by Steven Garcia, founder of Empire Tours and Productions
As someone who’s been in the thick of it, I’ve witnessed the rise of global tourism firsthand. The appeal of discovering new cultures and gorgeous landscapes has never been stronger, yet, like most things, tourism has its shadows – challenges that aren’t as visible in the captivating pictures shared with friends or family.
The world is a vast and beautiful place, but our footprints have left some permanent stains. The tourism industry’s dark side has long been looming underneath the surface, with ecological degradation as the most alarming guest that often accompanies the tourist influx into delicate ecosystems.
The cultural fabric, too, can fray under the sheer number of visitors, with traditional ways of life bowing to the demands of commercialization. Our love for exploration also strains local infrastructures, overwhelming them beyond their capabilities.
But as conscientious citizens and as industry experts, we bear the responsibility to tackle these issues head-on and find solutions that will mitigate the negative impacts of tourism. With my enterprise, Empire Tours and Productions, this is precisely what I aim to accomplish.
Now more than ever, as we witness millions of species dying out, the oceans flooded with plastic waste and global temperatures rising, it’s critical we allow the environment’s needs and its survival to take center stage.
Through Empire Tours, my team and I have embarked on many initiatives with a focus on preserving local history and natural beauty while considerably reducing our carbon footprint.
As a history buff, I have always been especially excited about Gangsters and Ghosts as it not only allows visitors to connect with the city more intimately and retrace the steps of Chicago’s infamous figures like Al Capone, but it has also hugely contributed to our eco-conscious efforts.
More precisely, since it’s a walking tour, it reduces the strain on infrastructure, and by moving away from vehicular transport, it allows us to cut carbon emissions at an incredible level. In fact, combined with other walking tours, such as New York’s Gangsters and Ghosts, we have been able to eliminate over 5,000 hours of bus emissions a year, and the goal is to triple that amount.
The Chicago electric boat tours have played an equally critical part in minimizing our ecological footprint. These tours not only provide a serene voyage for the visitors but with zero emissions into the air and water, they decrease noise pollution and maintain the impeccable condition of cities’ lakes and rivers. As a result, we can protect the natural habitat of marine life.
But it wasn’t enough for us to only focus on the urban areas. Owing to a partnership with Airbnb, my team and I have made significant efforts to curb the negative impacts of tourism on our natural landscapes through our glamping cabins in Wisconsin and Ohio, made from 100-year-old reclaimed forest firewood we sourced in California.
These cabins truly demonstrate the power of repurposed materials, and I believe they hold the key to driving sustainable accommodation to new levels.
Looking over the things we’ve accomplished so far and the work yet to be done, one thing I can confidently say is that it’s high time to move beyond awareness to action. Both businesses and travelers have their role to play in shaping a more sustainable future for tourism.
For companies, there are several practical steps that can be taken. First, investing in renewable energy for operations is a tangible way to reduce the environmental impact. Solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy sources can significantly cut down on a company’s carbon emissions.
Collaborating with local communities is another crucial step. By working closely with the people who call these tourist destinations home, companies can ensure tourism benefits everyone involved. Something we’ve done at Empire Tours in Chicago and New York, for example, is partnering up with 16 local electricity-run restaurants in order to support their sustainability strides.
For travelers, there are many ways to travel sustainably. Choosing eco-friendly accommodations and tours is a great start. These options prioritize environmental conservation and often contribute to local economies in ways that are actually meaningful. Traveling during off-peak times can also lessen the strain on popular destinations.
After all, tourism doesn’t have to be destructive. It can be a force for positive change, fostering appreciation for our planet and its diverse inhabitants.
As world citizens, if we collectively put in the effort, then I’m confident we can genuinely make a difference. Sustainability shouldn’t be a trend or a buzzword but an imperative for all in order to guarantee that the generations to come can enjoy the beauty and the glamour of the places that we have spent so much time admiring.
Steven Garcia, the founder of Empire Tours and Productions, is a prominent advocate for sustainable travel. His company offers luxury, eco-conscious travel experiences in major U.S. cities such as Chicago, New York City, New Orleans, and Charleston and is expanding globally to London, Amsterdam, and Berlin.