When many people think of responsible tourism, they picture bamboo huts, long-haired backpackers, and cold showers. In reality, responsible tourism is about leaving the least possible evidence that we were in a country, in order to preserve its culture, heritage, environment, and wildlife.
Our impact on a society should be only positive, and we should recognise that as tourists, we come from a place of privilege, compared to many of the communities we visit. It’s natural for locals who are worrying about how to feed and educate their kids to do whatever they can to keep tourist dollars coming in, and it’s up to tourists themselves to speak with their wallet.
Education is one of the main issues when it comes to responsible tourism. With the rise of social media, we only have to check our Facebook newsfeed to see pictures of old school friends posing with chained tigers, and sitting on the backs of elephants. But social media can also be used for good, and by educating potential tourists about their actions abroad, and the reality when it comes to wildlife, hopefully they will think twice before booking
While traveling, there are hundreds of decisions to be made each day. And it can be hard to know what activities we should support overseas, and whether we are having a positive or negative impact on a community. However instead of placing blame we should aim to educate each other, offer alternatives, and recognise that by simply starting a conversation about responsible tourism we may open doors that would otherwise be left closed.
The good news, is that while tourist numbers are increasing (reaching 1 billion per year in 2012), reports have shown that responsible tourism is both ethically sound and economically viable. Many different pieces of market research have shown that travellers are increasingly desiring greater environmental and social responsibility during their travel experience, and are chasing vacations which are authentic and meaningful.
There is now also an excellent case for businesses to support responsible tourism. A 2011 study by the Harvard Business School demonstrated that companies which had adopted social, environmental, and governance policies during the 1990’s are now outperforming those which did not.
Consumers are also increasingly taking into account the reputation a destination has for environment and social responsibility when they choose where they will travel next.
Inclusive vacations and resorts have long been demonised due to the belief that many resorts are simply plunked down in the middle of a community, showing little-to-no cultural awareness, and negatively impacting the environment around the resort. However many of these are now becoming eco-certified, and are attracting guests who appreciate resorts with the best social, corporate, and environmental responsibility.
There are also numerous studies which show that responsible tourism works, and show that bear watching is worth more than bear hunting in British Columbia, Shark tourism earns more money than fishing in Palau, and protected areas in Costa Rica lead to decreased poverty.
For an excellent video about responsible tourism, which highlights the consequences of an industry which continues to grow, but also gives hope for the future, click here.