[5 min read]
What is Responsible Tourism?
Responsible tourism is about making places better for locals to live in and others to visit.
The European Alliance for Responsible Tourism and Hospitality (EARTH) states:
“Responsible tourism complies with the principles of social and economic justice and exerts full respect towards the environment and its cultures. It recognizes the centrality of the local host community and its right to act as a protagonist in developing a sustainable and responsible tourism. Responsible tourism actuates to foster a positive interaction between the tourist industry, the local communities and the travelers”.
Put simply, responsible tourism takes into account the effects and implications of touristic activities. It does not only aim to minimize and eliminate negative effects of these activities, but to foster and develop positive ones between the local communities and the tourists.
These effects can be grouped into three main categories; economical, socio-cultural, and environmental.
Economic Aspect of Responsible Tourism
The economic aspect is obvious. If you recount how you spend your money on your recent annual vacation, or the last family holiday, you can see where your money went.
If the money ends up with the local communities, then you’re already partaking in responsible tourism. If, however, it went to large brands, then you can be sure the local communities are not receiving any.
How do you know if the local communities are benefiting from your consumer choices as a traveler?
This can be answered by asking yourself some questions. How did you plan your trip? Did you use a travel agency with their own network? Did you search for local activities and tours run by local people? Did you eat at local restaurants or in hotels and shopping malls? Did you stay at a five-star chain hotel or a small, independent hotel bed & breakfast?
By answering those few questions, you can see how your actions affect the local communities in the economical aspect.
On a bigger scale, responsible tourism can promote social development by creating jobs for the local residents, redistributing income, and alleviating poverty.
Socio-Cultural Aspect of Responsible Tourism
Socio-cultural effects are more subtle. It refers to the changes in host communities’ everyday experiences, including their way of life, values, perception, and cultural products.
When foreigners enter a local community, there will be interactions between them and the locals (either direct or indirect) and interactions with the tourism industry.
These interactions can bring changes to the local value systems, which affects behavior and in turn changes the indigenous identity. The impacts occur in community and family relationships, collective traditional lifestyles, traditions, ceremonies, and morality.
Some forms of impact include commodification, staged authenticity, and standardization.
Commodification occurs when tourism turns local cultures into commodities. Such as when religious, traditional, or ethnic rituals and ceremonies are changed to conform to tourist expectation or to meet a market demand.
When a destination is “discovered’ and tourism demand emerges, the market for cultural products such as souvenirs, arts, and entertainment can influence and change local values. Sacred objects may no longer be respected when they are perceived as an item for sale.
In Thailand, the object that has been severely affected by this change in perception is the statue image of the Buddha’s head. The Buddha’s image, in whichever form, is the symbol of highest virtue, to remind people not to stray from the path of good and the teachings of the Buddha himself. It is not a piece of furniture or decoration. Many hotels have Buddha statues as decorations which is inappropriate.
Staged authenticity is similar. When tourism becomes a big market, locals may try to capture tourists as customers by tweaking and adapting their cultural products to satisfy the tourist’s taste. Taken literally, this can mean food recipes at restaurants are modified to please tourists. In traditional dances and shows, this can mean adding more excitement to generate interest, rather than keeping the traditional performance accurate to history.
Standardization occurs when there is tourist demand for familiar facilities. This includes hotel chains, fast-food franchises, supermarkets that sell familiar products, among other things. Although it can improve convenience and make life easier, when done excessively, it can cause local communities to lose their identity.
There are also positive socio-cultural impacts.
Positive impacts of tourism include sympathy and understanding, strengthening communities, revaluation of culture and traditions.
Through interactions between tourists and host communities, sympathy and understanding is created as people learn more about one another. This can help promote the “citizen of the world” mindset where people regardless of their race and ethnicity are willing to offer help to fellow human beings.
With opportunities created by the tourism industry, communities are strengthened, emigration is reduced, and professional training is developed.
Positive tourism can enable and promote preservation of cultural and historical traditions, which contribute to the protection of local heritage, cultures, arts and crafts. In other words, old traditions that may be overlooked (without tourism) can become valuable and preserved.
Environmental Aspect of Responsible Tourism
Environmental impact caused by tourism has been in the spotlight many times. Tourism can cause an influx of people at a scale unnatural to the environment. This can be seen clearly with snorkeling and scuba diving at coral reefs. Coral reefs have been dying at an alarming rate partly due to unregulated tourist activities. Some destinations have limits on when they allow tourists and when they close for environmental rehabilitation, but it is not enough to reverse the negative effects of tourism on the environment. Promoting responsible tourism is a solution that can remedy these issues for the long term.
Wildlife is also affected by tourism. One case that we’ve discussed before is elephant tourism in Thailand. If you haven’t read our article, be sure to check it out if you want a deeper insight specific to elephant tourism in Thailand. Other animals are also affected, sometimes indirectly — clearing forests to build infrastructure to support the economic growth facilitated by tourism.
Tourism is an effective tool that can radically boost growth for a region that might be lacking development. However, it must be done correctly to preserve a region’s identity and culture, while creating opportunities for a better future for both locals and tourists.
Responsible tourism is a simple principle that is vital in helping a destination achieve its growth optimally. With the knowledge given above, anyone can put these principles to use and travel responsibly.