The principle that we should ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’ when we travel is a fanciful ideal. The fact is, every time we visit another city, country or region, we are changed by, and change, the landscapes and the people we meet in some small way.
Responsible tourism is about ensuring the impact of international tourism is positive and ethical, and is as much about the small, and often very simple, practical steps you can take—from choosing local guides and staying in locally-owned accommodations to respecting local mores— as it is about one’s mindset to become a more conscious and conscientious traveller.
The following eight principles are based on the World Tourism Organization’s guidelines for the responsible traveller:
Keep an Open Mind
Open your mind to other cultures and traditions – it will transform your experience, you will earn respect and be more readily welcomed by local people. Be tolerant and respect diversity – observe social and cultural traditions and practices.
Respect Human Rights
Exploitation in any form conflicts with the fundamental aims of tourism; labour rights, a fair wage and protection against sexual exploitation are the fundamental rights of each and every person.
Help preserve natural environments. Protect wildlife and habitats and do not purchase products made from endangered plants or animals. Ask questions about eco-friendly companies and see if their credentials match their claims.
Respect Cultural Resources
Activities should be conducted with respect for the artistic, archaeological and cultural heritage. Often the traditional dress and lifestyles of the people whose cultures we visit is just as beautiful and fascinating as the landscape. Be sensitive when taking photos of local people, ancient sites, religious ceremonies etc. Always ask first if you can take somebody’s photo and respect their right to refuse.
Shop with a Conscience
Buying locally-made, traditional handicrafts is a good way of providing both economic and cultural support for small communities. Encouraging people to maintain cultural traditions and allowing them to earn a living from doing so is one of the easiest ways you can have a positive impact.
While bargaining is often a fun and good natured exchange, tourists can get carried away and drive too hard of a bargain. The goal in bartering is to find a fair price for both buyer and seller- not to drive the price as low as possible.
Language & Customs
A little really does go a long way when it comes to speaking the local language- before you travel learn simple phrases such as ‘Good morning’, ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’ and use them as much as you can. When people see you are making an effort, they will be more likely to meet you halfway.
Understanding local customs is just as important – learn as much as possible about your destination and take time to understand the customs, norms and traditions. Avoid behaviour that could offend the local population.
Inform yourself about the destination’s current health situation and access to emergency and consular services prior to departure and be assured that your health and personal security will not be compromised. Make sure that your specific requirements (diet, accessibility, medical care) can be fulfilled before you decide to travel this destination.
Familiarize yourself with the laws so that you do not commit any act considered criminal by the law of the country visited. Refrain from all trafficking in illicit drugs, arms, antiques, protected species and products or substances that are dangerous or prohibited by national regulations.