Traveling is no longer an activity reserved for the richest in society. With cheap flights and accommodation, most people managed to explore the farthest corners of the world and take a vacation at least once a year. And everyone knows that tourism is a great thing not only for the traveler but also for the countries they travel. For us vacationers, traveling is a chance to broaden our minds, explore different sights, meet new nationalities and learn about the culture and traditions of the world around us. For holiday destinations, tourism is an important, if not the principal, source of economic income and frequent travelers can even provide motivation to build precious infrastructure such as roads, and protect fragile environments and forests. However, with an intense influx of tourists, these countries, especially developing countries are beginning to feel that the economic benefits no longer outweigh the environmental and cultural destruction.
14 out of today’s 20 top tourist countries are developing nations. For a third of them tourism is the main money earner and has helped them develop and prosper. Yet, tourists often forget when they climb that sacred site to take a picture or tramp through that forest in search of endangered species that they are in the homes and backyards of others. Yes tourism is a vital source of income for locals but it is also a daily nuisance and sometimes a necessary evil. With the growth of tourism many fragile coastal ecosystem are being destroyed by trampling feet, water drying up due to overuse and sacred land or forests being destroyed to make way for tourist resorts and hotels. So, as these places we love to visit are being dragged downwards by the weight of greedy tourism, a new kind of traveling has been developed known as ethical tourism or ecotourism for short.
What is ecotourism?
With almost 30% of the world’s untouched landscapes being lost in recent decades and literally trampled underfoot by eager tourists, responsible travel is featuring higher and higher on tourist brochures and in the minds of ethical traveler. Ecotourism is an attempt to reduce the impact your vacation has on the environment, locals and community you visit. This means paying specific attention to the methods of transport you use, the hotel you stay in, the amount of water you use, the way you spend your money and the way you act towards the locals and customs of the country. The World Tourism Organization estimates that 20 per cent of global tourism today is ethical tourism and its growing three times as fast as the industry as a whole. So, how can you be an ethical tourist.
Before you go
Even before you pack your suitcase and touch ground in the holiday destination of your choice there are two things you should consider: how you book your holiday and how you get there.
Today there are many tour operators who create responsible travel plans and organise vacations which give back to the local community. A great improvement to operators who can organise a whole vacation without given a cent to the community, these agencies ensure that your trip does not exploit or misuse the people of your holiday destination and may even detail how you are benefiting the local economy and culture. Another important step is to research your holiday destination. Websites like The Good Alternative Travel Guide by Tourist Concern provides a great starting point for planning a holiday to some of the most beautiful parts of the world, while those who live there. Tourists concerned about their impact on the environment can even find eco-certified travel companies online to ensure their trip is responsible and not harmful.
Flying is one of the biggest causes of global warming in our world today. Even if your holiday is organised by in an ethical way, long trips on a plane are undoing all the good you’ve done. For some of us, like those living in Australia, air travel is unfortunately a must. However, we can all do our part by reducing unnecessary flights. Choosing to take the train or bus when we can and cutting down on stopovers since take-offs and landings release the most carbon.
While on holiday
While relaxing and enjoying your much earned holiday, there are a million or more ways you can stay ethical and responsible. The best and easier way to be a responsible traveler is to think and go local.
Spend locally: By booking a foreign tour operator, taking a guided tour led by a foreigner, staying in a foreign hotel and eating at McDonalds you are effectively ensuring that none of your holiday budget goes to the local community you are visiting. By using local guides, buying local products and staying in family run hotels, you are not only ensuring that you give back to the community but also get a real sense of the country you’re staying in and the people who live there.
Respect: When travelling in a foreign country we can sometimes forgot that not everyone speaks our language or knows our customs. By reading up on the local traditions and way of life and respecting local traditions and holy sites you can avoid any faux pas, such as dressing inappropriately or offending the locals. It is also important to respect the local eco-system and environment so leave the shells where you found them and try not to trample on any coral while snorkeling.
Learn the language: No one is expecting you to become fluent but by learning some simple frases, such as please and thank-you you will be surprised at how much nicer and more helpful people will be if they know you’re making an effort to engage in their culture!
Bargain fairly and with humour: Sometimes items at a local market can seem to be excessively priced and while bargaining may be part of the country’s culture, it’s not fair if one side feels degraded or cheated. When bargaining you should always remember that for them this isn’t a game but the only source of income they have to put food of their table, so try not to be aggressive
Don’t litter: For some countries waste disposal is a big problem.
Use water sparingly: In even some of the most developed countries a shortage of water is a reality and an influx of tourists who take 10 minute showers and leave the taps running isn’t making their situation any easier.