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Top 5 Sustainable Tourism Destinations 2017

The United Nations has designated 2017 as the Year of Sustainable Tourism. The world is a big place with some stunningly beautiful, culturally amazing places full of responsible travel potential. so where to go? Here are my Top 5 Sustainable Travel Destinations for 2017.


Could we be any more in love with Canada?

Since electing centre-left PM Justin Trudeau, the land of the maple leaf has been hitting feel good targets all over 2016. Trudeau is young (for a PM), a ‘feminist’, sensitive to refugee and indigenous issues and what’s more, he can rock a pink shirt at a gay pride event.

On the environmental front, this resources heavy country is making inroads on its CO2 emissions by phasing out coal plants and increasing renewable tech.

Pushing up Canada's sustainable tourism credentials, four regions made the 2016 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations list including the Great Bear Rainforest in British Colombia – home to the Kermode “spirit” bear. The area is also home to the coastal First Nations people who are working to preserve their ancient culture and environment.

Canada is a big land with vast differences in nature and culture. From the cod fishing coastal villages of Newfoundland through the cobbled streets of French Canadian Quebec, across the prairies and Rockies and into the icy Inside Passage it’s unique heritage, indigenous culture and amazing nature will keep you exploring all year. And with 2017 marking 150 years of federation there will also be plenty to celebrate.


Finland just keeps getting happier. Having made the top 5 happiest nations in 2016 we think Finns will reach peak happiness in 2017 as the country marks 100 years of independence. And there will be a year long calendar of cultural celebration and activities just to make sure.

2017 is also shaping up well for Finland’s arctic wildlife with increasing numbers in lynx, bears, wolves, foxes and fish stocks.

If that isn’t enough, in celebration of 100 years of independence Finland will be adding another national park to its bounty. The 11,000 hectare Hossa, in the Kainuu region of eastern Finland, was chosen for its positive impact on the local economy and its significance in the country’s independence history.

Finland is one of 4 European Arctic nations home to the indigenous Sami people. They have a rich cultural heritage and close connection to the land. Beyond the traditional reindeer herding, there’s a whole range of Sami music and arts festivals on the agenda to get involved in.

The magic of the northern lights and midnight sun, the saunas and sledding make Finland an epic journey into the Arctic. So while there’s loads to do in the quirky harbourside city of Helsinki, pack a pair sturdy boots and a sense of adventure and head into the wilderness.


Environmental and cultural diversity is at the warm heart of Malaysia. People are open and friendly and the country has far less of a ‘tourist’ vibe to it than its Asian neighbours.

Chinese New Year celebrations in Penang are not to be missed. The streets are infectious with festivities that go on every other night for a 2 full weeks. While in the evenings streets swarm with people, food, performance and fireworks, the days are more laid back. The UNESCO listed city of Georgetown is full of fabulous art, architecture and cafes, all within a bus ride of some stunning beaches.

For Borneo, I recommend the less visited Sarawak. It's absolutely geared towards the independent traveler who wants an authentic, local, bush experience without being on the treadmill of Sabah safaris. Forage for forest food, live in longhouses, hike through the jungle with hand-drawn maps. It's easy to get off the beaten track. Oh and expect locals to veer your way with an extended handshake and a grin. "Salamat Pangi".

2017 marks 100 years of Palm Oil production in Malaysia. That's not exactly something to celebrate, but it should make us think about the importance of sustainable development and what it means. Ideally, we'd like to see wilderness remain untouched by human impact, but this isn't always a reality, especially for developing nations.

Malaysia is taking steps to manage conservation and economics by pioneering a mixed-use approach in sustainable development. In 2016 Malaysia established the 1 million hectare marine park Tun Mustapha Park in consultation with WWF, Sabah Parks and the local fishing communities. Inland, the Corridor of Life Project is continuing to help wildlife negotiate palm plantations along the Kinabatangan River.

Orangutan at Semenggoh Nature Reserve, Sarawak Malaysia


Oman is a stunning jewel of the Middle East. From the endless desert sands of Wahiba to cosmopolitan Muscat with its large expat population the country has an incredible coast line, fine weather and outstanding UNESCO heritage.

Oman is friendly, welcoming, cosmopolitan and safe. Not only is crime rare, even rude or offensive behaviour can be illegal. There are strong dress and cultural codes in Oman that visitors are advised to respect and which give an insight into a truly different culture.

The Omani government has identified tourism as a potential industry to diversify their oil based economy. It's still early days, however tourism contribution to employment and GDP is growing. One of the exciting things about tourism in Oman is they have an opportunity to build sustainable tourism incentives early on. With the economy to do so and the experiences of other nations to draw on I hope it's going to be a winner.

Sur, Oman. Image Credit: Andries Oudshoorn/Wikimedia Commons


Can you shoot an animal in Botswana? Only with your camera.

Many conservationists are thrilled that Botswana recently banned trophy hunting on public land – one of the only nations in the region to do so. There are some who argue that sport hunting brings in more tourist dollars to cash strapped communities than eco-friendly wildlife watching. Others argue the trickle down effect was always minimal. What’s not debatable is that the more people who go to watch wildlife and choose tours and activities that directly and positively affect the local communities, the less reason there is for trophy hunting, poaching or unhealthy agriculture practices. If you are against trophy hunting, you can support Botswana’s ban by going there.

And why wouldn't you go? A staggering one fifth of Botswana is wildlife reserve. These large tracts of wilderness and a fairly impressive conservation record result in stunning wildlife experiences. The Chobe Makgadikgadi & Okavango Delta Selinda Reserve made the 2016s Top 100 Sustainable Destinations list. It’s actually 5 parks with amazing biodiversity and the largest and most stable elephant population in Africa.

What isn't to like: Exploiting the San Bushman people's traditional lifestyle for tourism marketing while denying those same people their rights to that lifestyle is pretty low. Survival International is leading a campaign to entirely boycott Botswana as a tourist destination because of this issue. You can read their view here and an alternative Responsible Travel view on total country boycotts here. Discrimination, eviction and exploitation of minorities is rife across the world. I always recommend people to get informed and to avoid activities and tours that exploit others. If you decide to boycott Botswana completely and go to neighbouring Namibia, be aware it’s not completely rosy for the San there either.

Botswana. Image Credit seashwill/pixabay

How did I come up with the list?

Of course these aren't the only places to go where folk are working hard at making tourism sustainable through eco friendly and ethical travel initiatives. But after much research looking at travel initiatives, animal and human rights records, environmental rankings, happiness indicators and 2017 festivities or anniversaries I chose 5 I thought should be on your travel radar for 2017.



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