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Travelling is awesome. It can be inspirational, rewarding, educational and not to mention, loads of fun. Being a responsible traveller is quite different though. Most people hear the term “responsible tourism” and have an idea as to what it means, but no idea why it’s so important.
According to the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism, it is classified as “creating a better place for people to live and a better place for people to visit.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? It’s also about education and respect.
When travelling abroad, you should always treat the locals as they want to be treated, not how YOU want to be treated. There’s a difference. Remember, YOU are in THEIR country. It’s as simple as give respect, to get respect. Experiencing and immersing yourself with the country’s culture to show interest and respect is also a way that responsible tourism comes into play. You as a traveller will also gain a more rewarding and unique experience from participating in an activity, or learning about a tradition with the locals.
Now why is responsible tourism important, you ask?
It can minimize negative economic and environmental impacts throughout the country in which you are travelling in. This means that money coming into supporting local communities can help enhance the well being of the locals, rather than the businesses that may be owned and operated by foreigners. Supporting local businesses makes a huge and positive change within communities, especially ones in countries that consist of families relying on that business as a major source of income.
Whether it’s buying a snack from a street vendor rather than from a 7-11, or purchasing a coconut from a local strolling up and down the beach, these little purchases and economic support help make locals thrive. Responsible tourism should help benefit everyone. You’ll receive a more unique experience as a traveller and it also helps and supports the locals. It’s a win-win.
Responsible tourism also adds a positive contribution to the conservation of natural and cultural heritages and also to the wildlife. Purchasing items that are from poaching, or riding an elephant…these things are NOT responsible tourism and does nothing to help make a positive contribution. By doing this, it fuels the wrong type of tourism. Sadly, this type of tourism does exist, but that’s where education comes into play. Knowledge is power, people! The more you know, the more responsible you’ll become.
By practicing responsible tourism, it also helps you, as a tourist, gain a better understanding and deeper appreciation and connection with the country, the communities, the locals, their culture and their customs and traditions. Something may seem odd, uncomfortable, or strange to you, but when you are in another country, it is not the locals’ job to make YOU feel comfortable in THEIR country. That’s what travelling is about; learning and seeing other parts of the world and why they do the things they do. If you want to feel comfortable and cozy, stay home. Simple, right?
Responsible tourism is not an easy topic to explain, or discuss. Next time you travel, look into whether or not a hotel is owned and operated by locals, are there tour companies that employ local people from the community that you just happen to be travelling in? Looking for a bite to eat? Check to see if there are any local hot spots to check out. Educating yourself about local businesses and how to support the communities will definitely change the way you travel going forward and make you a smart and responsible traveller.