Responsible tourism is an active awareness about the effects travel can have on destinations and the people and wildlife who inhabit them, both positive and negative.
The general idea is that when all segments of the tourism industry– tour operators, hotels, government organizations, locals, and travelers themselves– take responsibility for ensuring travel is sustainable, it makes better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.
Responsible travelers have some cultural awareness about the local people with whom they interact, and seek cultural immersion experiences that benefit them economically.
They consider the impact their journeys have on ecotourism destinations, cautiously choosing their lodging, transportation, and activities in a way that helps to preserve the destination’s natural beauty and wildlife.
Let’s be honest: Taking time to consider our impact on a destination isn’t always convenient when we’re on vacation.
But Responsible Tourism is more authentic, more immersive, and often leads us to more exhilarating adventures. As a bonus, this extra attention to the details of our experience generally produces much more rewarding and memorable trips.
Here’s a look at 15 reasons why Responsible Tourism is, in our opinion, the very best form of travel for all parties involved. Top 7 US National Parks
WHY RESPONSIBLE TOURISM IS BETTER
1. Mutually Beneficial Cultural Immersion
As travelers have become increasingly worldly and self-aware, more and more we hope to discover something beyond ourselves and our own traditions when we travel.
“Experiencing a different culture” often ranks high on people’s list of reasons for traveling internationally, and cultural immersion tours are becoming much more popular.
But cultural travel should be more than just a tourism-based spectacle. A Disney-style performance of traditional cultural practices merely cheapens the experience for both sides.
Instead, we should strive to find authentic representations of culture, even if they aren’t as bedazzled with lights and electronic music. I’m thinking of a “whirling dervish” dance I once witnessed on a small ship cruise in Egypt vs. an actual ceremony I saw on the rooftop of a restaurant in Istanbul.
Just as we’re proud of the things that make us uniquely who we are, so are the people in other countries. We should honor that, which means giving them a chance to share meaningful versions of themselves and their history. Plus, we emerge actually knowing more about local culture!
2. Cultivating Cultural Awareness
Mutually beneficial cultural immersion generally leads to fostering cultural awareness. Report this ad
Historically, we have identified other cultures largely by using outdated stereotypes and distant tropes of who people are. That only serves to creates misunderstandings between cultures, a lack of awareness that often leads to strained relationships.
Cultural understanding is best built on real exchanges of ideas in real time. For example, while Native Americans undoubtedly celebrate tribal traditions, these aspects alone don’t define who they are today as a people. Just as modern US citizens can hardly be identified with the list of slaveholders—Washington, Hancock, Jefferson, Franklin, etc.—who founded the country.
Cross cultural awareness is more than a mere recitation of history.
Responsible tourism celebrates the past, present, and future of a place and its people, and responsible travelers recognize that the world continues to evolve (and societies along with it). By sharing ideas rather than projecting them, we set the path for better understanding one another.
3. Ambassadors of “Otherness”
With cross-cultural exchanges being a key part of ecotourism, responsible travelers must realize that we are ambassadors of “otherness.”
In other words, travelers who visit these places largely represent the local people’s concept of foreigners.
If we disregard codes of conduct, act rudely, and leave a mess behind, the locals’ impression of tourists will be colored by that. Soon they won’t want foreign visitors, and tensions between travelers and locals negatively influence the tourism industry for both.
Entering someone else’s community and acknowledging your status as a guest– meaning we need to respect the customs of THEIR home– goes a long way toward making the experience a positive one all around. Just because there’s a beach or a bar doesn’t mean it’s “Tourists Gone Wild” time.
4. Support of/Participation in Volunteer Programs
With respectful cultural exchange comes empathy. Not only do we begin to understand that other cultures are 3-dimensional, but also we develop a more personal connection that begs us to honor these cultures with our time and support.
Ethical travel often engages us in working with others to better the world. While there is the more obvious version of participating in volunteer programs, it’s important to understand that volunteering isn’t the only (or necessarily the best) way we can help out.
The old adage of speaking with our dollars rings true when we choose our hotels and eco lodges, tour operators, and even the destinations themselves.
We can choose to support companies and organizations that are working towards more than profit, for the benefit of local people and communities. In many cases, these non-profit programs need customers more than they actually need volunteers.
When we travel this way, taking coffee tours with a fair trade farmers’ co-op or traveling with a tour operator that supports local schools, we help to create a world of conscious travel that’s better for the places we visit. We know it’s an honest experience, and honestly good for all parties involved.
5. Deeper Connections with Local Communities
Ultimately, with all of these cultural connections taking place and sincere support being given, we find deeper connections with the local communities that are our hosts.
We aren’t just watching false performances and demanding that local people act like archaic versions of themselves for our tourist dollars. We aren’t just bogarting the best of their local beaches, lakes and rivers.
Responsible tourism intensifies our interactions with locals. It puts us in contact with people we wouldn’t see poolside at our hotels and resorts. It puts us in natural places where the world hasn’t been meticulously manicured to be artificially perfect.
Instead, we see beyond the sterilized façade of travel as trips to paradise and tourist traps offering stilted performances of culture as entertainment. The world is more nuanced than that, and seeing that nuance—as unsettling as it can be—means truly experiencing the culture of a place.
When travelers peak behind the curtain, we find a clearer picture of who we all are: people who struggle, triumph, falter, and fidget. It’s all in the name of a deeper connection to others. Because those connections are where we find the best of humanity.
6. Off the Beaten Path Discoveries
When our trips are primarily centered around all-inclusive resorts and over-touristed attractions, we cheat ourselves out of the little things that make places truly unique. Report this ad
We miss the tucked-away café discovered due to a wrong turn, the friendly local who helps us find our way, the quiet surprise of an unexpected picturesque vista.
What responsible travel tends to do is take us out of the fold and into the fray. Most people associate responsible tourism with nature-based activities, such as camping in national parks, hiking up majestic mountains, or taking canoe trips through mangroves rich with wildlife.
We find ourselves on less trodden trails in beautiful forests. We follow local guides into small villages where they see old friends. When we get away from the hustle and bustle of the world’s major metropolises, we can find ourselves in all sorts of odd corners of the planet.
But this sustainable form of travel isn’t limited to nature! City tours with local guides explore some of the most beautiful neighborhoods and public parks urban settings have to offer.
We can explore a city without polluting the environment while gaining a fuller sense of its identity, immersing ourselves in its smells, sounds, and flavors as opposed to seeing it from behind a window.
7. Avoiding Overtourism
Getting out of the rut many tourists unconsciously create by following trends helps responsible travelers avoid contributing to the overtourism that changes destinations for the worse.
Popularity may bring income to destinations like Iceland, Thailand, and Scotland’s Isle of Skye. But it can also alter them in ways that ruins what we loved about them in the first place, from overcrowding beautiful beaches to trampling once-unspoiled natural beauty.
Overtourism is an increasingly serious problem these days. First the location caters to tourists’ desires, offering the creature comforts of home, which often robs the place of its identity.
Then local businesses are supplanted by international conglomerates, and the local community sees less and less of the benefits of tourism and more and more of the detriment.
Gradually these unique destinations turn globalized cookie-cutter. They meet the whims of everyone with dollars to spend, and residents lose the heart of what made their community special.
Eventually the fickle winds of fashion lead the masses elsewhere, to the next trendy must-see hotspot. Unfortunately, overtourism is the classic “destroy what we love” scenario. It’s a formula we’d all be better served by not repeating.
8. Promotion of Sustainable Tourism
These companies strive to establish local livelihoods, protect local wildlife, and conserve local ecosystems. They offer responsible travel opportunities where it’s not all about the money, but where the dollars you spend do count for something.
Sustainability-minded companies involve themselves in the community, making for a more substantial relationship between tourists, locals, and foreign investors.
The collective group works towards keeping the local environment clean, the city safe, the infrastructure current, and the indigenous culture intact. These benefits of sustainable tourism far outweigh capital developments that send profits elsewhere.
After all, don’t we each try to support local businesses in our own towns and communities, and lobby to keep our parks tidy? Traveling sustainably is simply about realizing that the rest of the world values their local spaces and economy, too!
9. Environmental Tourism Benefits
Unfortunately the tourism industry has a terrible habit of running roughshod over the ecological jewels they celebrate. Coral reefs are diminishing due to pollution, coastal development, and human traffic. Mt. Everest is littered with human waste and congested with foot traffic as we destroy one of the world’s most epic natural wonders for the thrill of summiting it at the lowest price possible.
Our tourism dollars could (and should) be going to the conservation of these places, not their destruction. This is why it’s imperative to choose responsible companies when visiting them.
The benefit of environmental tourism is that responsible tour operators often work to conserve and protect the spaces they promote. From Gamewatchers Safaris/Porini Camps in Kenya to Beast Wildlife Adventures/K’uk Tours in Guatemala, we here at GGT have been lucky to work with some exceptional examples in the last year.
Not only do they offer incredible travel experiences with a minimum footprint, but they consistently reinvest in these destinations. Money matters, but so do the mountains and plains.
10. Saving the Environment Helps Everyone
As more people begin to understand climate change and the importance of reducing our carbon footprint, it’s imperative that we realize that saving the environment has a value far beyond merely maintaining pristine places to visit.
Responsible tourism puts our focus (and the focus of companies that want to attract us) on actively taking steps to conserve our planet.
As a result, we have tour operators devoted to protecting wildlife, resorts and eco-lodges striving to build and operate sustainably, and hotels and restaurants growing their own (or seeking locally grown) organic food.
The growing demand for these types of products and services has changed the traveling landscape. And the rise in responsible tourism has, in turn, changed the local perspective.
Though less-developed countries like Belize and Chile have scrambled to catch up with our first world excesses, ecotourism has given them a more ecologically reverential path to economic success. In the end, we’re all going to benefit from a planet with a more stabilized climate.