by Johanna Meissner, Sustainability & Social Responsibility Associate, PATA
The one thing I have always known I wanted to do in my life is to travel. The thought of experiencing what life is like in other places of the world has always motivated my wanderlust, so you could say it was only natural that I would end up pursuing a career in the tourism industry.
I was hoping that, by studying tourism management I could live out my passion of travelling and experiencing other cultures and places, meeting people from all over the world.
I found that responsible tourism is very well suited to cater to this exact way of travelling and I know I am not the only one seeking these kinds of experiences.
As the term responsible tourism already suggests, this way of tourism – from the perspective of a traveller – is all about travelling responsibly, consciously and treading as lightly on the destinations as possible during the journey. Travellers have a responsibility to not harm the destination, its heritage and cultural sites and population in any way.
There are various forms of responsible tourism. Environmentally responsible tourism is where we experience nature whilst seeking to avoid or at least minimise any negative impacts and, preferably, contributing in some form to its conservation. Socio-cultural responsible tourism contributes to the preservation of cultural assets and supports local populations and locally-owned businesses. In fact responsible tourism could (and should) embrace all forms of leisure travel.
The one thing that needs to be considered with these different kinds of tourism is the impact travellers can have on a destination. By being aware of these impacts we must all share the responsibility to create the lowest possible negative effects on the environment and to travel in ways that benefit the host destination. Tourists must always keep in mind that their travels and interactions with host destinations should be ethically acceptable and beneficial to both parties.
People seeking to travel responsibly usually look automatically for the most authentic experiences, which may often tend to be the most ethical ones. To travel responsibly means to put the needs of the host destination first and only be as demanding as the abilities of a destination allow and appreciate the destination for what it is.
Travelling with this in mind usually gives tourists a more authentic experience. Appreciating the nature of the host destination, respecting culture, society and environment, and acting accordingly can drive travellers to make more ethical decisions.
Not setting too high expectations makes it easier to stay open-minded towards new experiences and impressions of ways of life that might have been previously unknown to the traveller. For example, responsible travellers go for local food and other local produce and they appreciate and follow the regulations and guidelines in place to protect cultural and natural heritage sites.
Therefore, I would state that responsible tourism is well suited to fulfil travellers’ longings to pursue and experience a more conscious way of travelling.
Being a responsible traveller is about valuing all facets of the destination you visit, even though there might be aspects of it that you don’t like, that don’t meet your expectations and that you didn’t plan to include on your travel agenda. Travellers, at the very least, must respect what they experience. They should treat these experiences well, show respect to the people that they meet, the nature they see and the culture they learn about.
Everyone should try to keep an open mind and get outside their comfort zones to take in all the littlehappenings. Only then can you understand and learn about the destination and the little surprises that it may hold.
Food plays a huge role in culture and can teach you a lot about it. Food differs from country to country, region to region, and even community to community. Food options vary depending on geographical location and the populations’ preferences of food can differ from nation to nation. The way in which food is processed may vary from one community to another.
Not only are types of food or dishes prepared representative of cultures but also the ways of eating itself – such as the differences in times and importance of meals. Do you share food or have individual meals when going to a restaurant? Do you eat with your hands, spoon, chopsticks, knife and fork or even in a totally different way?
Do you have hot or cold breakfasts or no breakfast at all? How about lunch and dinner? Do you value shared meals or do you prefer the individualism of eating alone? There are so many ways of trying and experiencing food and, through this, getting an insight into one very important aspect of every culture.
In order to be a responsible traveller you need to cast your net wide and try new things, such as new and unusual foods, to be able to learn as much as possible about the destination you are visiting.
Food can teach us about geography of a destination, about beliefs, about what kinds of food can be locally supplied and about their seasonality; and by eating and purchasing locally responsible travellers are even contributing to the sustainability of the local economy.
The biggest problem in tourism, I believe, is that some travellers are simply too ignorant regarding the respect (or lack of respect) they pay to what a host destination is kind enough to offer them. There needs to be a way to better educate them on what they will miss and on the consequences arising from such ignorance and unethical behaviour.
This ignorance of travellers can, for example, be seen in disrespectful behaviour regarding social and cultural values of a host community. Travellers’ disrespectful behaviour towards cultural heritage sites demonstrates a lack of respect for the local community and their values. Host communities, understandably, might begin to refuse accepting tourists and might also develop a negative attitude towards the development of tourism.
Consequently, treating a destination with ignorance and disregarding the responsibility each of us should take on during our travels can cause the degradation of assets that once made a destination attractive to tourists. These impacts, in the end, impair the quality of the experience for travellers and decrease economic benefits arising from tourism.
Luckily, tourism companies and organisations are taking action by creating awareness about responsible travel – spreading knowledge about good practices through numerous channels.
With their actions they are not only reaching out to industry stakeholders and calling them to action but they are also taking steps to promote responsible tourism via popular channels used by tourists when looking for their next adventure.
When promoting responsible tourism to travellers – especially when reaching out to those who would not necessarily consider how their actions might impact upon a destination – it should be done in a way that highlights the unique experiences available in responsible tourism not only focuses on the technical concepts around it.
Promoting and supporting responsible tourism development and implementation – from both the industry and traveller perspectives – is an essential part of the drive to improve the sustainability of the tourism industry.
I am very pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this process because I am not ready to accept that I might be unable to experience the true nature of many places of the world as a result of the actions of irresponsible travellers.
What would we be if we could not sustain the unique assets and values that every single country, region, city, and community has to offer to the world?