Have you ever thought about the kind of impact you make when you travel? Is it positive? Negative? How do your travels affect the local environment and the local people?
These are the kind of questions that arise when we talk about the concept of responsible tourism, aka eco or sustainable tourism.
Responsible tourism by definition is tourism that minimises negative social, economic and environmental impacts and generates greater economic benefits for local people.
With the world becoming more environmentally aware each day, as our news feeds line with articles about the plastic plague or the adverse effects of climate change we can’t help but feel a sense of responsibility to improve our social and environmental footprint.
For each of those footprints we make at home, we make the same while we travel, which is why the concept of responsible tourism is such an important one.
There are many ways to be a responsible traveller. It just takes that extra bit of awareness and thought about the place you are going to visit and what you will do there.
As the saying goes “Leave only footprints, take only memories”
Below is a list of some simple things to take into consideration when travelling that will allow you to become a more responsible traveller.
Reduce your plastic usage
Time to face the hard facts, our Earth is drowning in plastic, with some studies finding that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Now, let’s think about the last time you travelled. How many plastic water bottles did you use? How many plastic straws did you sip from? All these add to the mountains of plastic we consume daily.
We now know that recycling is not the answer because many countries lack the proper waste management facilities to dispose of plastics. Countries like Cambodia and the Maldives have to resort to either burning plastic (which is both carcinogenic and extremely harmful to both humans and the environment) or selling it off to neighbouring countries.
The answer lies in a move away from single-use plastics altogether, and you can do this too.
Below is a responsible, plastic-free packing checklist for your next adventure:
- 1x Reusable Water Bottle
- 1x Metal or Bamboo Straw
- 1x Tote Bag
- 1x Tupperware container
Voilà! We’re now on our way to a plastic free world.
Ensuring your money stays in the local economy is one way to know you are supporting the social and economic development of a destination.
Unfortunately many tour operators and hotels are owned by offshore investors meaning that the money you spend doesn’t make its way into the hands of the local people.
You, the traveller, have the power to decide where and how you will spend your money. Think homestays, shopping at local markets, choosing locally run tour operators. All these activities contribute to social and economic growth for the local population. Plus you often gain a more culturally immersive experience.
Below is an example of some websites where you can book tours directly with a local:
Choose sustainable accommodation
Many types of accommodation now promote ‘eco-friendly’ initiatives. For example, reducing their water usage, using solar power energy, having an effective recycling system and implementation of sustainable waste management.
Try to research the place you will be staying and check out what information they have on their website about sustainable hospitality. The hotel industry leaves a very large environmental footprint so if you have the option to opt for eco-friendly accommodation then do so. If not, then you can take small measures such as asking for your room to be cleaned less frequently or turning off the lights and air conditioning when you leave. Every little bit counts.
Book Different is a great platform that vets accommodation according to their green footprint.
Be aware of animal cruelty
Unfortunately, the past few decades have seen an increase in animal exploitation in the tourism industry. Demands for up-close encounters with animals have increased tenfold, with a lack of education about the violation of animal rights in this arena.
Take for example the allegations of illegal breeding and trafficking of Tigers in Thailand that were chained so that travellers could take a “Tiger Selfie. Or the abuse of Elephants in southeast Asia, being used for tourists rides. Many of these animals have spent their lives in captivity instead of the natural environment where they belong.
Instead of choosing to see these animals in captivity, choose to see them in the wild or ethically. For example, go on a wildlife safari or visit a sanctuary whose values lean more towards conservation than exploitation. Awareness is key here.
Respect foreign cultural traditions
As a visitor to a country, it is important to research the culture before you arrive. As a traveller, you want to respect not only the place you are visiting but the people as well.
Ensure that your dress code matches what is considered respectful in the society you are travelling to, for example covering up in temples and religious places. Also, try to respect the language barrier you might have in a country. Speak slowly so that the person can understand you and try to understand them.
Empathy plays a very important role in travel, and respecting other cultures can have a very positive effect on your travels.
If you see people throwing their trash on the ground, using animals for exploitation, treating the environment with disrespect, speak up.
Even if you’re just having a casual conversation with someone, it is always important to speak up about what’s important to you.
Being a responsible traveller is about awareness, and we wouldn’t have this awareness if we didn’t learn from others. Be the person to educate others about ways that they can be a responsible traveller and then they will educate the next person. It’s the cycle that will change the world.
There are many other ways to be a responsible traveller but overall it really is about awareness. It’s about making sure that you leave a positive impact on the places you visit so that many more people will have the chance to visit those places in the years to come.