As the old saying goes, travel broadens the mind and visiting the places which excite us is one of the great joys of life. However, the world has lost around 30 per cent of its untouched habitats in as many years, particularly in many tourist destinations around the globe, where the local ecosystem has quite literally been trampled underfoot. Not only can tourism make things worse for indigenous wildlife, paradoxically attempts to safeguard the environment can also impact adversely on local people, especially when tracts of their traditional lands become “protected.”
Ethical tourism is an attempt to redress the balance, reducing the negative aspects of our visit, while increasing the positive – and the thinking behind it can be applied every bit as much to a routine package holiday in the sun, as to the more obviously eco-friendly journeys. For the committed ethical tourist, it begins long before you haul your suitcases into a waiting taxi and ends around the same time as your tan begins to fade and while inevitably much depends on where you intend to go, there are a few general themes to consider. So how exactly can we add environmental ethics to our enjoyment of travelling?
Before You GoWith carbon emissions the watch-word of the day, the ethical tourist will plan a route to minimise the dreaded CO2 – travelling by train and bus, wherever and whenever practical. Reducing flying time is, of course, important but minimising internal flights and stopovers should be a more major element in the plan, since take-offs and landings release the most carbon. When you simply have no alternative, then attempt to offset the carbon emissions of your flight – either by investing in a recognised scheme, or simply planting some trees if you can. After all, every little helps!
Ethical tourism is not just about the global things – local aspects matter too. You might like to consider finding out about local conservation or social projects in the vicinity of your destination, for example, or find out what steps your intended tour operator or hotel take to minimise environmental impacts or support the local economy. By the same token, practical things matter too, so leave your excess packaging at home – waste disposal can be a serious problem in some countries – and research the local customs and language to win friends and avoid potential misunderstandings.
While You’re ThereWherever you have chosen for your fortnight away, buy local is an important maxim – whether it be your choice of produce, souvenirs, guides or trip organisers. In many cases, aside from knowing that you are benefiting the local economy, you yourself are likely to get a much better feel for the local culture and way of life – and it is this aspect of travel which truly broadens the mind, not the raw mileage covered!
Try as best as you can to leave your “home” ways behind, submerge yourself in the place and accept that other people have different ways of doing things and different concepts of time. At a practical level, consider how much waste you throw away and how much water you use – in many parts of the world, water is a considerably more precious commodity.
Remember that from the local people’s point of view, your holiday is an intrusion into their everyday life – an economic necessity, but a practical nuisance. In many respects, each tourist is an ambassador – for themselves as much as for their country – so try to minimise the annoyance with a little sensitivity and consideration. From Snowdonia to the Seychelles, the ethical tourist will stand out and be fondly remembered.
Back HomeIf you had a great time and everything was an eco-friendly dream – then tell your travel agent, tour operator and hotel management; equally, if you have constructive feedback on how things could be improved, let them know too. Things can never change if no one knows that there is a problem in the first place.
If you promised anything to anyone you met – local or fellow traveller – make sure you deliver; a copy of that photograph may seem trivial to you back home, but many are promised, few arrive. Disappointment hardens people’s attitudes to visitors, so play fair by those who will follow in your footsteps.
With the current discussions of man-made climate change and global warming, many people are questioning the ecological cost of their annual get-away. There are plenty of perfectly valid reasons for wishing to visit other places and though it is inevitable that, however we travel, we cannot escape some level of environmental impact, we can at least seek to mitigate its severity. By staying true to the vision of ethical tourism, we may not do the most good, but we can certainly cause the least harm.