three people overlooking mountains

What is Responsible Travel?

This story was created in partnership with: G Adventures 

Not entirely sure what responsible travel is? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. In a way, responsible travel is an umbrella term that could encompass sustainable tourism, ecotourism, and ethical tourism as well. In this article, we’re going to showcase exactly what responsible travel is and how you can become more conscious of it while exploring our beautiful world.

Why is responsible tourism important?

In short, responsible tourism is travelling with respect for the customs, environment and culture of the country you are visiting. In 2018, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) reported that tourism generates over 10 percent of the world’s GDP. When you take that into account, the collective impact of our choices in a destination is quite substantial.

Ensuring that our globetrotting footprint has more of a positive effect than a negative one has never been more necessary. Just as we’re conscious of our choices back home, it’s as important for us to be conscious of our decisions while travelling. Things like limiting our waste, spending money at the right places and being mindful of local customs are a handful of things you can actively do while travelling.

Sustainable tourism, ecotourism, and ethical tourism all have a lot of similarities, they also have subtle differences and all of them are integral to travelling more responsibly.

three guys walking along the road
How can you be more of a responsible traveller? | © Mike Kotsch/Unsplash

Sustainable tourism: A way of travel that focuses on how to make travel less wasteful and finding positive ways to harness the world’s resources. Sustainable travel also focuses on ways to make travel more beneficial to the environment and local communities of destinations.

Ecotourism: This is but one element of sustainable tourism that focuses on limiting the environmental impact of travel. For example, many hotels offer travellers perks for reusing towels and bed linen. Another example of this would be sustainable travel accessories made from recycled ocean plastic or plastic-free travel toiletries such as shampoo bars.

Ethical tourism: This type of tourism ensures that nature, wildlife, culture and the local communities of destinations are not exploited in any way by visitors.

Responsible travel: The key thing to remember with responsible travel is that it is up to the individual to empower themselves to be more mindful of how their tourism impacts the people, environment and culture of a country. The good news is that there is a lot that can be done to make a profound difference.

Principles of responsible tourism

When you travel, do you eat locally or at a global fast-food chain? A simple thing as where you pick up your lunch or dinner can go a long way in helping to ensure you are a responsible tourist. We’re not saying to give up your favourite cheeseburger, but you’re in a different country, surrounded by delicious flavours you’ve never come across before, why not indulge your tastebuds in something new?

a group of happy young people around a camp fire
Once you know the principles of responsible travel you can implement them everywhere! | © Phil Coffman/Unsplash

Likewise, here are some best practices you can implement to travel more responsibly!

  • What’s in it for you: Apart from doing your bit towards this beautiful world we all love discovering, explore responsibly and it actually will enhance your travels in so many ways. Being mindful of the local traditions, social norms and culture will allow for the deep dive into cities and countries that so many of us crave while travelling.
  • Planning: Before you even step foot on the plane or in a country, take steps during the planning and research phase of your trip to ask the right questions. Have you researched your tour operator to make sure they work with local guides and value the environment? Are you aware of the current affairs of the country you are visiting? Checking up on the local news can help with this.
  • Places with too many tourists: Sometimes while travelling we forget that we are visiting another person’s home. Many countries dealing with overtourism have started initiatives to deal with overcrowding and the use of their resources by visitors but there’s plenty you can do as well. We’re not suggesting to skip countries you’ve always wanted to see, but if you can, is there an alternative destination you’ve dreamed of visiting? If not, try to visit outside of peak season. When you are in said country, support the economy by spending your money at local restaurants and businesses, stay in locally run accommodation, and take tours with local guides.
  • Make your globetrotting footprint more green: The famous hiker saying, take only memories and leave only footprints can be applied everywhere! Take your sustainable habits from home abroad. Reduce your use of plastic (especially plastic bags and bottles), carry a reusable water bottle, opt for walking and taking public transport, remember to turn the lights off in your room and in countries where water can be a shortage, be aware of usage by taking shorter showers and reusing your towels. Many hotels have green initiatives that you can take advantage of, all you need to do is check with reception!
  • Spend locally: The way you spend your money while in destination makes a huge difference. Every time you eat something, stay somewhere or spend money on something, you have an opportunity to contribute directly to the local economy. So stay at that family-run guesthouse, or grab lunch and dinner at that cute looking restaurant and support community initiatives by purchasing souvenirs from collectives and certainly avoid spending your hard-earned cash at shopping malls.
  • Ethical animal tourism: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see beautiful beasts in their natural environment, but it’s imperative to make sure your tour or the sanctuary you are visiting truly respects wildlife. Research wildlife tours and sanctuaries thoroughly to ensure this and only support businesses that are mindful of this.
  • How to show respect for other cultures: With all the information available at our fingertips, it’s not hard to brush up on local customs and a bit of the language before visiting a destination. Once on your travels, as a guest to the country, be considerate of their culture and don’t do anything intentionally or unintentionally that could be seen as disrespectful or offensive. Here are some basics: ask for permission before taking a picture of someone, be thoughtful of your clothes in sacred spaces and remember some countries have modest dress codes and keep in mind that holy sites are not just tourist attractions but places of worship for the locals.

Responsible tour operators

Choose a responsible tour operator and you can rest assured that from the moment you step out of the airport you’ll be aligned with a company that values and practices responsible travel. So what steps can you take to make this happen?

people walking on dirt road near mountain during daytime
Research your tour operator to make sure they advocate for responsible travel | © Luke Porter/Unsplash

Look into the tour operator’s environmental and sustainability practices. Are they able to share examples of how they work with local communities? Do their tours preserve local culture and nature? What do they have to say about child welfare and animal welfare? How do they engage with the Indigenous communities of a country? How do they give back to the planet? These are all important questions to start asking when looking at your tour operator.

G Adventures strives for responsible and ethical travel through their many initiatives. Every time you travel with them, your money is going towards tourism that supports locals and strengthens their communities all while respecting their nature, rights, history, culture and wellbeing.

Advocate for responsible travel

You know what they say about practice but don’t preach? Well, when it comes to taking care of our planet the rule just doesn’t apply! You can totally share tips on how to be more responsible with other travellers and lead by example. You don’t need to shame anyone, but it’s important to spread the word by starting friendly conversations that advocate for responsible travel.

Based in Toronto, Sahar is a full-time content editor for Days to Come and part-time travel junkie.

A man swimming in the sea around the Galapagos Islands
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