Slow tourism is an emerging tourism trend, which serves as an antidote to some of the negative aspects of mass tourism. At the same time, slow tourism places a strong emphasis on sustainability, engagement with local culture, and fully appreciating travel experiences. Here, you can find out more about slow tourism, including how it is defined, its growing importance, and the ways it can be beneficial, complete with examples.

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What is Slow Tourism?

Slow tourism is an approach to tourism, which is presented as an alternative to mass tourism. It forms part of the wider sustainable tourism movement and can be seen as the tourism industry equivalent of the ‘slow food’ movement, which emphasises the enjoyment of local food and traditional recipes over fast food and mass consumption.

With this in mind, slow travel places an emphasis on discovering the culture, history and characteristics of the local area, rather than creating an itinerary and attempting to cram in as many different travel experiences as possible. In addition to emphasising meaningful and authentic engagement with a travel destination, slow tourism also promotes concern about the local environment and sustainability in general.

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What is the Difference Between Slow Tourism and Eco-Tourism?

With both slow tourism and eco-tourism placing a strong focus on sustainability within the tourism industry, it can be difficult to understand how the two concepts differ. Nevertheless, while slow travel can be an example of eco-tourism, it is also a distinct concept of its own, with unique defining traits or characteristics.

Despite the sustainability focus of slow tourism, this is really a by-product more than a fundamental feature. In essence, slow tourism is primarily characterised by tourists prioritising fewer, more meaningful experiences and focusing their activities in the local area, as opposed to focusing on commercial experiences and trying to squeeze as many activities into their trip as possible. There will also usually be less focus on schedules and itineraries.

By contrast, eco-tourism is a form of tourism that promotes responsible travel to natural areas, with an emphasis on supporting local people and businesses, enriching the local area, and limiting the damage caused by the tourism industry.

Why is Slow Tourism Important?

Slow tourism is one of the emerging tourism trends that could help to make the tourism industry more sustainable and viable in the years to come. It provides a more environmentally friendly means of enjoying travel experiences, without being overtly sold to customers as a form of eco-tourism.

For travellers, slow travel provides many benefits too, including increased engagement with the locations being visited, more opportunities for self-reflection, and more time to enjoy travel experiences and take things in properly. In many ways, slow travel can be viewed as a potential antidote to some of the negative traits of mass tourism.

What Are the Benefits of Slow Tourism?

Aside from offering a different way for tourists to enjoy their travel experiences, there are two main areas where slow tourism can be beneficial to tourist destinations and to the people who live in the local area.

Environmental Benefits

Many of the problems associated with mass tourism are centred around environmental concerns. For example, an influx of tourists to an area is inevitably going to cause issues in terms of waste and the use of natural resources. Of course, the build-up of cars and services provided by the airline industry also creates pollution.

Slow tourism aims to reduce travellers’ carbon footprint by slowing down the entire experience. This could mean a tourist uses train services to make their way to the destination, rather than relying on the speed of planes. It also means spending more time enjoying each activity, which can reduce carbon emissions associated with local travel.

Cultural Benefits

A fundamental part of the slow tourism concept involves slowing down and enjoying an area for what it has to offer. This can bring about a number of significant cultural benefits for the region, because it means local businesses are not designed to cater for tourists looking for constant stimulation, and it helps to avoid situations where a location becomes known primarily as a tourist destination, rather than a location where people live.

In addition, slow travel can help to avoid situations where a location becomes overrun with cars, entertainment venues, and other offerings. This helps to avoid rapid cultural shifts, especially in smaller towns and cities.

5 Examples of Slow Tourism

Now that you have an understanding of what slow tourism is, how it works, what it is aiming to achieve, and the way it benefits travellers and local communities, it is worth exploring some examples of slow tourism in action. Below, you can learn about some of the main types of slow travel being enjoyed by travellers around the world.

1. Religious Tourism

Religious tourism occurs when travellers visit a specific location for reasons associated with spirituality. Many of the world’s religions place an emphasis on the idea of ‘pilgrimage’, where travellers go on a spiritual journey to a place that holds meaning, and this can be seen as an example of slow travel. However, religious sightseeing would be another example of religious tourism, and this is focused on seeing artefacts, monuments, and buildings of significance.

2. Backpacking

Backpacking is a form of travel that is usually characterised by long stays, reliance on public transport and low-cost accommodation, and only taking possessions that can be carried in a backpack. It fits in well with the concept of slow tourism because backpacking is often based on adventure, self-discovery, and meaningful experiences.

3. Hiking Trips

Hiking trips are a type of slow tourism, based on the enjoyment of long walks in natural environments. Hiking will typically focus on established hiking routes or trails, which allow tourists to experience areas of natural beauty. Some popular hiking routes also have cultural or historical significance.

4. Culinary Tourism

As the name suggests, culinary tourism is a form of slow tourism, which is based on the consumption of enjoyable food. Generally, this will involve visiting locations and sampling the offerings of multiple restaurants over the duration of a stay, with an emphasis on authentic and traditional foods, prepared using local ingredients.

5. Cycling Trips

Cycling trips can also be an example of slow tourism, because they are often focused on the experience associated with cycling, and they are significantly more sustainable than trips based on driving. Travellers may cycle to their destination, or rent a bicycle while they are there. Cycling trips may involve travelling to different locations on a bike, or they may involve riding along well-known cycle paths or participating in cycling meet-ups.

What Are Some Popular Slow Tourism Destinations?

Although slow tourism can occur when people visit a huge range of different locations, there are some destinations that are especially popular with tourists looking to explore this approach.

South-East Asia

South-East Asia is an especially popular slow travel destination, and the hospitality industry in many countries in the region can provide authentic experiences for travellers who wish to take their time and fully engage with their destinations. In particular, countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are good options.

Some travellers opt to go backpacking across the region, staying in cheap accommodation and utilising public transport, including buses and boats to make their way around. Others opt for longer stays in a single location, taking in the culture of the area and exploring temples, ruins, and other places of historic or cultural interest.

Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, is a great option for those with an interest in slow tourism and hiking. It refers to a network of standard routes taken by pilgrims, with this network ultimately leading to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral and World Heritage Site in Galicia, Spain.

The Way of St. James has been a popular pilgrimage route for Catholics since the 9th century. The network of routes can be accessed from almost all Western European countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria and Switzerland, offering tourists great options in terms of their planned route.

Continental Divide Trail

The Continental Divide Trail is a popular slow tourism trail for backpackers, hikers, cyclists, and other travellers wishing to explore the United States. The trail itself extends from the border with Canada in the north of the United States, all the way to down to the border with Mexico in the south of the country.

Some tourists travelling along the trail opt to ride on horseback for some of the ways, while there are many other cultural experiences to be enjoyed. The route spans 3,028 miles, or 4,873 km, providing a great challenge.

Mongolia

Mongolia is another option that is becoming increasingly popular with those who have an interest in slow travel experiences. The country offers a combination of natural beauty, wildlife, and places of historic interest.

While staying in the country, some tourists also opt to visit the Dukha people, or Tsaatans, who live a nomadic lifestyle in the north of the country. The community is especially well-known for the practice of herding reindeer and visits to the region can provide tourists with a once in a lifetime chance to engage with a different way of life.

Links Between Slow Tourism and Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism is a practice where the environmental, social and economic impacts of tourism in a particular region are explored and steps are taken to minimise this impact, in order to make travel more sustainable. This links very clearly with the idea of slow tourism, and indeed it be seen as a form of sustainable tourism.

To learn more about sustainable tourism, the different types of sustainable tourism that exist, and the advantages of this approach, check out the “Sustainable Tourism Guide: What is, Why Important, Examples and More…” post.

The Relationship with Eco-Tourism

Eco-tourism is a specific form of sustainable travel, which is focused on tourism to places of natural beauty, with a focus on ecological conservation and protecting the natural environment. Again, this ties in well with the concept of slow travel, which aims to promote sustainability and meaningful engagement with destinations.

You can learn more about eco-tourism and gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between this and slow tourism by reading the “Ecotourism: What it is, Advantages & Disadvantages, Examples & More“ article.

Sustainable Tourism Development

Sustainable tourism development can be understood as the process of developing the tourism industry in a particular region that is viable, sustainable, and delivers long-term social and economic benefits for people in that location. Promoting slow tourism experiences can assist with this by ensuring a region attracts the right demographics.

If you would like to know more about sustainable tourism development and if you would like to build an understanding of how it can connect with slow tourism, read the “Benefits of Sustainable Tourism Development” post.

Slow tourism emphasises sustainable travel, fulfilling travel experiences, and an awareness of some of the negative aspects associated with mass tourism. It is increasingly important in a world that is facing up to the threat of climate change, as well as the challenges associated with preserving cultures, traditions, and communities.

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