Tourism, at its finest, can be beneficial for other countries as well as the individuals who travel there. However, it is becoming more common that when planning vacations to other nations, travelers take into consideration the potential impacts their presence could have on the places they are visiting. The question many are asking is what, if anything, can be done to mitigate the negative impacts of international tourism?
According to “Rough Guide to a Better World,” “with almost 30% of the world’s untouched landscapes being lost in recent decades and literally trampled underfoot by eager tourists, responsible travel is featuring higher and higher on tourist brochures and in the minds of ethical travelers.”
But what is responsible or ethical tourism? Is it necessary to take ethical precautions while planning every vacation? If you want to take a quick trip somewhere, enjoy a carefree vacation and get back to your normal life, is that really a crime?
According to “Travel Matters,” “Ethical tourism simply means tourism which benefits people and the environment in different destinations. It can offer a better income to families living in the area, by sourcing products and services locally.”
For me, this simplistic definition is not that difficult to achieve for those who have the means to travel abroad in the first place. Suppose a guest came to stay at your house. You welcome them with your food, water, a nice neighborhood and impressive views. If they returned this favor by taking an hour-long shower every day when you have been restricting water usage in order to keep your water bill low, you might feel disrespected. This, in essence, is what ethical tourism is asking us to consider: to remember that we are borrowing resources that really belong to someone else. To abuse this access for leisure is not a sign of relaxation or glamour, it is inconsiderate and in opposition to international law as well.
The United Nations has addressed the matter through the Global Code for Ethics for Tourism (GCET). The GCET is a voluntary treaty, covering the ten core principles meant “to help maximize the sector’s [tourism’s] benefits while minimizing its potentially negative impact on the environment, cultural heritage and societies across the globe.”
The ten principles address human rights in regards to tourism and tourism’s potential for the development of a sustainable economy for the host country. They also include guidelines concerning tourism’s role in fostering respect between cultures and communities, the protection of tourists and their freedom of movement. This treaty was adopted by the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in 1999 and by the United Nations General Assembly in 2001.
The WTO has 154 member states. Establishing these guidelines virtually worldwide.
GCET gives key tips and advice on how best to travel without negatively impacting the people, environments and communities you interact with. They mention maintaining an open mind to other cultures and traditions, ensuring that you are tolerant and respectful of diversity. A guideline that one would hope is self evident, but to many is not, concerns respecting human rights and not partaking in exploitation by any means. This includes tipping waiters, tour guides and housekeeping appropriately. For these workers, tips are often their entire income. The avoidance of exploitation also refers to preserving natural environments and being aware of what endangered plants or animals are specific to that area. Respecting cultural heritage and purchasing locally sourced products are both effective ways to support the community you are visiting.
Along the same lines, GCET encourages travelers to “learn as much as you can about your destination … to understand the customs, norms and traditions” and to “familiarize yourself with the laws so you do not commit any acts considered criminal by the law of the country visited.”
Essentially, these guidelines outline ethical travel quite simply. Don’t take things that are not yours, do not harm others and do not leave the place worse than you found it. That is it. That is ethical tourism. It does not mean you have to swim to the country you plan on visiting to avoid pollution, create zero waste in your time there or start an NGO to support local businesses in the community. In its simplest form, to travel ethically means to respect the people and places you encounter. I think we can all afford to do that.
Julia Pilkington ‘17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Santa Barbara, Calif. She majors in english.