Did you know that tourism employs one in every ten people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more? These staggering numbers mean many communities are only sustainable with outside influence. According to the United Nations, tourism is one of the world's most important economic sectors. Many places worldwide have relied on tourism for decades for financial stability. Tourism is helpful, but we must find ways to engage that genuinely benefit communities.
What is Responsible tourism?
Responsible tourism balances economic growth, human well-being, and environmental health. It focuses on reducing tourism's negative impacts and maximizing its benefits for communities, cultures, ecosystems, and the planet. Responsible tourism accounts for both the immediate impacts felt today and the longer-term impacts that future generations will experience. Responsible tourism is a model for ensuring that nature, culture, and history are preserved.
9 Responsible Tourism Tips
So, what choices can you make that will benefit the communities you visit and still help you achieve the travel experience you're looking for?
Here are nine tips to adopt into your next travels:
1. Avoid Single-Use Plastics
According to Aquasauna, "Bottled water has been sold since at least the 1850s, but it has never been more popular than it is today. In fact, it's estimated 1.3 billion plastic bottles are used each day across the world, which is about 1 million per minute."
Sadly, our planet is filling up with plastic trash. When traveling, always take a reusable water bottle and find clean water sources to fill it. For example, in Guatemala, it's common to find ECOFILTER dispensers in every hotel, restaurant, office, and Airbnb. These clay-lined dispensers have reduced plastic waste and helped bring clean water to many. If your travel destination is somewhere clean water isn't readily available, consider purchasing a personal water filtration system like LifeStraw.
Another single-use plastic concern when traveling is the small toiletry bottles. In 2006, TSA began restricting the size of liquids travelers could take in carry-on luggage. That started a massive industry of small, single-use plastic containers for shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and more. We're all familiar with this aisle at our local Target or Wal-Mart, and it's often a go-to when leaving for a trip.
Instead, put your toiletries in reusable containers like this.
In hotel rooms, try to avoid using the products they provide on the counter. On a positive note, more and more hotels are moving away from single-use toiletries and instead opting for refillable dispensers.
2. Travel Slowly
When planning a vacation, consider staying in one place longer. Every time you hop from one location to another, you leave a waste footprint. Whether it be fuel usage or the washing of linens, each new destination requires energy and harmful products to the environment. As a bonus, spending more time in a single place enables you to better connect with the community you're visiting. Staying longer means you get to know the culture and people better. Many travelers often share that their favorite moments are living like a local, purchasing groceries from the market on the corner, getting to know the owners of a local restaurant, and more. Traveling slowly enables you to have this kind of experience.
3. Support Local Businesses
So many places we visit worldwide rely on tourism to provide jobs and keep the economy going. But if we only support corporate companies, our travel dollars go outside the community we spend time in.
Choose a locally-owned boutique hotel over the Hilton and enjoy coffee in a local café instead of Starbucks. Dine in small restaurants that use locally sourced foods.
4. Shop Local
Many souvenirs get imported from elsewhere. Keep an eye out for souvenirs that appear to be mass-produced, and instead opt for souvenirs from local markets or artisans. The closer you can get to the maker, the better. Even hand-made items that are locally made can pass through many hands before a sale is made, and when that happens, the actual maker gets a tiny portion of that sale.
For example, in Morocco, Berber communities are known for their gorgeous hand-woven rugs, but when sales go through a middle-man, the average percentage that the maker receives is about 4%. Watch this video if you'd like to learn more.
5. Hire Local Tour Operators
Large companies like Viator and Get Your Guide monopolize the market by offering tours in almost every city you can imagine worldwide. Their convenient websites and systems of payment make it a convenient option for travelers as they plan their trips. These large corporations often contract with local guides to actually lead the tours, but people need to realize that when they book their tours through large corporate companies, the person conducting the tour is only receiving a small portion.
When booking tours, do some research to see who owns the company. One way to ensure that your travel dollars stay in the community is to ask your hotel for a recommendation to a local guide. Our post on community-based tourism has some further tips.
6. Be Kind to Wildlife
Responsible tourism also means protecting animals and the environment.
Be leary of wildlife experiences that put you and a wild animal in a close encounter that would not naturally occur. Opt for observation-based tours and experiences. Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat is the best way to observe them the way God created them. African safaris that allow you to enter their environment are a magical experience. For animals in captivity, opt for refuges or rehabilitation centers over those that exploit the use of animals for tourism.
For example, tourists in India often want to see and interact with elephants. It's common to see elephants colorfully painted and adorned with costumes at temples, and tourists are encouraged to ride them. But what many unassuming tourists don't know is that these majestic creatures have been tortured and starved in their youth to be tame enough for this activity. Contributing to this only perpetuates the continuation.
On my trip to India last year, we found a sanctuary that rescues elephants and provides a safe home for their final years. This was a far better choice to interact with them.
7. Avoid Contributing to Over-tourism
Thanks to sizzling travel books, blogs, and Instagram, some places worldwide have become overrun by tourism. These places are best to avoid. Instead, consider traveling to less known or less favored places.
For example, earlier this year, we spent a week in Croatia and opted for Zadar instead of Dubrovnik. We enjoyed an equally beautiful marbled old town, seaside cafes, and ancient Roman history without the crowds.
This article from Wanderlust Crew has some good ideas for destination alternatives.
If your heart is set on a popular location, choose to go in the off-season. You'll enjoy a less busy experience, plus help to bring business at a time when they will appreciate it.
8. Connecting to Organizations Doing Good
Many of the places we travel to are developing countries where difficulties abound. Make it a point to understand the challenges in that country or region. And then find out who the changemakers are and learn how to support their work.
For example, in Guatemala, we love the work of Eden por Salud, which provides dignified work for adults with special needs, and the Mayan Cooking School, which employs single mothers in San Pedro la Laguna. Read about all our partner organizations in countries worldwide working to alleviate poverty, provide holistic care for those who have faced injustices, and are helping in sustainable ways. Bring purpose to a vacation by volunteering or donating.
Kibaale Community Center, Uganda
9. Stay Curious and Continue Learning
People often don't consider how interconnected our world is and that our choices affect others. Global changes that benefit others will take all of us. Keep learning and find ways to contribute to better and more responsible tourism. Stay curious and remain open to learning, changing, and growing in how you live and interact in the world.
At Travel on Purpose, we specialize in responsible tourism.
Want help planning your next trip?
Contact us today for a FREE proposal for an itinerary.