Mongolia - Giving something back

Giving something back

Responsible tourism

In Mongolia, responsible tourism seeks to maintain a delicate balance between the modernisation of lifestyle and suppressing change. It claims to ‘tread lightly’ and will not take the blame for large-scale environmental impact from social and economic development. You can do your part by striving to be a responsible tourist and leave a small eco-footprint. 

Golden stupa, Erdene Zuu Monastery, Mongolia by Hons084, WikipediaMongolia is aiming to maintain the delicate balance between the emergence of tourism in the country and the protection of its cultural heritage; pictured: the Golden Stupa at Erdene Zuu Monastery in Kharkhorin © Hons084, Wikipedia

A ‘green’ approach to tourism addresses the growing awareness of the responsibilities that tourism carries. There is a huge expectation of what the industry can do – from identification and data gathering, involving volunteer tourists or ecotourists, to running hotels that are sympathetic to the natural environment in their recycling and staff education programmes. 

One of Mongolia’s goals is to build a sustainable society.

Around the world there are tour companies and tour operators working together to establish a number of core principles. The hard work has been done and Mongolia is in a fortunate position to put into practice much of this received wisdom so that it will have a positive effect and help to preserve the country’s tourist sites, wilderness areas and rare, wild species. 

According to the World Tourism Organisation, less than 10% of all tourist dollars make it into the hands of local communities. Part of tourism today is to educate travellers on how they can play a part in responsible tourism. It is vital to modern tourism that some benefits are retained for the local people. By 2020 it is predicted that annual international tourists will reach 1.6 billion. The opportunity is there to shape this industry in an innovative way, yet seldom is it properly used with constructive purpose. The UK’s Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) has launched a worldwide tourist campaign to increase awareness of these problems. 

A VSO report confirms that all it requires is a little effort and imagination on the part of every tour operator to provide the advice already offered by some. For example, you might ask:

Can we dispose of our rubbish safely?
• Are the wells (drinking water) safe in this area?
• Do local people own, manage and benefit from tourism?
• What are the threatened species in this area? And why?

One of Mongolia’s goals is to build a sustainable society. Sustainable development means ensuring that the economy and society of Mongolia reach their fullest potential within a well-protected environment, without compromising the quality of that environment for the enjoyment of future generations and the wider international community. 

The move to sustainable development is a long-term and evolutionary process. Ideally, sustainable agriculture, for example, provides high-quality food from a high-quality, well-managed environment, while securing an acceptable quality of life for the rural community – which in practice is difficult to evaluate and sustain. Mongolian agricultural issues affected by political change in the past 25 years have led to increased livestock production and overgrazing – with significant rises in the number of sheep and goats, especially around towns. This has caused soil erosion in many regions.

Other ongoing issues include waste management, the effects of modern litter and environmental damage from mining activities. Water is an all-important resource. A simple question that tourists often ask is whether or not the drinking water is safe. Since this is not the case everywhere tourists may wish to buy bottled water, or purify their drinking supplies. 

Mongolia is very new to any type of eco-auditing (as are most countries) and has few means to measure progress towards sustainability. The question of how to put sustainable development into practice has been surveyed by the United Nations Environmental Programme and a full report may be found on its website (

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