Updated: 7th January 2016
This website uses affiliate links which may earn a commission for purchases made at no additional cost to you.
Eco, sustainable, respectful, green… Responsible tourism comes with a whole host of hashtags these days, but what does it actually mean and, more importantly, how do we make it actually happen?
What is responsible Tourism?
For me, it can be broken down into three parts like any trip.
Is your hotel government-owned in a country where funds need to hit local pockets? Are you booking a tour with an operator that exploits animals or doesn’t invest in local guides? Should you be buying a refillable water bottle to take with you? How much of the money for your volunteer experience gets where it needs to be?
These are all questions I ask myself before even booking anything in the country I am heading to. The more knowledge we have on a destination, the culture and economical and political stance of a country the more empowered we are to behave in the way we want when we arrive. Travel is not a right but a privilege, and simply when we are ‘a guest in someones country’ we need to ensure that our tourist dollar is not going to cause damage after we are gone.
Read up, check local news, get beyond the out of date guidebook and hunt down the answers before you arrive. Most people will just see Dubai as a rich oasis without questioning how it was built or be so keen to see the fisherman of Inle they have no idea about politics in Myanmar. Be informed, be responsible.
When you arrive, get local. Whether it is shopping in smaller stores, eating in a restaurant that isn’t in the guidebook or just taking the time to interact with locals spread the tourist dollar around. In developing countries I always make sure to learn about the local cultures by talking to those who know them best. Sometimes the best gift you can give is your time.
Responsible tourism is often only talked about in under developed countries but it has a place all around the world. Take Switzerland, one of the wealthiest countries around and known for its natural beauty. We have a responsibility to protect nature and the environment as well and that extends to wildlife, such as taking abused Elephants rides or partaking in shows that cause animals long-term damage.
Volunteering and supporting local communities also comes into play and this is where real thought has to come in. Sadly, many places abuse your goodwill and can go as far as orphanages making children an orphan simply to keep your money coming through the door. It is tragic but true, a Zoo with no animals won’t get visitors in the same way an orphanage with no kids will not either. Research is the key and that is going beyond what bucket-list sights to tick off. Giving money to children can also lead to a lack of education and long-term begging, buying food can sometimes be a better way to balance this.
Education is the key to ensuring tourism has a positive effect. When I was young and naive I rode Elephants in Thailand, but now I know the tragic reality behind that I will tell my friends and make sure they know as well. Don’t just share the amazing parts of a trip with those close to you, but share the realities as well so we can all be more informed as we explore the world. Even my Nan loves to share her experiences!
Then learn, it is easy to forget about the world outside our own doorstep when we get back from a trip but remembering what impact you had abroad can easily transition to keeping your home place a cleaner, better version of itself.
Essentially: If you are doing something that will cause short or long-term harm, making a person or an animal do something they shouldn’t naturally do or having no respect to the environment around you are you being Responsible? Forget the word tourism and focus on the first part.
But what does the rest of the blogging world have to say?
Megan of Bobo and Chichi
Megan shares my same passion for animal conservation and urges any one who is planning to interact with wildlife on their travels to make sure they research before committing to this money making industry which does not always have a heart.
“If you’re looking for a responsible way to hang out with elephants during your trip to SouthEast Asia then you can check out the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri, Cambodia. The elephants brought to this reserve are rehabilitated elephants either from elephant riding or logging.”
Jen of The Social Girl Traveler
Some people think that responsible tourism is about volunteering. I believe its much more than that. Responsible tourism is about having respect for the country you’re traveling to or in. What does that mean? It means to respect the countries social, economical, environmental and cultural values. I also do think that a part of it has to do with ‘giving back’. I am not a fan of volunteering unless you’re teaching a local from that country how to sustainably live. I don’t believe in just in building homes for the poor.
“I believe in teaching them how to build homes so they can grow social, economically, environmentally, and culturally.”
It’s our duty as a traveler/tourist in a new country to respect it. Giving back to the culture or society. Whether it’s creating friendships with locals or going to a local market and purchasing local products made from locals. Maintaining the beauty of a culture and society is something to valuable. If we only traveled just for luxury we would never learn how to truly live in another culture and experience real traveling. To see more of the good Jen does on her travels check out her blog, The Social Girl Traveler.
Liesbeth of Lili’s Travel Plans
For me, responsible travel is about opening your heart instead of just your eyes. About not only looking for beauty but finding reality instead and trying to have a positive impact. It’s when people become more important than places, when experiences have greater value than possessions. When the interactions with the people whose path crosses ours change us for the better and make a difference, even if it’s just a little one. It’s when you start looking at the people behind the tourist trap, when doing things slowly – or even standing still – doesn’t feel like a waste of time anymore but translates into life lessons.
“Responsible travel starts where categorizing ends.”
We’re all so busy putting ourselves and others in boxes and trying to be ‘real travelers’ that we forget what it’s really about. I mean, seriously, is it the size of your backpack or the number of drunk people vomiting in the bunk bed next to yours that determines whether you’re doing it right? Is it doing everything in your power to make sure people understand you’re a ‘real traveler’, not a tourist? I don’t give a shit if people think I’m a ‘real traveler’, I aim to be a responsible one in my own way. That’s when it has a positive impact on the people I meet, that’s what humbles me and makes me realize I have more to learn from people who have ‘nothing’ than what I can teach them. That’s how travel makes me become a better version of myself and enriches me more than anything else ever could. Check out Lilis blog or find her on Facebook.
Sarah of Xam Julliarde
Last September, I was given the opportunity to travel to Bali on an all expenses paid trip by Grab Taxi. It was honestly one of the most fulfilling trips I’ve been on. The Balinese have inspired me in so many ways. Their strong will to success, passion in everything that they do, and their unconditional love for their family and their country are of those things that I find very admirable about them. I remember while we were on our way to the Barong Dance, I saw an old man by the river holding a waste bag in his hand. I asked Wayan, our driver, “What is he doing?” Wayan gave me the biggest smile that day, “Ah he is taking out the trash from the river Miss Sarah.” And well, I couldn’t blame the man for grinning so wide. I couldn’t help but smile too.
“One of the best lessons we could teach the future generation is to travel responsibly”
You see, if this old man could save his country, in his own little ways, from falling into these vicious traps, I bet you could too. Every time you are tempted to spit on the road or throw your coca cola cans anywhere but not in the garbage, please think of this old man and think of how the future may look like if you continue doing these kinds of acts. Why do you travel to these places? If your answer to that is to enjoy, then take good care of them. One of the best lessons we could teach the future generation is to travel responsibly and to think ahead of how we could contribute to the sustainability of these places that we love going to. Check out more stories from her Blog and throw Sarah Zonio a vote on the Global Degree TV Presenter competition.
Cora of The Path she Took
There’s only one word that’s needed to define my vision of responsible travel: LOVE.
For me, there’s no difference between a tree, an elephant, a spider and a human, they’re all breathing, living things, and they all deserve to be loved. It’s not always easy because it’s natural to care more about the things you know than those that are far away and different from you.
“I make it my business to try to understand every thing everywhere”
How an ecosystem functions, how a village works, how an animal hides from predators. That curiosity morphs into understanding, then empathy, and then love. And once you love something, it’s so easy to want to protect it! From this point on, there’s no question in my mind that I’m not going to ride a slave elephant, walk off the trail, eat meat, or take an hour-long shower, when I know how these actions of mine could hurt something that I love! For more love, follow Cora over at The Path she Took.
Nikita of Life in Transience
I wouldn’t have seen the rainforest without Fausto, not as deeply as I did. He worked as a guide at the ecological reserve I was volunteering at, and he was practically born with rubber boots on his feet and a machete in his hands. He knew the name of every plant, every bird around us, even the ones that were hiding. He taught me what fruit was edible in case I ever craved a snack. When he was thirsty, he drank water from the stream using a goblet quickly fashioned out of a leaf. No matter how far we strayed, he always knew where we were. He had a profound love and respect for the land that shone through in all his act. It was inspiring.
“Be the type of guest people would want to welcome back.”
In the rainforest, Fausto was home, and seeing it through his eyes helped shape my perspective of responsible travel. Every space, no matter how exotic it may be to us, is home to some form of life, be it human, animal or plant. As travellers, we have the immense privilege of being welcomed into someone’s home, and the least we can do is show it some respect. Wherever you go, think of the impact you’ll make while you’re there as well as when you leave. Treat the Earth and its inhabitants with respect in all of your actions. Don’t be rude or disrespectful, and don’t make a mess. Be the type of guest people would want to welcome back. Find Nikita over on Facebook or follow along on her Blog for more incredible stories.