Responsible tourism and sustainable travel are big buzzwords right now and quite rightly so, but what does it really mean to be a responsible tourist?
Practising responsible tourism is about being respectful to the people, the culture, the environment and the wildlife of the place you are exploring. We are all looking for an authentic experience on our travels but how do we get that without causing damage to local communities?
These are just a few ideas to give you food for thought on how to be a responsible tourist.
Responsible Tourism Vs Sustainable Tourism
What is responsible tourism?
Responsible tourism means travelling with the clear aim of minimising tourism’s negative impacts on the environment and local communities. Better still, a responsible tourist should preserve, or even, reverse the effects of travel.
Responsible Tourism was defined in the Cape Town Declaration as being about “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” Responsible Tourism requires that operators, hoteliers, governments, local people and tourists take responsibility, take action to make tourism more sustainable.
What is sustainable tourism?
Sustainable tourism refers to the strategy and blueprint by government bodies and companies to achieve a better future for the local community and its surroundings.
Sustainable Tourism is defined by the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”.
What is the difference between responsible travel and sustainable travel?
We often hear the phrases responsible tourism and sustainable tourism used under the same umbrella but there are differences. Responsible tourism is concerned with the individual actions that people, businesses, and destinations take to create a sustainable tourism industry.
Quite simply, sustainability is the long-term goal. This goal can only be achieved by people taking responsibility together to achieve it. So what steps can we take to be responsible tourists?
How to be a Responsible Tourist
Respect cultural diversity
Keep in front of mind that you are a tourist in countries you are visiting, this is not your homeland. Ensure you respect and appreciate other cultures and remember that we all share this planet.
Research the culture of your destination.
Educate yourself by reading about the history, and local traditions before you arrive as well as visiting cultural places on your visit.
Adhere to local dress codes.
Respect local beliefs and traditions by packing and wearing the right gear especially if you are visiting religious sites.
Be aware of cultural misappropriation.
It’s great to buy the traditional dress on your travels but it is not always considered respectful if worn improperly.
Learn the best way to communicate with locals.
Absorb some useful phrases of their language to show you’ve made an effort and help you engage in conversation. Research non-verbal forms of communication too such as gestures, hand signals and the best way to greet people. What is respectful in one country may be offensive in another.
Ask permission before photographing locals.
It’s tempting to just point and shoot when you see locals doing unique things or wearing traditional dresses. Point at your camera with a nod or raised eyebrow to show you are asking for consent.
Support the local economy
Think about whose pocket your cash is going into! By going direct you will not only help support families and jobs in the community but also open yourself up to wonderful authentic experiences.
Eat like a local.
Search our traditional family-run restaurants and avoid the big food chains. Ethnic cuisines will more than likely source regional food with delicious recipes.
Enjoy traditional experiences.
Find local tour operators that create cultural experiences helping keep their craft or traditions alive such as paper-mâché in Kashmir.
Buy from local artisans.
We all love to take home souvenirs that remind us of our wonderful trip. Make sure you find handmade, ethical goods and avoid the mass-produced plastic souvenirs that may have been shipped in from Asia.
Tip the going rate.
Do your research before you travel to find out what the tipping situation is like in that destination. Some countries rely on tips to feed their families so tip the going rate, or more if the waiter or tour guide went over and above. Remember what might be a small coin to you, may mean the world to someone else.
Try homestay accommodation.
Gain a new perspective on your trip, immerse yourself in the community and support their economy directly. Websites such as Homestay can connect you with locals for an incredible experience.
Go on tours run by social enterprises.
This is a great way to support underserved communities, including women, indigenous populations, and at-risk youth.
On a trip to Nepal, I went on an amazing Kathmandu city tour with Welcome To My Yard, took a tour with a monk to Swayambhunath Stupa with proceeds going towards the local hosts and had a massage at a social enterprise that trains and employs blind people.
Use companies that actively give back to the community.
As responsible travel has become more front of mind, many companies are greenwashing and not being honest about how they pay it forward. Companies shouting about their involvement in local communities will generally document on their website.
GAdventures partners with non-profit Planeterra dedicated to ensuring communities touched by tourism benefit from the opportunities it provides.
This isn’t just tour companies, check the travel insurance company you use too. HeyMondo gives a little back by contributing to ‘Doctors Without Borders’ – and you can get 5% off your travel insurance as a Wanders Miles reader.
Choose transport wisely
Flying has the most impact on the environment. If you’re on a mission to travel sustainably, take your journeys by coach or train instead of flying. If you have considered the alternatives (boat, train or bus) and still need to get that flight, consider the following;
Take direct flights
Avoid high emissions during take-off and landing by opting for direct flights.
It’s best to fly economy.
Emissions are related to the space that your seat occupies.
Choose an airline with modern aircraft.
Technology keeps changing as companies before more aware of their mark on the environment. New aircraft are more efficient, have lower fuel consumption and release less harmful carbon dioxide. It’s not perfect but there are talks of hydrogen planes on the horizon!
Less weight means less fuel burned on aircraft. And let’s face it, we never wear everything in our suitcase, so plan your outfits instead of panic-packing.
Offset your flights.
There are many environmental organisations such as Ecologi that plant trees and fund carbon-offsetting solutions. Just set up an account and donate as you go.
Travel in groups.
There are situations when travelling to remote locations, where trains or public buses are not scheduled. Try and buddy up with fellow travellers on group tours instead to save on emissions.
Avoid contributing to over-tourism
Mass tourism in recent years has become increasingly problematic, fuelled by cheap flights, online accommodation rental and our thirst for exploring.
For urban destinations, over-tourism has a negative effect on its residents, pollution and general quality of life. Following the disastrous events of 2020, many cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam, Venice and the Lagoon Islands and Kyoto saw the pause in visitors as a welcome break. Of course, the hit in the economy needs to be balanced with new sustainable policies to make it a better place to live for all but, as responsible tourists, we can play our part.
Plan to travel at off-peak times.
Spread out the impact of over-tourism as well as inject cash into the local economy throughout the year.
Avoid day trips.
Plan to spend a few days in locations to give back to local hotels and restaurants. Cruise ships can be guilty of bringing large amounts of people to places and transporting them straight to pre-arranged activities so the gains to the local community are low.
Look for the lesser-known areas.
Finding the hidden gems is not only exciting but you avoid the crowds putting less pressure on cities and more spending with other communities. For example, if you’re exploring Barcelona responsibly, seek out areas such as Sant Antoni, instead of La Rambla.
Make ‘second city’ tourism a thing.
Avoid the main tourist city haunts and include the lesser-visited destinations in your itinerary. The experience is more pleasurable and you uncover some wonderful places.
Leave No Trace
The new UK countryside crush and ‘pandemic hikers’ has caused some negative environmental effects of tourism such as erosion, littering and pollution. Whether we are travelling domestically or abroad, our ethos should be the same – ‘leave no trace’. But how?
Lessen your trash by limiting the amount of plastic and rubbish you create.
- Bring a reusable water bottle or cutlery.
- Get your WATER-TO-GO Bottle with 15% OFF (Code WM15)
- Use dental tabs or shampoo bars in reusable tins to avoid dumping plastic toothbrush tubes or bottles.
- Bring reusable face wipes or flannel.
- For the ladies, use period pants or a menstrual cup.
Compostable items will break down completely into non-toxic components.
- Use compostable bags instead of plastic.
- Use bamboo products such as interdental brushes, toothbrushes or combs.
Not all countries or regions offer fantastic recycling options so it’s best to think reusable first.
- Ask your hotel about waste disposal and recycling facilities.
- If you can’t find recycle bins and you’re on a day trip, take your litter home to dispose of it correctly.
You will be surprised at the harmful chemicals in everyday toiletries and gear you need to take on your travels. Look for toxic-free alternatives.
- Use reef-safe sunscreen, and be kind to the ocean.
- Natural moisturisers and deodorants are kinder to your skin.
Take eco-friendly detergent that’s free of artificial fragrances, chlorine bleach, dyes, and optical brighteners.
Prepare your packing list and find brands that use FairWear, organic, bamboo or recycled gear.
Think about your ecological responsibility
Ecological responsibility refers to tourism that keeps the environmental impact to a minimum. Ecotourism is a growing business that has pros and cons. Many regions need the cash injection for conservation efforts so it’s about finding that balance.
Ecotourism is defined by TIES (The International Tourism Society) as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. Such traveling can be created thanks to an international network of individuals, institutions, and the tourism industry where tourists and tourism professionals are educated on ecological issues.
Avoid animal exploitation!
This is a big subject but you need to do your research before you visit any wildlife spots. There are so many fake elephant sanctuaries that use these beautiful animals for human entertainment and are commonly stolen from their mothers and herds as babies.
Stick to wildlife tourism where there is no animal contact.
Be careful what you buy in markets.
Some things are mistakenly purchased without knowing but unfortunately contribute to illegal goods or poaching trade. This includes feathers from exotic birds, sea turtle and tortoise shells, ivory, products made from big cat species, corals in jewellery and many more.
Try your hand at Agro-tourism.
Volunteering on farms is a great way to give back to rural communities and learn about sustainable farming methods.
Search for Eco-Hotels in towns and cities.
Kantipur Temple House in Kathmandu clearly states online its eco-friendly features are derived from the ethos of the visionary architect whose also an activist in environmental protection and heritage preservation.
Stay in eco-lodges.
Eco-lodges are designed to have minimal impact on the environment and to be as sustainable as possible in their usage of resources. Eco Lodges, in comparison to eco-hotels and green hotels, are generally located in more remote areas. They target eco-tourists, by offering a nature-based experience.
This list of how to be a responsible tourist is by means exhaustive and hope it gets you thinking. If you have any more suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
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