The Hai Van pass that falls on this route was featured on Top Gear and offers unparalleled views of the scenery.
On the other hand, Kon Tum is ideal for a cultural immersion of sorts, allowing you to interact with the hill tribes and giving you a glimpse into age-old traditions.
Another top tourist destination in the world- Mexico- welcomes almost 20 million visitors each year. It has numerous popular, overcrowded, overrated tourist hubs, but also offers a host of offbeat, quirky experiences that are not known to most tourists.
The underwater sculpture park at Museo Subacuático de Arte is one such place. Located off the Cancún coast and meant to replicate and replenish coral beds, it has more than 400 sculptures that are accessible by scuba diving or snorkeling!
Mexico has a unique relationship with death. The National Museum of Death in Aguascalientes makes for an interesting visit, as do the Day of the Dead traditions to welcome back the dead to the living world. At the Pomuch Cemetery in Campeche, the buried bodies are dug-out after three years, and the bones are cleaned and displayed in the graveyard. Mexico also has a pet cemetery in Tulum known as San Actún, containing a diverse collection of animals from domestic cats to extinct camels!
Just like Vietnam, Mexico has alternative options for each of its overcrowded destinations. Instead of Mexico City, you can explore Guadalajara for the urban experience (think electric nightlife, fine dining, but with small-town Mexican charm).
For vitamin-sea, skip Tulum, Isla Mujeres, Cancún, and Playa del Carmen. Visit Isla Holbox to experience the ultimate Caribbean island life, or Balandra, one of the least-visited pristine beaches with crystal clear water.
Las Pozas Sculpture Park in San Luis Potosí is another breathtaking destination. Showcasing a surrealist masterpiece nestled deep in the jungles, it is one of the best open-air art installations we have seen!
Mexico has low to medium climate change vulnerability, though different areas fare differently on our index, based on the climate variability and associated socio-economic risks of that particular region.
The local people’s attitudes towards climate change range from activists to climate change deniers, reflecting Mexico’s diversity. If you’re curious about country-specific perspectives and behavior around climate change, read our recent blog on climate change narratives in the United Kingdom.
Given Mexico’s rich biodiversity, eco-tourism initiatives and conservation efforts are an urgent necessity.
Imagining a “New Normal” for Travel
Selecting which places to visit is an essential component of responsible travel, especially when it comes to popular tourist destinations. However, it is only one of many factors. Responsible travel also entails visiting fewer places at a time, spending longer durations at each location, living in eco-friendly accommodation, using low-carbon transport, avoiding plastic, eating local food, hiring responsible tourism companies, and respecting the local people and environment.
Most importantly, we, as responsible travelers, need to start talking about climate change and the impact of our travel habits on the environment.
Travel restrictions caused by the pandemic have resulted in lower carbon emissions worldwide. Photographs and videos of famous tourist places looking deserted and serene during country-wide lockdowns have gone viral- giving us a glimpse of what nature and public places look like without human disturbance.
Countries are slowly opening up in many parts of the world and are keen to promote local tourism to revive the travel industry. There’s no better time to alter our habits and reimagine the way we travel, such that when global travel resumes, the ‘new normal’ is respectful and protective of the very planet that we wish to explore!
Explore our Climate Change Analysis Tool for more insights.