I was reading an issue of Travel and Leisure today at work. I had a choice of You Tube, doing a few hours of Continuing Education, or reading. I did all three to be exact, but this caught my eye. This article made a few good points, and missed a few as well.
First, we need to define responsible tourism. In other words, how do we affect the locations and businesses we visit? Are we helping the community, and helping their businesses through our actions? Basically, our objective should be “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.”
Next, does it make a difference to us travelers? Yes, a better informed traveler helps make it easier to connect with locals, creating a more authentic experience. The idea is to meet more people, and perhaps learn some of the local customs and hangouts.
That begs the question, about what we should avoid. Animals are a big one, so avoiding things like elephant rides, where animals might be mistreated. Training practices can be harsh, both mentally and physically for the animals. I also found that visiting orphanages can be scams as well. Children are removed from their homes forcibly to meet tourist demand. Make sure you do your homework before going!
Some places are disappearing or almost gone, like the Great Barrier Reef, the glaciers in Glacier National Park, and Torres del Paine, or the lush rainforests of the Amazon. Compare that to a visit to New York City to see theater, or Washington, DC to see the monuments and museums.
Which begs the next question, how can I decide if the trip is conducted responsibly? Every traveler should ask questions. Does the trip help the community economically? I would imagine a trip to Cuba would be difficult to assess in that perspective. Does it empower the people there? Also difficult, though I do feel that their jobs have been created to help the tourist. And it is safe for the natural and cultural heritage of that place? Again, difficult to assess for the regular tourist, but follow your instincts. That “E ticket” jeep ride through the desert just does not seem as neutral as a hike through the desert.
Finally, what can we do to make travel more responsible? Over tourism to places like Machu or Angkor Wat cannot be good for anyone or anything. They are treasures that can never be fully protected or replicated. Going places where few would go are preferable to following the crowd. A great alternative to Thailand would be Laos. A great alternative to the Grand Canyon would be Bryce Canyon. You get the idea?
Over the years, I have been guilty of over touristing. Perhaps now that I have seen my share of “great” sights, maybe it is time to fine tune my adventures, and, as my favorite poet, Robert Frost said, “Follow the road less traveled”, and you will be rewarded.
His exact words: