Wherever you can, eat at locally owned restaurants, stay in small hotels or homes and support local businesses.
“Essentially we’re talking about mindful travel, with an awareness of the place you’re going and whether the money you spend benefits the economy of the local hosts,” says Jeff Greenwald, a travel journalist and co-founder of US non-profit organisation Ethical Traveler.
“Be aware of the countries you’re going to and the impact that you’re having, with an understanding that there’s an opportunity to be a great de facto ambassador for your own country.”
Cruise ships: Just say no.
SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES
When travellers help keep money in the community, residents become empowered, says Mark Watson, director of Tourism Concern, a British non-profit organisation and leading advocate for ethical tourism.
“For instance, in Vietnam I stayed in the village of Phong Nha, where people build accommodations on their property. You get to stay with a local person and the place doesn’t look any different than it always looked. No overdevelopment, no overwhelming the local culture, and each resident gets a little income.”
THINK BEFORE YOU VOLUNTEER
“I think volunteering and travelling are both good things, but putting them together doesn’t always make it a good thing,” says Watson, whose group issued an in-depth report on international volunteering in 2014.
“The fundamental issue with volunteering is it takes work away from local people and can even cause harm, in the case of working with children,” Watson says.
“Just because you can speak English doesn’t mean you can teach it. One person teaches one way with one accent and another way. These kids are not getting a proper education, just a mishmash.”
Volunteering at legitimate ones isn’t recommended, either, because forming attachments to children and leaving does more harm than good, says Watson, who recommends that travellers instead donate money to reputable organisations.
A cruise “ticks all the bad boxes”, he says, including mistreating workers, polluting the sea and air, land grabbing and keeping money out of the local economy.
“Even when they go into port, they control most of the tours and in some case build their own islands to dock in,” he says.
Watson adds that the growing trend of all-inclusive resorts much in common with cruises. They provide little benefit to the local economy and discourage travellers from having an authentic travel experience.
CONSIDER ANIMAL WELFARE
Virtually every responsible travel organisation has come out against elephant riding, a common tourism practice in some parts of Asia. Many other travel activities potentially include interaction with animals, directly or indirectly.
“We never advocate touching,” says Kelvin Alie, executive vice-president at US non-profit International Fund for Animal Welfare. “We urge people to resist that instinct.”
Other ways to protect animals include steering clear of exotic cuisine that includes endangered species or involves animal cruelty, such as whale meat, bush meat or game meat, which is damaging animal populations. Researchers estimate that about 100 million sharks are killed every year for shark-fin soup.
Souvenirs from animal products also contribute to mistreatment and declining populations, says Alie, whose group’s website includes examples of what to avoid buying, such as anything made from alligators, turtles, snakes and big cats; traditional medicines containing rhino horn, bear bile or tiger bone; and carvings and jewellery from ivory, elephant hair or coral.
“The major threat to high-value species is consumer demand,” Alie says. “Choices around consumption are really important when people are travelling overseas.”
For nearly a decade, Ethical Traveler has compiled a list of “most ethical” developing countries, selecting 10 it considers are doing the most impressive job of promoting human rights, preserving the environment and supporting social welfare – all while creating a lively, community-based tourism industry.
This year’s list includes, in alphabetical order, Belize, Cabo Verde, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Mongolia, Palau, Tonga, Uruguay and Vanuatu. For each country, Ethical Traveler lists reasons to visit, positive changes and points for improvement – continual improvement is a mandate.
The group confines the list to developing countries because their travel and tourism trade, as a significant part of the economy, is likely to be linked to the government, making it more possible to effect change.
“It’s critical to realise that when you’re visiting someone’s country, you’re visiting their home,” he says, “so bring the sensitivity and awareness that you would bring to anyone’s home.”
– The Washington Post
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