Responsible tourism in Italy

Responsible tourism in Italy seems to have an increasingly solid underpinning, even if red tape sometimes makes progress slow. Popular tourist areas are making genuine attempts to reduce carbon emissions through energy conservation, recycling and cutting waste and pollution. A scheme in the Dolomites, for example, has seen only cable cars and methane-powered buses allowed as daytime transport, while hotels vie for green credibility and food comes as “zero km” as possible. The preservation of regional culture, meanwhile, is proudly promoted via geographic denomination of traditional produce, boosting agriturismo and encouraging local crafts. Efforts are also being made to draw visitors away from crowded destinations such as Tuscany to lesser-known areas to both reduce infrastructure strain and spread economic benefits more widely. Progress may be as leisurely as a proper long Italian lunch, but Italy seems genuinely keen to sustain its rich character for the long-term.

People & culture

Slow Food

Italy is a country where historic cities and towns probably provide the major tourist draw, rather than its distinctive array of national parks and other areas of natural wonder, from the wolf-roamed Apennine hills to Sardinia's untamed interior. Years of austerity have also increasingly drawn people towards urban centres in search of scarce work opportunities. The preservation of rural communities is therefore a pressing need as small-scale farming, country crafts and other rural activities become increasingly difficult to earn a living from. This is where sustainable tourism plays an increasing role in providing vital economic support and demonstrating continuing interest in rural lifestyles that offers communities and individuals encouragement that this is a good way forward.

Its Slow Food movement has drawn international attention to Italy as a place where food is still linked closely to its terroir – the land it springs from and the people who produce it – and culinary tours of Italy tap into that passion. Agrotourism farmstay breaks are also enjoying a welcome expansion from their previous heartland of Tuscany into neighbouring Umbria and further afield to places like Calabria and Sardinia. Holidays that give visitors a chance to actively engage with locals and traditional lifestyles – from craftsfolk to fishermen – also provide vital support, helping preserve rural landscape, traditions and communities – a vital and thoroughly enjoyable way for tourists to help pay for the Italian landscapes and ways of life they love.
What you can do
Responsible Travel breaks specifically set out to support sustainable tourism in Italy, from culture to cooking – and there are plenty of different types of trip and locations to choose from. When you're in Italy, spend money in rural communities – buy local produce, eat in village restaurants, stay in rural accommodation owned by your hosts and employing local people.

Wildlife & environment


A 2013 report from Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) revealed that all of Italy's five dolphinaria - Rimini, Oltremare, Acquario di Genova, Fasanolandia and Zoomarine – keep captive dolphins in conditions that violate national and European laws – specifically, the European Zoos Directive (1999/22/EC) and Italy’s Ministerial Decree No.469, both of which aim to protect whales and dolphins in captivity. Only two of the dolphinaria even have a license – the others are technically illegal, as well as morally abhorrent. Animal protection organisations including the Born Free Foundation, LAV and Marevivo have asked the EU to begin proceedings against the Italian government. Here at RT, we strongly believe such dolphinaria are wrong. Please see our guide to responsible dolphin watching.
Instead, go see dolphins – and whales – in their natural environment. The Ligurian Sea, in particular, has one of the highest concentrations of whales and dolphins in the entire Mediterranean, coexisting with an array of other marine fauna. Visitors can now help with research that has been carried out since 1990 investigating lifestyle of – and pressures on - the various species of dolphins and whales living in the Pelagos Sanctuary, a protected marine area extending about 90,000km2 between Italy and Sardinia. Research focuses on the giant fin whale plus sperm whales, Risso’s dolphins, striped dolphins and bottlenose dolphins.

Source: Born Free Foundation

What you can do:
Do not give any business to dolphinaria, and try to dissuade others from going too. Support organisations trying to improve the welfare of dolphins both in the wild and captivity, such as WDC and the Born Free Foundation. And if you love dolphins, consider holidays that involve responsible engagement with these fascinating sea creatures.

Responsible tourism tips

Tap water is safe to drink in Italy. Bring refillable bottles and reduce your waste. If visiting churches or convents, dress respectfully – no beachwear and not too much flesh on display. Familiarise yourself with the rules for different parks or protected areas. You may be expected to stick to the main trails, wild camping may not be allowed at all or only following certain guidelines, and bathing in rivers or lakes is not always permitted. These rules are there to preserve the biodiversity and the natural beauty – please obey them! Eat in smaller restaurants, and avoid places where the menus come with pictures of the food – it's not a good sign... Find places where the locals go and follow them! Buy local food and drink produce whenever possible – look for denominations like DOP on products, as they indicate it is good quality and locally produced.
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: Rostislav Glinsky] [Dolphinaria: Dave59]