Grounds for a Sustainable Tourism

By Diana Maria Zilioli, Founder & Director of Glasgow Based Destination Management Company Stilla Finest Scotland Ltd., Member and Supporter of Slow Food UK and Scotland

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When I was invited to write this piece, my mind went straight to my granny and her relentless habit to recycle coffee grounds and to place them in her plot and pots, to help drainage and protect the plants from parasites whilst providing them with useful nutrients.  

Growing up in Venice, a massively important tourist destination set on a very fragile ecosystem, I developed a keen interest in sustainability, ending up specialising in Soil Science and its suitability to different uses, including tourism.  

As my knowledge grew, I discovered that soil, by many known just as “dirt,” is a very slow renewable resource, that can take thousands, if not millions, of years to develop into the fertile resource that we all need to survive.  Soil is the driving force behind the decomposition of the organic matter so massively important to store Carbon and to release precious plant nutrients. In fact, many basic human needs depend on soil, from our food and clothes to our drinking water and the creatures who live in it.   

When I moved to Scotland and decided to become a Tourist Guide it was really upsetting to see how mass tourism, experienced growing up in Venice, was increasingly impacting Scotland, a country that owes so much to its landscape and, consequently, to its soils. If you visit some of the most iconic Scottish places during low season, you’ll see what I mean. A post-apocalyptic scenario awaits you in many of our beauty spots.  Mud, dead grass and water washing away precious particles of soil left unprotected because of the rivers of people walking everywhere for months, causing destruction of the vegetation and intense erosion.  

Once a particle of soil is washed away it’s gone forever and, on our planet, not only does soil evolve very slowly, it’s also very limited. That’s when I decided that I wanted to make it better, designing tours to divert people from the most delicate touristic spots and to spread them across the year, when possible.  All the while, trying to invite visitors to spend their money on local businesses and communities that really care for their homeland and resources, recognising how important it is to preserve the environment on which their livelihoods depend.  

Can tourism be sustainable? This is a question that nobody can answer yet, but it can be more sustainable, while striving to produce considerably less waste. It’s a challenge that I embrace, focusing on the promotion of businesses that are keen to make their visitors discover a slow and better way to travel. More and more of our clients spend their nights in accommodation that recycle as much as they can, use renewable resources, source local food and offset their Carbon emissions. And they love to tell everyone about it, making it a selling point that calls on like-minded people to leave behind no trace in the places they visit. They say live by example: what easier way is there to start, than by repurposing leftover coffee grounds into something better for our planet.