It is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development , the perfect time to shed light on how travelling the right way can have a great impact on the world around us. You may have begun to frequently hear the terms ‘responsible tourism and ‘sustainable tourism’ in travel articles or conversations this year, which is great because it means that the awareness is growing and that the world’s largest commercial service sector industry is acknowledging the potential it truly has.
So what are the benefits of responsible tourism and why is it so important?
We asked 8 responsible tourism advocates to share what they believe is the main benefit of responsible travel and here’s what they had to say…
We benefit local communities
The main benefit of responsible travel is when you’re able to make a positive impact on local communities. This could be by supporting community-based tourism projects, shopping and eating at locally-run businesses or supporting local charities and organisations. Two of my favourite responsible travel organisations are De La Gente in Guatemala and Local Alike in Thailand. Both organisations have a commitment to improving life for local people through positive, responsible tourism.
– Charlie from Charlie on Travel
We leave with better stories
Have you ever felt that nagging feeling of ‘was that a good thing to have done’ or ‘did that feel right”? I know I have. It’s a feeling I know particularly well from my time in Thailand. Despite elephant tourism being frought with controversy and ethical challenges, I wanted to give ethical elephant attractions a chance. They’re my favourite animals after all.
The first ‘Ethical’ elephant ‘sanctuary’ was a disaster. I got there only to find that riding the elephants was on offer after all. It was a long few hours of sitting out and waiting around for the rest of the group to finish their time with the elephants so we could head home. My second experience couldn’t have been more different. I had an incredible opportunity to go and visit Mahouts Elephant Foundation in Northern Thailand, who are working on bringing elephants back to the wild. They’ve now rescued several elephants from tourist camps (such as the first one I experienced) and walked them and their mahouts home to the forests. Not only do the elephants have freedom and space to roam around without being ridden, but the Mahouts get to be back home and close to their families too.
The first experience serves as a cautionary tale, but the second transformed my time in Thailand. I know which story I recount more and which one made me feel good as a traveller. The better one.
– Ellie from Soul Travel Blog
We educate others
I believe the main benefit we have as responsible travellers is the opportunity to educate others. There are so many of us out there who just don’t see or understand the impact we make when travelling, especially when it comes to unethical animal tourism and unequal distribution of wealth.
There is still a large part of the travel industry that is based on luxury, consumerism and capitalism, without the concern for people, animals or the environment. Responsible tourism gives us the opportunity to counter that and stand up and say “hey, something’s not right here. Here’s a more sustainable and ethical approach to tourism.”
The more people who stand up and speak about the benefits of responsible tourism and the implications of irresponsible tourism the more others can be educated on the topic. That’s where we will see a positive change.
– Bianca from The Altruistic Traveller
We contribute to a more equal world
Responsible tourism benefits local communities instead of international corporations or a country’s elite, which tend to keep most of the profits for themselves. It encourages valuable tourist dollars to be spent at independently owned tour companies, restaurants, hotels, and shops, providing a boost to the local economy by generating critical revenue and creating jobs when these businesses grow. By earning a proper living, people can better provide housing, food and education for their families, the effects of which can positively impact future generations. They also tend to be better stewards of the area’s natural resources and wildlife, since they don’t have to resort to destructive practices like deforestation and poaching out of desperation.
– Brianne from A Traveling Life
We lessen our ego
If I have to pick just one, I think the biggest benefit of responsible travel is its effect on the traveller’s own self-awareness. Travelling responsibly leads you onto a journey where you begin to learn how goods and services are provided and moved across places. The travel part removes your mind from the habits of your home environment, while the responsible part requires that you learn how to observe, ask questions, and understand how the trade-offs made by (or to) different communities about tourism – about receiving you – affect their lives. It can be difficult at first, but as it gradually becomes your default way of engaging with the world, you become less interested in your own ego, and then it’s suddenly way easier to really see another person, and think in terms of ‘us’ rather than ‘me’ or ‘you’. And this is exactly the mindset that the world needs to solve its most intractable problems.
– Nuraini from Teja on the Horizon
We leave only footprints
A sentiment I admire is that of taking nothing from the places you travel to and consequently leaving nothing behind. I would take this one step further in saying that there is something you should always take with you – and that’s rubbish, whether it be your own, or that left by those who have visited that place before you. We’re all on this earth together, after all!
Why bother? Well, not only to keep these places intact and beautiful for future generations to enjoy as you have. From a selfish point of view, I find I benefit personally from taking the times to pick up rubbish. I get a lot out of the places that I travel to – whether that be from a cultural point of view, or just having a really good time away from home. It’s satisfying to be able to give something back in return.
Nothing irritates me more than seeing a beautiful place strewn with rubbish, especially in a beachside setting. I clean up mostly for my own satisfaction – so I can then enjoy it as nature intended it to be.
– LC from Birdgehls
We improve the lives of others
I believe one of the main benefits of responsible tourism is the ability to help improve (even if it is just by a small amount) the situation of those suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises in our history. In 2016, I visited a Syrian refugee camp in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan and brought toys for the Syrian children. It was one of my best traveling experiences ever. It let me understand how travel connects us on so many levels and gives us the chance to improve the lives of others.
– Joan from Against The Compass
We can change the world
Though there is no way that I am complaining about the life that I live, sometimes, I really get very sick of traveling. I first started to travel for the sights but there came a time when I discovered that I want to journey through women empowerment and gender equality.
Sometime in 2013, I was walking in the souks of Marrakesh when a photograph caught my attention: a 15-year-old girl was shot by the Taliban because she is fighting for girls to go to school in Pakistan. 15 years old. Shot by a man. A child. Versus a man. For me, it seemed impossible. Why would you shoot a child who wants to go to school? The face of the girl who survived resonates so much power and made me realise the reality of young girls in Pakistan. She entered me.
From that day on, I told myself, “I have to go to Pakistan.” I don’t know how or why, but I know I have to go.
But Pakistan wasn’t ideal in this age of terrorism. I wasn’t scared to go but I was concerned about how my family will feel. They will worry about me. For the first time in my life, the reckless person that I am became sensitive and unselfish.
I still promised the young girls of Pakistan that they will be heard. I speak not for myself, but for those who don’t have a voice. Those who have fought for their rights. I have volunteered in Africa and Latin America helping educate girls around the world. In addition, I have asked my fellow female travellers to help me in encouraging women all over the world to travel. The series is called “Dear Girls of the World” and you can read all our entries here.
– Trisha from P.S I’m On My Way