It is difficult to read the news and not find an article on the negative impacts of travel. With the rise of mass tourism, it has become clear that our carefree vacations can have dangerous consequences, from increasing greenhouse gas emissions, causing coral reef destruction, to unethical animal experiences, corporate buy-outs of small villages, and more. This is disheartening and begs the question: How can we continue traveling if it’s destroying our world? Let us introduce you to responsible tourism, the answer to how you can continue traveling and even do good in the world with your travel.
What is responsible tourism?
Responsible tourism may seem like another buzzword along with sustainable tourism, ethical tourism, eco travel, and others. It carries the same principles as these other phrases, but particularly focuses on the decisions of individual travelers, rather than the decisions made by large corporations or countries. As travelers, it is our individual responsibility to make ethical decisions regarding where we go, how we spend our money, the photos we share, where we stay, and more.
The simple definition of responsible tourism is any tourism that minimizes its negative effects on social, economic, and environmental domains. Beyond offsetting negative effects, responsible tourism should also create economic benefits for local people, improve host communities, remain culturally sensitive, and more. The phrase was officially defined in the Cape Town Declaration during the World Summit on Sustainable Tourism, where it was said,
“Responsible tourism makes better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” [source]
5 ways to practice responsible tourism
As a traveler wanting to engage in responsible tourism, that desire to do good is the first step. Here are five practical ways to practice responsible tourism as you plan your next trip. Keep in mind that your actions and responsibility will change with each place you visit. Do some research and tune into the local culture, history, and economy as you make your decisions.
1. Reduce plastic pollution
Chances are you’ve seen photos of once pristine tropical beaches, now covered in plastic. Not only is this an eyesore, but micro-plastics are increasingly polluting our water, air, and food chain, destroying biodiversity and even leading to health consequences. Increased global tourism is a major contributor to plastic pollution – just consider the amount of water bottles cycled through on a daily basis in locales with unsafe drinking supply. Thankfully, however, there are now many ways travelers can reduce their plastic consumption. Pack a high-quality filtration water bottle, iodine or chlorine tablets to purify water, and plan ahead by using reusable straws, bags, coffee cups, and more.
2. Stay at locally owned properties'
Be wary of large hotel chains or resorts where tourist dollars are either funneled out of the country or sent directly to the government. Instead, make the choice to stay at locally owned accommodation, including bed and breakfasts, homestays, and similar. This ensures that the money you spend is recirculated in the local economy, helping local entrepreneurs and business owners. It also ensures you have a more authentic cultural experience. For instance, in the Purposeful Nomad trips to Cuba, we stay at family-run Casas Particulares, giving you a peek into true Cuban life.'
3. Offset your flight emissions
Undeniably, one of the biggest environmental impacts of travel is the carbon emissions from flying. Air travel contributes to 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a statistic that is expected to grow dramatically by 2050. To combat this, you can pay to offset your flight emissions through companies that invest in programs, such as reforestation, that will reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Calculate your emissions with a tool such as Open Flights, and pay to offset with a company such as Gold Standard or TerraPass. Many airlines have their own offset programs, too, so check while you book. And of course, the easiest way to reduce your travel-related emissions is to only fly when you have to. When possible, choose other transport options such as bus, train, foot, bike, and even car, which produce much less greenhouse gases.
4. Avoid unethical animal experiences
Many travelers unknowingly support unethical animal experiences and the exotic animal trade. From riding elephants to petting tigers, the dark truth is these animals are often drugged, beaten, and separated from their family in order for travelers to get an Instagram photo. Instead, use your money to support truly responsible animal experiences, such as conservation and rehabilitation clinics. On the Purposeful Nomad trip to Ecuador, we partner with Paqocha Ecuador, who are responsibly reintroducing alpacas to the region.
5. Use local guides
Truly responsible tourists aim to see a destination, and learn about it, through the lens of locals. Instead of powering through a destination with guides who are outsiders as much as you, aim to use local guides, or travel with a company like Purposeful Nomads that employs local guides. Purposeful Nomads supports local guides and businesses. For example, on our trip to Rajasthan, India we partner with the Sambhali Trust, a nonprofit which empowers the women of Jodhpur. The co-founder of Sambhali leads our tour, giving unique insight to not only the local culture, but also critique and education on the state of women’s rights in India. With a local guide, your money supports not only the individual leading your tour, but also the entire local infrastructure. As the cherry on top, you get a truly special experience seeing a place through a local’s eyes, and make connections across cultures.
Be a responsible tourist on your next trip
There are hundreds of ways to be a responsible tourist. From small decisions like using reef safe sunscreen, to larger decisions like the tour company you travel with, your mode of transport, or what regions you visit. Simply start by considering the responsible tourism trifecta of environment, society, and economy in all your travel decisions.
Travel is a powerful force. Although it can have negative consequences, it is up to us as travelers to take that power back and use it as a force for good.
Interested in responsible travel with Purposeful Nomad? Check out our upcoming trips here.