Tourism can preserve and destroy. It can bring enormous advantages for local communities in terms of development and employment, but it can also lead to exploitation and loss of culture. Ethical tourism seeks to maximise the benefits of tourism, whilst minimising the detriments.
As far as possible eat in locally owned restaurants, stay in locally owned accommodation, shop in locally owned retail outlets, and use locally based tour operators. This way it ensures that money stays within the local community instead of being syphoned elsewhere. If you choose a foreign owned operator, check if they are working closely to improve the community by paying their staff a fair wage and supporting initiatives to improve the lives of local people.
I love staying in five star international hotels and resorts too and sometimes I want this extra level of luxury. If my stay is in such a hotel, I attempt to contribute to the local community by eating and shopping in external establishments, and using externally based tourism services.
Respect comes in many forms, but the most obvious is to respect the culture, people and traditions of a place. Just because a village, town or city engages in practices and beliefs that are not the same as yours does not make it an inferior practice – it is just different. You may not agree with these practices and beliefs, but you need to respect them.
It is vital to respect dress codes when travelling. Exposing skin in many sections of the world is considered offensive, so observe what the local men and women are wearing are dress appropriately. Even though the temperature may be hot, it is not an excuse to walk around in shorts and t-shirt if the locals are covered from neck to foot. With the exception of Saudi Arabia, if local women are wearing the face covering [i]burqa[/i], it is acceptable for foreign female tourists to wear the head covering [i]hijab[/i] instead.
Be especially aware of religious sensitivities. Males wearing hats in Western churches is deemed unacceptable, whilst in Ethiopian Orthodox churches, women should cover their heads. Removing shoes is standard in mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples but these rules vary greatly, so take advice from the locals. Certain important religious times require a greater degree of awareness, perhaps the most obvious is not eating or drinking in public during Ramadan in predominately Islamic countries.
Alcohol is not widely consumed in a number of cultures, so do not try to replicate what may be considered acceptable alcohol consumption of your culture into a foreign land where such behaviour is considered inappropriate.
A child approaches you in the street to sell you trinkets. Seems innocuous enough, but consider the following: Would this child be in school if they were not selling souvenirs? Would be this child be undertaking manual work on the family farm if they were not selling souvenirs? Would this child be playing with their friends if they were not selling souvenirs? Who will receive the money you give – is it a family member or the head of a gang? Each situation must be judged independently, but it is important to consider these aspects before handing over your money.
Certain forms of tourism lend themselves more strongly to exploitation – such as orphanage tourism, where in many places, the children there are not orphans but are coerced or forced there for the financial benefit of unscrupulous operators. Adults can be exploited too, such as porters on mountains trekking – so undertake some research and ask questions before committing yourself to a specific service.
In a number of societies, it is considered impolite and even offensive to photograph without consent. Some cultures even believe that capturing their image will bring them bad luck. My photographic rule is to always ask first if attempting an individual or very small group (3 or 4) portrait. Photographing a street scene is far less likely to cause offence to a person who is one amongst hundreds than shoving a camera close to their face and snapping away. You are most likely to feel uncomfortable if a stranger photographed you without their consent, thus the same applies when you are behind the viewfinder; it often makes others feel uncomfortable – so ask first.
When travelling I have made mistakes with regards to the above, and it is probable I will do so again in the future. It is difficult to travel without an unblemished record, but at least be mindful of your actions and the consequences. Follow these simple suggestions and you will engage in a form of tourism that will be mutually beneficial for both you and the local people in the places that you are privileged to visit.
For further information on ethical tourism, please follow the links below: