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Responsible travel

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Dec 17, 2021

A growing number of travelers want their journeys to be less invasive and more beneficial to the local community. They want to better understand the culture of the people they meet in the places they visit. Visitors should be mindful that we are entering a place that is someone else’s home. Sounds complicated? Try this imagine what irresponsible tourism looks like and then imagine its opposite.

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Responsible tourism has several goals: sustainability, environmental integrity, social justice and maximum local economic benefit. Responsible tourism asks individuals, organizations, governments and businesses to take responsibility for their actions and the effects of their actions. Everyone involved must be responsible for sustainability.

Most principles of responsible tourism were put forth in the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations (Responsible organization).

See also ecotourism, volunteer, leave-no-trace camping, and the do instead section of our article on begging.

There is an annual Responsible Travel conference, held in a different country each year.

World Responsible Day is celebrated in Europe on June 2.

Responsible Tourism Day is held on November 7.

Community-based tourism (CBT) is a form of sustainable development where small, rural communities set up accommodation & activities to generate tourism. CBT allows travelers to experience life in such communities—taking part in language or cooking lessons, eating freshly-prepared meals, experiencing local music and dance, and venturing with a local guide to nearby nature/landscape attractions—while the community gains much-needed revenue. NGOs and aid organizations (like the U.S. Peace Corps) help villages establish CBT facilities, organize appropriate activities, and establish governance of the project to ensure that revenue is shared with the community. Local villagers earn money for providing homestay accommodation, becoming guides, providing lessons, growing extra produce, and creating art/crafts for sale, while a portion of revenue (20-50%) is typically reserved in a community fund that can be used to improve the CBT experience or be used for development purposes. The number of CBT projects is growing. CBT is established in Central America, Central Asia, & many countries in Africa; countries with well-established CBT projects are Guatemala, Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan, Ghana, & Uganda.

Travelers who participate in CBT will typically book a package online for a stay of one day to one week. Bookings are handled by someone in the community, not a commercial tour operator. Accommodation is simple but sufficient by Western standards, with a private room, bed, telephone access, and a private bathroom (don’t expect a toilet & shower, but at least an enclosed room with a hole in the ground and water…you should not be left to do your business outdoors or in a grotesque community toilet). Food will consist of local snacks, lunches, and at least one meal will be a smorgasbord of local dishes to taste (a dozen or so dishes are prepared, but it’s there for everyone to share). Travelers can take lessons from locals in activities such as cooking, drumming, singing, dancing, body-painting, hunting/fishing (traditional methods), native medicines, or playing a traditional game with some of the village children or elders. A local guide will be able to take you to nearby attractions, like waterfalls or rainforest, or walk along trails or ride horseback. In some communities and especially during longer stays, travelers may have the opportunity to volunteer on development projects.

In the development of many tourism projects, indigenous people have not been considered as valued stakeholders from the start. In the worst cases, they are not listened to in the development of ‘charitable’ projects. Adequate consultation is a must.

Indigenous peoples manage more than 40% of all IUCN-recognized protected areas in the world, and many of them – if not most – use tourism as a complement their economic benefits from these areas. Yet the challenge for travelers is finding which communities wish to be visited and with which protocols. In 2012 the Global Workshop for Indigenous and Local Communities: Biodiversity, Tourism and the Social Web took place at the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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