To be a guest in a foreign country is an honor. Easy access to travel has made the number of travelers and tourists grow exponentially over the last 100 years. Tourism has topped the charts as one of the worlds largest industries. But unethical tourism and over tourism can devastate areas. Here's how can you be an ethical tourist by practicing sustainable tourism.
What encompasses tourism? Tourism can involve primarily transportation,
accommodations, entertainment, recreation, shopping and nourishment. Tourism can have both a positive and negative impact all over the world.
Volunteerism also touches on the same issues. Programs with tourists come to help rebuild schools or build wells or clean up after natural disasters. Volunteerism can be extremely helpful to both parties. Locals receive help and relief, while tourists get a chance to see the world and poverty. In some cases volunteerism can be focusing on the wrong issues. It is important to choose volunteerism carefully, and choose programs that are more permanent and work for the community.
Always give children privacy from social media they deserve. When volunteering, make sure with any photo taken, it does not show children's faces. Choose photos with the back of the head or maybe hands, and make sure they are fully clothed. To be even safer, don't post any photos of children or adults. Sharing the projects is alright, but not at the cost of another person's privacy. Sometimes in orphanages it is dangerous to post photos of kids online, in case an abusive parent gets a hold of it, and tracks down the child.
"White Savior Complex" is a term often thrown around, meaning thinking you, coming from a developed country, are the solution to the problem, which is discouraging to local sustainability. While considering if you want to volunteer and help, consider this.
Some programs may also have the wrong goals. I have heard of volunteer programs where everyone helps build a school for kids, as soon as the programs leaves the community breaks down the school and uses the same bricks to build a well. Make sure your program is there to work for the community and tackle the issues they have, and not the issues they believe they have.
1 - Privacy - Make sure your organization protects the privacy of the community, and insures safety of volunteers.
2 - Longer stays - Long term commitments are the keystone in a successful volunteer exchange. As exciting as a one week volunteer trip sounds, that can help with labor, but if volunteering with people or children, consider more than 2-3 months. Come in as a "teacher", and teachers work in increments of semesters, 4-5 months. It gives you more emersion in the community, and will help illuminate children attachment issues.
3 - Qualifications - What can you bring to the community? Do you have carpentry skills, teaching skills, nursing skills, use your career and skills to help others abroad, working with the community's system adding helpful ideas and skills, instead of trying to change it.
4 - Program - choosing a program can be complicated, but try to do as much research as possible. Look for red flags on the website like photos of kids faces. Ask about where exactly the funds go. Many programs can show you what precentage goes to what sector.
5 - Why? - why do you want to volunteer, where do you want to volunteer, and are you doing this for youself or for the community?
Ask yourself these questions.
-Am I willing to spend a few months in this area?
-Am I open to supporting the human rights in this region?
-Do I have a genuine interest in this culture?
-Do I have a skill to bring to the community?
-Will I be addressing the suffering in the community?
Travel has contributed to 23% of the earth's greenhouse gas emitions and creates visible pollution. When it comes to the least amount of carbon emissions, it's not a cut and dry answer. There are many factors that can effect the fuel efficiency of a trip:
1 - Miles covered. Sometimes planes can cover the least amount of miles between certain destinations.
2 - Miles per gallon. What mode of travel is most fuel efficent?
3 - Passenger capacity. It's better to have a full car with four people, rather than 4 people driving separate cars.
So you want to travel "green"? How can you calculate the greenest method for your trip, while also not inconveniencing yourself, the traveler, with high cost or high travel time? All this pivots around context, and it's not always easy to find the correct answer. There are a few sure guidelines while
- Using electric anything is good - trains, scooters or cars are best.
- When flying, try to fly long distances and choose less congested airports. Much of the fuel a plane uses is actually on the ground during landing, take off and taxing. Less time on the ground and more time in the air is actually better.
- Traveling shorter distances in a vehicle that hold more passengers can be better, if the vehicle is more full, and when the route is more direct.
Though flying uses a lot of CO2, sometimes you must fly to a destination. It's okay to not totally cut out airplane travel. Supporting the aviation industry can also support progress made in this sector towards greener travel. The cost of your ticket may also go towards developing new, more full efficient ways to fly. Airplanes were 70% better in 2007 than in 1967, and continue to improve.
Taking longer trips can also help. Let's take Europe as an example. If possible, fly to Europe, and visit your three bucket list destinations in one long trip, rather than flying back three separate times.
If you're flying within Europe, to get from Switzerland to Italy, consider taking the bus or train instead, and see more of the country side. Instead of taking a cab around Rome to get from attraction to attraction, consider walking the city. Instead of a bus tour of Amsterdam try a cycle tour.
Backtracking to normal tourism, day tours through poor areas, or poor-sim, are also becoming increasing popular. For example, tours through townships in South Africa can be wonderful, bringing awareness to poverty around the world, giving locals a chance to sell art and craft to tourists. Many tours often boast about giving back to the community from tour revenue. Many tours don't have official monitoring of how much is actually given back to the local community. Sometimes tours can often have a skewed narrative.
"Slum" tours could potentially be helpful, and often there are moments where tourists are able to give money more directly to the community through buying crafts. Going above and beyond, if visiting a school or hospital, tourists can communicate with staff about directly donating to the institution. Do as much research as you can before embarking on a tour, talk to hotel/hostel staff, and ask for honest opinions. Research as much as you can online as well.
Taking a local cooking class at a farm is a great way to practice Sustainable tourism
Another very important topic on tourism today is how it is effecting local quality of life. This can happened in different ways depending if a nation is developing or developed.
Overcrowding of areas is a visible issue in todays' tourism world. Think as if you lived in an area, would you like big tour buses, loud and drunk guests, strangers trashing streets and parks? Of course not. Venice, Italy, is a perfect example of overtourism effecting locals' quality of life. Mass amounts of tourism have driven rent prices up, and cruise ships docking are hurting local marine life.
This is overtourism, or more like an unbalanced tourism, often seen in cities and popular attractions, or areas being swamped with people.
Many local tourism management areas have turned to capping the number of visitors to certain areas. Will capping numbers hurt profit? Is it worth irreversible damage?
Capping numbers of visitors can often result in a more enjoyable experience not only for local people, but for visitors. Fewer lines means more time for visitors to shop. Cleaner facilities will create a better space for everyone.
Protecting popular areas are a long term investment. Maya Bay in Thailand is a good example of an over visited area that was not managed until it was too late. Boats entering the famous bay were not regulated, and long term environmental damge was done until the area was forced to close. The closure forbids any boats from entering the bay to let the natural enviornment replenish for a few years. If boats had been limited in the first place, then the closure would not have been necessary. Maya Bay is said to be closed until 2022.
How can you help? Observing and respecting ticketing, permitting and laws are important. If there is a permit required to enter a national park, sneaking in will just further the issue. Look at off season travel as an option. Going on a trip during a less crowded time of the year will help with unbalanced tourism.
The exploiting of local people and culture can be a very damaging form of tourism. It's not always visible to the common tourist what goes on behind the scenes. This is a remarkable devastation to developing nations who see a boom in tourism.
Exploitation can range from child labor, child trafficking, sex trafficking, slave labor, and dangerous working conditions, etc.
A child pulled from school to sell bracelets will never receive their education. Women forced into sex work can suffer permanent physical damage. Dangerous conditions in factories to produce souvenirs can create forced labor.
Cultural tourism can sometimes throw off the natural balance of a community, especially rural communities, but can be a beautiful thing if done properly. Tourism can be very different in developed and developing nations.
These issues are not always clear or visible to the public tourists, but tightened awareness and simple to follow rules could potentially lessen the tourism market, which can fuel this exploitation. As a traveler or tourist, it is important to practice sustainable, resilient and responsible tourism. Keep in mind much exploitation stems from desperate times, and desperate people.
1 - Children are never attractions.
2 - Fight sex tourism.
3 - Be aware of narratives on tours.
A few things you may be able to do to help is to research a country's human rights and if those rights are being upheld. One good source is Visions of Humanity or Freedom House,or check out Universal Rights Group. Research where you are traveling, and what are the human rights issues in each county, including terrorism.
Research each animal sanctuary before visiting
Lets talk animal encounters. All over the world, animal wildlife and tourism go hand in hand. From zoos to petting a tiger, to riding an elephant, what is good?
First think of the animals, what is good for the animals, The economic side of tourism will adapt to trends in tourism. For instance, in Thailand in the 80's elephant rides in the capital city of Bangkok were very popular. As concerns for animal wellbeing changed, so did tourism. Thailand still offers elephant rides, but the popularity is sharply declining every year as elephant "encounters" grow in popularity at animal refugees and sanctuaries. Today tourists would rather pay to feed an elephant than to ride one.
Think of the animals FIRST. Riding large animals may seem harmless, but often animals are subjected to grueling long work days, and are not properly set or looked after, kept in small quarters and not allowed to range. Riding pack animals like camels, donkeys and horses is more acceptable than an elephant, but keep in mind to ask about how long the animal is working, how much weight it is carrying, and can you see bones? Bleeding? Is it malnourished? Even avoid riding pack animals in unfair conditions, ask questions to guides and animal owners, express your concerns for the animal as well.
Petting large animals and having a photo with a tiger can also hurt the animal, often the tiger or large animal is tranquilized or drugged to keep calm and tame for tourists. Sometimes baby cubs are born to be held for photos and euthanized once they are too big to hold. Mothers can be overbred, and again kept in small cages. Nocturnal animals can be forced to post for photos during the daytime. Animals can be brutally whipped, stabbed or chained till they bleed, while being trained for shows.
Zoos and marine water parks can also damage animal mental health, and in some countries like the Philippines, the animals are undernourished. I would not recommend supporting any animal encounters that don't allow animals adequate space to move, are kept in chains, and could be potentially overbred and under nourished.
I do believe animal tourism can be done in an educational and exciting way. Animal sanctuaries that help rehabilitate animals will use tourist ticket money to help care for animals, there are also good volunteer options at some rehab centers. It can sometimes be hard to distinguish ethical and unethical animal sanctuaries. Often it's better to visit animal sanctuaries where you do not touch animals. Safaries allow animals to roam and live in their natural habitat, while being viewed from afar. Scuba diving and whale watching trips allow you to view marine life safely.
If while traveling you see any animal cruelty, please consider reporting it to local authorities. Take photos and videos, and record the time and place this took place. Also, report illegal animals being sold in markets and animal products like rhynosous horns and ivory.
Map of freedom and political status from Freemdom House
Ecotoruism is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. It's the most envornmentaly conscious way to travel.
Ecotourism focuses on minimal waste, protecting the environment, works with local partners, and provides a nature focused experience. Choosing ecotourism is very important, and lots of hotels and tours now focus on ecotourism.
There are some destinations that are most focused on ecotourism. Some examples are Bhutan, Costa Rica, Morocco and Colombia. In Morocco there are lots of leave no trace camps, camel rides that disclose animal treatment, and local guides taking you where you can shop from the locals. Camping in the Sahara has strict policies to protect the vast sand dunes, and leave nothing behind but footprints.
But you can find ecotourism everywhere on earth. When looking for a hotel, give "ecotourisim" or "green" hotel in the area you're visiting a quick google search. Also, search for small or communal areas, or localy owned hotels. Unfortunately, search engines like Airbnb or Expedia do not have an "eco-friendly" qualification or standard, but showing interest when reviewing and leaving comments can help push companies in the right direction. When booking in Europe you could try Fairbnb, which donates half its incomes to local environmental and social projects. You can also try searching for hotels that have won World Responsible Tourism Awards or made it onto lists published by sustainable travel experts.
Tours can also fall under ecotourism. Look at tours or experiences that take pride in protecting fragile ecosystems. Some examples of travel companies are Responsible travel with their giveback program. AndBeyond takes responsibility for animals and people with off grid camps. Intrepid is a very popular tour group and hosts small groups and uses local guides and supports community projects all over the world.
When taking a trip on your own, there are everyday choices you can make.
Being mindful of your choices. For instance, golf courses can also mean clearcutting a land and using excess water that might be taken away from locals. Maybe don't choose to golf someplace where the golf course could be out of place.
Being mindful not to use sunscreen that destroys reefs or not stepping on coral when in the water.
The more sustainable tourism is practiced by travelers, the more demand will grow. Companies, tours and locals will follow the demand and open up sustainable tourism and it will grow. But, it's up to us as the traveler to be safe and responsible when making choices during our adventures to protect the environment, animals and the locals who so graciously let us into their home.