Ethical tourism has been defined as a way of thinking about the consequences of your actions as a tourist on the environment, local people and local economy. As founders of Heart + Sol Adventures, we have spent the last few years traveling all over the world and have had the opportunity to think about what it means to us and how ethical tourism will be integrated into the work we do.
As travel leaders, we recognize the inherent conflict that exists between tourism and safeguarding the environment. We also know that many countries and cities all over the world really benefit from tourism and for some communities the tourist trade is the main source of income and jobs. And because we know firsthand that traveling cultivates open-mindedness, awareness and a connectedness that can’t be experienced any other way, we know that to not travel would do more harm than good to local economies, global understanding, and the individual transformation that occurs through experiencing what is unfamiliar to you.
We’ve put together our top three tips to ensure we are seeing the bigger picture and caring for the world around us. As you travel, we challenge you to adopt these and any other practices that demonstrate respect for people, customs, cultures, and our earth. If you have other ideas, share them in the comments!
Do your research
Plan travel with reputable organizations and local tour guides. Companies whose prices seem too good to be true may not be a friend to developing countries and small local communities. Organizations who are committed to paying guides fair wages and are committed to sustainable practices will cost a little more, but we think it’s worth it.
When booking local activities, consider that small, local guides live in those communities, so they are more likely to care about the place that is home for them and their families.
Finally, when booking a tour or trip, research whether the organization has demonstrated a commitment to the local community through give-back programs, foundations or other supportive actions.
Leave the animals alone
Don’t participate in activities that involve animals being taken from the wild for the tourist trade. We’ve all seen the photos of people capturing that amazing Instagram photo riding an elephant in India or a dolphin in a theme park pool. Animals should be in their natural habitats. And while there are some ethical organizations that have created needed animal rescue or rehabilitation sanctuaries, too many engage in practices more focused on profit than the wellbeing of animals. From our perspective, it’s best to avoid any activities that involve animals having to engage in activities that they would not otherwise be doing in the wild.
Lastly, don’t buy products made from endangered or wild animals and plants, such as coral, shells, starfish, horns, or other animal body parts.
Be humble and immerse yourself in the culture
Remember that when you travel, you are a guest in another’s community. We encourage you to travel with humility, showing respect at all times for the customs, practices and people. Think about how you, as an individual can contribute to the community and really experience your travel destination for more than just the nice beaches. Eat at restaurants where locals hang out. Find a local market or look for locally owned artisans selling handcrafted goods. Learn the language – even just a few words — to show respect. Engage in service. Help clean up a beach or stay at a working farm where you can save money on lodging while learning about local practices and people.
Being a humble traveler means not thinking you have the answers to complex and long-standing challenges that are part of developing or small communities. There are likely no magic answers to multi-faceted issues such as the need for clean water or overcoming poverty. Avoid the “we know better” attitude. Arrogance has no place in transformational travel. However, if you feel called to learn more, learn from local leaders about the issues and how they think you could best be of service.
We want to hear from you
We know there are many other ways to travel responsibly. We’d like to hear from you about other ideas. Leave a comment below