Responsible Tourism

As we speed into the 21st Century, zooming on the highway of quick fix holiday packages and group traveller destinations where guests are herded into rooms in big hotels and unnecessary pitstops at emporiums and shops selling mass produced 'handicrafts', it may be a good time to stop a while and think about what it is that makes a holiday .... a holiday.

Fuel surcharges are rising, lifestyles are changing and increasingly, environments are being landscaped to suit the busy holiday maker. It is time to make a change, and that's where responsible tourism comes into mind. It takes 2 to make the change : the traveller and the operator. Here are some tips on how we can enjoy our holiday and at the same time make sure that we contribute to the environs we visit.

What is Responsible Tourism
We all know that in all situations, tourism is bound to have an impact on the Environmental, Social and Economic status of that destination. Quite often with a negative impact. Responsible Tourism aims to counter such negativities by addressing the issues which involve conservation of the environment, its people and its culture. The guidelines for responsible traveller and operator falls under several categories and they are ... to protect the environment ? its flora, fauna and landscapes ; to benefit the local communities - economically and socially; to respect local cultures ? traditions, religions and built heritage ; to conserve natural resources - from home to location ; to minimise pollution - through noise, waste disposal and congestion (AITO - The Association of Independant Tour Operators)

Tips for the Responsible Traveller
Planning your travel :

  • It is now common knowledge that the biggest environmental impact of travelling is the flight. Minimising flight time and stopovers can lower carbon emissions. Taking off and landing emits the most carbon. If possible, take alternative travel methods such as the train, public transportation and avoid short haul domestic flights. There are travel sites that can help offset the CO2 emissions by calculating the amount of CO2 generated on a flight and provide the traveller the opportunity to offset their CO2 emissions through investing in projects which lower carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. For example, projects that encourage replanting of trees or reforestation; encouraging the use of alternative energy such as solar power and hydropower; and using alternative fuel such as biodiesel from planting jatropha instead of invasive plantations such as palm oil where fertiliser and insecticide contamination is high.

Homework before travel:

  • Learn a few useful words in the local language. This is helpful to break barriers and normally the locals will warm up to you quickly
  • Religious customs and local traditions vary greatly from one country to another and even within the country there are often a mix of different cultures and races. It is important to respect the local way of life even if you may not totally agree with it. In Asia especially, be aware that the local concept of time may not be as punctual and harried as yours. Patience is a virtue...
  • When packing for your trip, best to minimise on disposable goods and packaging. Places you go may not have efficient refuse system and quite common in rural areas and on islands where refuse is disposed of in an open fire which may add to toxic fumes.
  • Ask your operator what would be an ideal gift to bring along if you were to visit local villagers and the headman of the village, local schools or orphanages and sanctuaries
  • Ask your operator if there are any local conservation or social projects nearby of which you can contribute to or visit on your trip

When you're there:

  • Respect local cultures, traditions and religions. If you are unsure, please ask especially upon entering holy places
  • Buy local produce, help the local economy
  • Don't buy products made from endangered species, hardwood from our rainforests and ancient artifacts which will be regarded as national treasures. No harvesting of endemic flora from the forest especially priceless orchids species.
  • Choose local guides to bring you around. They usually have better knowledge of the surroundings and of course, its history, folklore and culture.

Once back home:
  • It's good to provide some feedback to the operator so that this may help them improve or streamline their work to operate in a more responsible fashion.
  • Continue with the good work you have done with the communities or any causes and projects that you were involved or participated in whilst at location.

How To Be Qualify As A Responsible Operator
There are generally several factors to look into as a responsible operator. The Social, Economic and Environmental factors.

The Social Factor
It is encouraged to support local development and also help maintain their cultures and traditions by introducing them to guests so that they may understand and respect their way of life. In turn, the local communities such as the natives will continue to respect their forefathers' beliefs and not shy away in shame of their heritage. This has happened in many communities such as the Kelabit community in Bario and Ba'kelalan where older generations have snipped off their hanging earlobes after having been encouraged by their children to do so for fear at being ridiculed by outsiders.

The Economic Factor
It is encouraged that operators engage local people under their payroll and provide them with training so that they have the opportunity to build a life for them and their families. Operators should also be encouraged to buy local produce to help the local communities such as vegetables and fruits from local farms.

The Environmental Factor
This involves minimising negative impacts to the locale such as noise and energy pollution, waste disposal and congestion. In providing a holiday destination that is environment conscious, the operator is also encouraged to share their passion by educating guests on the local environment and issues .

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