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Be a Responsible Tourist

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 27 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
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Is it possible to enjoy a holiday abroad and still be a responsible tourist? Of course it is. It just means you have to be more thoughtful in your actions, how you treat people and respect their culture – and of course, how you reach the place (the lower your carbon footprint the better, of course).

But as more and more people become aware of the impact they make in so many ways with their holidays, it’s become a growing part of the tourism industry.

There are specialist companies that offer responsible tourism as their ethos, whether it’s to Tuscany, viewing wildlife in its natural habitat in Uganda, learning to sail in Greece, or allowing your spiritual side to grow in India. These all respect the local wisdom and habitat, and offer those visiting a chance to learn from what’s around them, rather than simply sunning themselves on a beach in Majorca.

Of course, local tourist information offices and national tourist boards also show a full range of activities on offer to those coming to the country, meaning you can undertake your own, independent responsible tourism, if you’re of a more adventurous frame of mind.

The Principles of Responsible Tourism

Various regions around the world, like the Pacific, have developed principles that guide responsible tourism. These revolve largely around respect for the people, the landscape and the culture. So as a tourist you wouldn’t leave littler, you’d buy local crafts and art, while remaining aware of the environmental impact of certain objects – coral, for instance – and dressing in a way that respects local cultural more – no topless sunbathing unless it’s accepted, for instance.

A lot of what you need to know about local customs – so you don’t offend them – can be gathered either from tour operators or from local tourist boards and tourism information centres. Above all, it’s remembering that although you’re bringing welcome currency to the economy, you’re really a guest there, and should behave with the decorum of a guest anywhere – learning some basic words and phrases in the language, for instance, shows a great deal of consideration and will be greatly appreciated.

Where to Practice Responsible Tourism

The simple answer is that you can be a responsible tourist anywhere, whether it’s the middle of the Far East or at home in the UK. It’s really not about where you go, but how you behave. So a visit to a World Heritage site like Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire can be as responsible as going to Angkar Wat in Cambodia (World Heritage sites are important historical and significant sites).

Buy local food and locally made souvenirs that benefit small companies rather than anything mass-produced. If it’s in the UK, consider reaching your destination by train or bus, or even bicycling or walking, rather than adding to pollution and traffic by using your car – that’s definitely responsible! If you’re going abroad, explore ways to lower your travel carbon footprint – perhaps going by train or ship, for instance.

However you do it, you’ll probably find that you gain a lot more from being a responsible tourist than from the more traditional type of holiday making. In fact, you’ll feel less of a tourist, and more of someone entering another world – which is what you are – and the memories you bring back will be fuller and richer for the experience.

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