The past year has been the kind of year that most of us could never have imagined. For many people, traveling is currently not an option and the thought of being cooped up in our homes for extended periods can be daunting for the ones longing for adventure and wanting to fulfill their wanderlust.
Why not use this time in isolation to watch some documentaries that will not only keep your travel spirit alive but will also inspire you to explore the world more responsibly once life returns to normality and travel becomes possible again?
I’ve selected five amazing sustainable tourism documentaries that teach us important lessons on why we should try to minimize our footprint and make a positive impact on the destinations we visit. These movies deal with highly important issues in the travel industry such as the impact of mass tourism, gentrification, environmental damage, and loss of identity, and present ideas on how to avoid contributing to these problems.
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5 sustainable travel documentaries you should watch
1. Crowded Out: The Story of Overtourism
As the name suggests, this eye-opening documentary explores the topic of overtourism and its impact on vacation hotspots such as Venice, Barcelona, and the island of Gili Trawangan in Indonesia.
Through a series of interviews with the residents of these destinations, the movie illustrates the damaging effects that an increasing number of visitors can have on culture, infrastructure and the quality of life for locals. It also outlines six factors that are contributing to the exponential growth in the tourism industry: ultra-cheap flights, insincere travel writing, cruise lines, holiday apartments, changing demographics and ‘honeypot’ sites that everyone wants to visit at the same time.
You can watch Crowded Out on YouTube.
(P.S. In order to show how tourism actually can work to benefit both local communities and travelers, the same producers also released a short movie called On Our Terms: Responsible Tourism in the Maasai Mara.)
Vendemmia tells the story of the idyllic Cinque Terre, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Perched on top of rocky cliffs on the country’s western coast, the five small villages that make up Cinque Terre used to be quiet and underdeveloped places but now receive millions of tourists annually. As the number of visitors continues to climb, Cinque Terre is confronted with the question of how to maintain its authenticity in the face of overwhelming tourism.
With beautiful visuals of the region’s vineyards, pastel-colored houses and rugged coastline, this tourism documentary does a great job at presenting Cinque Terre’s efforts to strike a balance between sustainable tourism, environmental conservation, economic development and preservation of old traditions.
You can watch Vendemmia on Prime Video or on vendemmiamovie.vhx.tv.
3. 2.5% – The Osa Peninsula
Containing 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity, Costa Rica’s rainforest-covered Osa Peninsula is the most biologically intense place on Earth according to National Geographic.
Besides showcasing the incredible wildlife of the Osa Peninsula, this documentary examines the potential consequences of the planned construction of an international airport in the region. While this kind of project would create more economic opportunities for the local communities, who currently are among the poorest in the country, it would also threaten to destroy the fragile rainforest.
The travel documentary explores how fostering rural community tourism could be the answer to the Osa Peninsula’s problems. Not only can this new tourism model enable the locals to earn a living but it can also help the region preserve its pristine nature and promote itself as an eco-conscious and sustainable travel destination.
You can watch 2.5% – The Osa Peninsula on Lokal Travel.
4. Gringo Trails
With captivating footage of the Bolivian salt flats, the tropical islands in Thailand, deserts of Mali and the mountains of Bhutan, Gringo Trails examines the long-term effect of tourism on communities, their culture and the environment.
Through fascinating stories from both locals and travelers, this travel documentary illustrates how the international backpacker scene can alter some of the world’s most remote areas. One of the most dramatic examples of this is the Haad Rin beach in Thailand which used to be a place untouched by tourists but is now home to the world-famous Full Moon Parties – regularly occurring beach raves involving lots of UV paint and thousands of drunk foreigners.
The film also presents examples of more sustainable travel alternatives, such as community-based ecotourism initiatives in Bolivia and the unconventional tourism policy of Bhutan.
You can watch Gringo Trails on Prime Video or on Vimeo.
5. Bye Bye Barcelona
This travel documentary looks at the challenges that Barcelona and its residents face due to the enormous and ever-growing number of international tourists the city receives.
As the streets are constantly flooded with foreign visitors, the most popular neighborhoods in the city are losing their authenticity, properties are turned into tourist flats and real estate prices are soaring. Since Barcelona is also one of Europe’s top destinations for bachelor and bachelorette parties, drunk crowds occupying the streets are a real concern for those living in affected areas. Residents complain that life for locals is becoming intolerable and the city is turning into a theme park for the sole enjoyment of tourists.
Bye Bye Barcelona challenges the idea that tourism is a win-win business and highlights the need for destinations to carefully consider how they market themselves, which kind of visitors they attract, and how they can promote sustainable travel.
You can watch Bye Bye Barcelona on YouTube.
Sustainable travel documentaries: final thoughts
Even though some of these travel documentaries paint a pretty bleak picture of the tourism industry and mainly consider the negative impacts, I don’t believe that the answer to these problems is to stop traveling.
Travel enriches our lives in so many ways and can also greatly benefit local communities if it’s done in a responsible, sustainable and conscious manner.
Once the global pandemic is over and countries open their borders again, keep exploring, but don’t be the type of tourist depicted in these movies. Take that trip, but make wiser choices about the places you visit, when you visit them, the accommodations you stay in, and the activities you engage in (I’m looking at you, cruise tourists!).
Do you know any other documentaries on the topic of sustainable travel? Let me know in the comments!
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Thank you so much for this! Now’s the best time to watch this! I agree that tourism also has its pros (and some countries depend on it), but I hope there will be more initiatives to support sustainable tourism!
You are welcome! Exactly, there are so many countries that desperately need the money that tourists bring in to the country so stopping travelling wouldn’t be the solution but it needs to be done in the right way 🙂
It’s great to use this time to reflect on how we can travel “better” and in a sustainable way for those places! Thanks for sharing this list!
100% agree! 🙂 Let’s all try to travel a bit ‘better’ once the current crisis is over!
Super relevant content and great ideas to keep bookmarked!
Thank you Rania!
Great article. Now is probably the best time to consider how we travel and the effect that we have on the various countries we visit as well as the environment.
Totally agree! It’s a great opportunity to learn about how to travel more sustainably and then put this knowledge into practice when the corona crisis is over and we can travel again 🙂
Thanks for sharing these sustainable travel documentaries! We recently wrote a list on sustainable documentaries on Netflix and enjoyed watching those. Glad we’ve got a few more documentaries that we can now watch during lockdown!
Hi Vivien! You are very welcome, I hope you’ll enjoy watching them 🙂 . I have actually read your post about the documentaries on Netflix and loved it!