While responsible tourism and sustainable tourism are often used interchangeably – the two travel terms, while both admirable and worthwhile, do have noticeable differences and focus areas.
Sustainable travel is all about leaving the least mark on our planet and finding greener, more eco-friendly ways to travel – this can be through something as simple as using bamboo or reusable mugs and straws to choosing to walk, cycle or hike rather than flying or commuting everywhere when travelling.
Responsible tourism, on the other hand, goes a bit beyond that. In many ways, it is like sustainable tourism just in a bigger, better and more impactful way. This is because responsible tourism targets areas like community upliftment, local business support, nature conservation and cultural preservation, more all-inclusive travel and much more.
Simply put: responsible tourism is about creating “better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit”.
So from this, we can see that responsible tourism is really about protecting, uplifting and supporting existing communities, people, wildlife and natural-, social- or cultural-spaces, rather than having an adverse or damaging effect on them, as tourists sadly so often do.
In this post, we look at five positive effects that responsible tourism – and those who adhere to it – can have on our world at large.
1) Responsible Tourism Connects Travellers with Locals and/or Uplifts Local Communities
We have all read about or heard horror stories about tourists and travellers who have had negative effects on local communities.
Whether through unthinkingly encouraging petty crime/begging through handing out money and valuables; trespassing and/or removing natural plants, animals or items from a protected environment; damaging local flora or fauna. Or even something as simple, yet devastating, as taking advantage of locals and using photos of them and/or their lives in exploitive photographs and glossy magazine covers created, published and shared without their consent.
These are some of the different ways that irresponsible and downright selfish tourism and travel can negatively affect a community and its people.
But what about the positive ways that you can promote and uplift others? Well, responsible tourism looks at the ways that travellers can connect with locals and uplift communities.
This can be through something like volunteer work or even something small like simply supporting a local business; sharing a positive online review; donating to a local charity or welfare organisation (like an animal shelter or orphanage, school); and purchasing goods from a local store or market that directly impacts a local community and/or its local economy.
Other ways can be through the respect and understanding you show as a traveller by making meaningful connections and playing an active, albeit temporary, role in a local community.
2) Responsible Travel Enriches Our Travel Experiences
While there is no question that travel is an enriching, eye-opening experience – there are tangible ways that we can make our travel experiences more worthwhile or special.
This is one noticeable benefit of responsible tourism: it not only helps and supports local communities, organisations and protected areas but it also enriches our travel memories and teaches us more about ourselves and others.
For example, something like volunteering at a local elephant sanctuary no doubt teaches you far more about yourself and these amazing creatures than a zoo or ‘animal experience’ ever could.
Not to mention that, while one promotes forced servitude and petting or worse still, riding animals against their will – another protects and safeguards them, leaving them free to interact or maintain distance as they please, while you nourish, clean up after and protect them.
That is what it means to be a responsible traveller – it is about bucking against the tourist trap trends and gimmicks and being a responsible, caring traveller who puts the needs of a community, its people and its wildlife above one’s own selfish, short-lived bucket list or experiential gratification.
3) Responsible Tourism Promotes Nature Conservation and Cultural Preservation
Building on our second point, responsible tourism naturally and impactfully promotes nature conservation and in some instances, cultural preservation too.
This can be through anything from beach clean-ups (rather than damaging a protected area or removing things like seashells, rocks or plants from it). Or even something as simple as actually obeying the rules and guidelines set out to protect or safeguard a sensitive biosphere or threatened natural habitat.
It also means preserving, respecting and learning about local cultural practices and beliefs so that you are more mindful, educated and enlightened as a responsible traveller.
Take an active interest in local cultures and seek to understand them, rather than just photographing and dismissing them and never giving them another moment’s consideration again.
4) Responsible Travel is More All-inclusive
For travellers (or even locals) who have disabilities or use a wheelchair, responsible tourism is also about providing access to places so that everyone has the chance to experience and enjoy them.
This makes it about promoting more all-inclusive travel – but more importantly, it is about awarding the same level of respect to both travellers and locals, regardless of circumstance or situation etc.
5) Responsible Tourism Minimises Social, Economic or Environmental Impacts
As we have mentioned previously, responsible tourism is about uplifting and safeguarding social, economic and environmental situations.
It is about the good we can do and impart – rather than our own often selfish or narrow-minded desires as a traveller.
The end goal should be about leaving a place and a community better than we found it, yes – but it is also about the impact we, as people and travellers, can have on others.
Whether it is the good we do through volunteering or donating to needy causes in a responsible way or the way we appreciate, protect and treasure a protected space or endangered species – responsible tourism brings out the best in the world – and above all, in ourselves as well.
Travel has a way of uniting us unlike anything else – and if we do it responsibly, we can give as much as we receive from our travels. And that is what responsible tourism is all about!