Travel and tourism is a global industry that significantly impacts destinations in both positive and negative ways. Although travel offers dynamic experiences, it also has destructive consequences. For instance, mass tourism this summer has resulted in overcrowding, housing shortages, and damage to historical sites. Responsible tourism, on the other hand, is an active respect for and awareness of the effects of travel. It aims to protect the authenticity of local communities and local experiences while honoring and preserving the natural environment and cultural heritage of the world around us.
Why is responsible tourism important?
Responsible tourism is crucial if we want to continue exploring the world. History, food, culture, and community are intrinsic to the human experience. If we show little regard for preserving and celebrating these elements, we run the risk of losing genuine connection to the places we visit and the people we encounter.
The absence of responsible tourism can lead to a surplus of manufactured, Disney-esque environments designed to maximize profits at every opportunity. Natural habitats, entrepreneurial spirit, and immersive learning begin to suffer as tourism shifts to highly concentrated areas and activities. Mass tourism, or overtourism, often attracts visitors seeking specific itineraries within limited timelines. As a result, cultural practices are condensed into brief moments instead of being experienced in organic and meaningful settings.
When the tourism industry collectively (visitors, locals, travel agencies, hospitality, government, etc.) takes responsibility to ensure ethical and sustainable travel, it creates a joyful and positive place to live in and to visit.
Responsible tourism facilitates:
- Joint efforts to protect landscapes, environments, and wildlife
- Reinvestments in the local economy to improve residents’ well-being and quality of life
- Employment opportunities through small businesses, local talent, entrepreneurial ventures, etc.
- Greater understanding of regional issues
- Cross-cultural awareness and understanding
- Access to local products and locally-led experiences
- Improvements in local infrastructure
Responsible Tourism Travel Tips
Do you want to make a positive impact when you travel? There are several ways to show respect and kindness for the places and people we visit.
Here are a few travel tips we can follow to ensure we’re traveling responsibly:
Behave Like a Guest
Remember that you’re a visitor. Traveling to different sites or locations around the world will introduce you to new and different customs and behaviors. Take note of how locals dress and behave wherever your adventures take you. Explore with kind curiosity and an open mind. Remaining respectful of those around you will help you make the most of your trip.
- Dress respectfully and cover up when appropriate
- Do not remove or disturb archaeological/cultural artifacts
- Respect and remain on marked paths and trails
- Do not expect each person to speak your native language
- Be conscious of your surroundings: continue walking or move aside to allow traffic to pass
Travel Outside of the Box
Expanding the definition of travel beyond sightseeing or beach vacations can help create a much broader scope of destinations, activities, and more. By not limiting ourselves to standard travel ideas or the pressure of must-dos, we can delve into the complexities and beauty of unconventional adventures and little-known communities. Traveling outside of the box can include:
- Architectural exploration
- Cemetery tourism
- Adventure tourism and multi-sport outdoor recreation
- Culture: art, history, food, heritage
- Volunteering for a worthy cause
Consider Booking with Local Tour Operators
Before resorting to a large organization to book your travel, look into working with local tour operators. This may not be possible in certain parts of the world, but it’s worth exploring. Booking locally can lead to connections with culturally responsible establishments that ensure authentic representations of heritage and community.
Rather than booking at hotels or all-inclusive resorts headquartered elsewhere, explore alternative accommodation options that connect you closer to the community.
- Homestay: Stay with locals as a student or independent traveler for a fully immersive experience.
- Workaway: Volunteer your time and effort for agreed-upon work in exchange for local accommodation and food.
- Trusted Housesitters: Care for homes and pets in exchange for free lodging.
- Local B&Bs: Support small town business through one of the most traditional stays.
Shop and Dine Locally
Shopping and dining locally has a direct and positive effect on the local economy. Spend consciously to ensure your money stays within the community. If you can, avoid chain restaurants to absorb the town’s culture. In situations where you’re unable to do so, try to patronize businesses that focus on employing members of the community.
Seek Ethical Wildlife Tourism
Be wary of captive animal tourism, in which wild animals are captured and held captive for the purpose of entertaining tourists. These animals are abused and exploited in various ways. Ethical wildlife tourism protects animals and preserves their natural habitats. Tourists can observe and even engage with animals in ways that do not negatively impact their welfare.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
Take what you bring with you. One of the most disappointing things Brian and I encounter while traveling is the abundance of trash scattered around. Plastic bottles, food wrappers, and empty bags litter streets and green spaces, detracting from their natural beauty and harming the environment. Don’t leave your trash for others to step over or clean up. Try to pick up what’s around you and dispose of what you can to help make this world a more beautiful place.
Carry a Reusable Water Bottle/Water Purifier
Minimize your plastic footprint by investing in a good-quality reusable water bottle or water purifier. Convenient and sustainable, this travel tip keeps you hydrated and free of unnecessary clutter.
Respect Photography Restrictions
Be mindful of photography rules as you visit protected sites, local markets, and small businesses. For example, shop owners who specialize in artisanal and handcrafted products can be particularly wary of photos and videos since these can be used to replicate products elsewhere at cheaper prices. Additionally, it’s important to be respectful of historic or sensitive sites, such as religious temples or cultural landmarks, so as not to undermine the cultural significance they hold for the community. Ask permission to photograph when in doubt.
Visit Cultural Institutions
While it’s nice to hang out poolside or walk along the ocean shore every now and then, you don’t want to miss out on exploring the rest of your destination. Enrich your travels with a trip to a museum, cultural heritage center, or local art performance.
Attempt the Language
English has become more widely used in tourism, but it never hurts to learn a few key phrases to get by wherever you’re visiting. It shows an effort on your part and can encourage community and connection with others you encounter.
Meet Other Conscientious Travelers
Building a network of responsible travel connections, including new friends, is a great way to share and discuss different travel ideas. We are constantly inundated with advertisements for “flashy vacations” or luxurious getaways, so much so that it can seem like most people prefer traveling this way. Though finding other like-minded travelers can seem challenging at first, they’re out there!
Reach out to friends and family to ask for their recommendations. Perhaps they might even have a contact or two they can share. You can also look into Meetup, an online platform that provides access to local and online groups that share your interests. It’s a great place to start when you’re looking to learn from others and share experiences.
How can we continue to explore the world? The effects of mass tourism become increasingly apparent as the tourism industry expands to reach new markets and accommodate greater visitor access.
Environmental degradation and increased traffic in local areas have caused significant challenges and negative impacts on the surrounding ecosystems and communities. To help combat these issues, anti-tourist measures are being established throughout Europe, including imposed entrance fees, fines, and controlled, regulated access.
If we wish to enjoy tourism for generations to come, we must take responsibility for how we act and interact during our travel experiences. Responsible tourism isn’t about limiting our destinations but rather recognizing alternatives to how we can explore those destinations.
Do you have any tips for responsible tourism? Comment below!