World travel can be a wonderful way to promote peace, gain understanding, and create friendship between people of different cultures. At the same time travel and tourism, by its very nature of increasing the flow of people and use of resources in an area, can contribute to economic inequalities or cultural and environmental degradation. “Responsible tourism” is a movement that seeks to combat the potential negative impact of travel and protect and preserve local people, including their land and economy. When planning your next trip, consider the following guidelines for responsible tourism and try to choose travel agents, airlines or others who can help you plan your trip while maintaining your travel values.
Travel global, think local. When choosing your trip destination, consider if the local community will benefit from tourism? Are they the ones making the decisions that impact their lives? Once you have arrived at your destination, there are daily choices one can make that will respect the local culture and economy. You can support locally-owned shops and guides or choose to participate in cultural activities that are occurring within their natural environment, rather than being simulated or re-created for a tourist perspective.
Tread lightly. Minimize your presence on the environment, people, and culture. Consider the effects on local people of common tourist practices such as photographing, touring in large groups, buying souvenirs and bartering for â€œbargainsâ€. Every culture has its own set of guidelines, beliefs and values around these interactions. Try to learn about the culture beforehand to build a mutually satisfying and respectful experience.
Consider the source. Does the product or activity truly derive from the local culture and tradition, or is it being created especially for consumption by tourists? Is cultural heritage being respected? Again, try to learn about the culture before you go and ask questions about the souvenirs or cultural experiences you would like to purchase or take part in. Venture out of the traditional tourist stores or sites. You will often find interactions with the local people will bring you both rewarding and unexpected experiences and conversations. You may get to hear an oral story, be invited into the artist’s studio, given clay to mold or a squash to carve, or brought into a drum circle or celebratory dance.
Connect with the local community. Prior to travel, get in touch with people or organizations in areas of your interest, so that you can enter the community as a member, not a “guest”. Spend time before you travel cultivating such connections. Try to make the effort to learn at least a few basic words of the local language. Once you have arrived to your travel destination, choose activities that will foster interaction and contribute to greater understanding of the local culture. You can arrange to spend an afternoon or six months in a village or community.
Be of service to others. Consider choosing travel as a way to put your values into action and be of service to others. Try taking a volunteer vacation, community based tourism trip, or cultural immersion travel â€“ whereby travelers live within and become a part of a community, rather than pass through on their way to a tourist site. These opportunities may provide an opportunity for you to learn a new language, share a skill, or immerse yourself into a new culture.
World travel creates global citizens. As a global citizen, responsible tourism should be a part of our travels from trip planning to food and purchase choices. Ensuring respect and justice for local communities and the natural earth that supports us all will bring us all richer experiences around the world.
Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel, Deborah McLaren 2003.
The Global Citizen: A Guide to Creating an International Life and Career, Elizabeth Kruempelmann 2002.
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