Chances are, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Responsible Tourism” recently. It’s quite the buzz word, with lots of tour operators and businesses in the tourism industry using it to promote their services.
But what does responsible tourism really mean? And why does it matter? Why should visitors care about responsible tourism, and how can they make sure that they are really staying true to its ideals?
At Pro Niti Travel, we firmly believe in responsible tourism. We also believe in practicing what we preach — so we make sure that we walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Responsible tourism is integral to who we are and what we do.
As a result, it’s our pleasure to take a closer look at what is responsible for tourism in the hope that it can inspire you as it inspires us.
What does Responsible Tourism mean?
Although the phrase ‘Responsible Tourism’ has been used for a long time, it has grown a lot in popularity since it was discussed at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. A lot of this discussion revolved around how to ensure that tourism was being a force for good in the world.
In particular, in 2007, ethical tourism providers from all over the world met to decide on a definition of responsible tourism. What they eventually came up with was quite a mouthful! It was the following dot points:
- Minimizes negative economic, environmental and social impacts;
- Generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;
- Involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life changes;
- Makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;
- Provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
- Provides access for people with disabilities and the disadvantaged;
- Is culturally sensitive engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
Now that definition is pretty wordy – so let’s try to break it down a bit.
Minimization of Negative Impacts
Responsible tourism encourages travelers and tourism providers to be aware that there can be negative impacts of travel for the environment, people, animals, and the national economy. Unfortunately, this awareness has not always been present. Sadly, some people in South America have been displaced as a result of tourism, while some beaches in Thailand have been almost destroyed by over-tourism. Responsible tourism encourages us to be aware of this and to look for ways to minimize these impacts, such as by supporting eco-tourism ventures.
Generating Economic Benefits for Local People
It is not only travelers who benefit from tourism. Tourism can also bring great economic opportunity to people, including those living in poverty or who are socially disadvantaged. Responsible tourism is about helping to maximize those benefits, for example by supporting businesses that are led by or employ local people. It is important that those businesses then employ people in safe and respectful conditions so that they are able to provide for their families and participate in the economy, which has further flow-on effects.
Involvement of Local People
Likewise, responsible tourism recognizes that local people are affected by tourism and that they should have autonomy over decisions. This includes supporting locally-led activities and tours, seeking their opinions about developments, and also respecting local people’s wishes if they do not desire to be involved in the tourism industry. Decisions should not be imposed on local people – especially by international corporations – but instead made by, or in conjunction with, them.
Conservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage
One of the best things about travel is that it can help people all over the world learn about and appreciate other cultures. Many countries have seen that tourism can help preserve their culture, and make young people feel proud of it. It’s aimfully important to preserve cultural heritage. Tourism can support this aim by visiting museums and other cultural sites. Similarly, eco-tourism has shown that nature is not only beautiful but valuable as well. Responsible tourism should ensure that the natural environment is protected too.
Meaningful Connections with Local People and Understanding Local Issues
Responsible tourism recognises that travel has an amazing potential to connect people and share goodwill and understanding around the world. Travel can help people to look past difference, and get to know those people with different backgrounds or beliefs. This can be a huge force for good in helping make the world a more understanding, peaceful and compassionate place. In order to do this, responsible travel encourages tour providers to foster meaningful connections with local people, such as through community based tourism.
While we would like to think that the world is all good news, all the time, the truth is that it is not always the case. Responsible tourism encourages travellers to find out more about the issues being faced in different places, and how they can be tackled and addressed. This allows travel to inspire people to take action and address issues like poverty and environmental destruction, long after they leave the country.
Providing Access for the Disabled and Disadvantaged
Travel should not discriminate, and should instead actively try to create opportunities for people with disabilities or who are socially disadvantaged. This means helping to make tours and activities more accessible for people with mobility issues. It also includes providing economic and employment opportunities for local people with disabilities or social disadvantages. Social enterprises do a lot of great work in this area, and everyday businesses can also help to create more accessible workplaces as well.
Cultural Sensitivity and Building Local Pride
Every country has its own rich culture and history, which adds so much depth and is an integral part of the nation. This culture may take many different forms, from celebrations to food to worship and customs. Responsible tourism encourages visitors not only to respect this (for example, by learning about customs and abiding by them), but to learn about this and support it. This can help build pride and strengthen cultural connections within the country.
How can I Find a Good Responsible Tourism Provider?
Phew, that’s a lot of information! Hopefully, it has given you a good overview of what responsible tourism is, and a few ways in which you can support it. If everyone embraces and supports responsible tourism, we can ensure that travel has a great impact all around the world.
Of course, one of the most difficult things can be finding an authentic responsible tourism provider. It is not enough to just look for businesses advertising themselves as supporting responsible tourism. Sometimes this can be misleading.
Instead, the most important thing is to do your research! Have an in-depth look at the company, including what they say about responsible tourism. Is it just a one-liner, or do they really explain how they support responsible tourism? (We like to think we do a pretty good job here at Pro Niti Travel!).
You might like to look at things like the team and about us section, too, to get a feel for who is behind the company and what are their values.
Double check that tours and activities line up with what the company says. For example, if a company says that they support animal welfare but visit shows put on by animals in captivity, that may be an indication that they’re not “walking the walk”.
You can also look at past reviews by other guests to get an idea of what the tours/attractions are like in real life. Keep an eye out for multiple reviews talking about questionable practices, as this is another good indication that they might not follow through on their practices.
But I’m just one person. Can I really make a difference?
When you look around the world and at the many questionable tourism practices out there, you might wonder if you can make much of a difference.
The answer is – absolutely!
You can make a big difference in how you choose to spend your money. By rewarding the businesses and operators that are doing their part to make the tourism industry more ethical, you encourage more and more providers to adopt these standards.
On the other hand, as more and more people turn away from companies who aren’t doing the right thing, the industry will see that unethical behavior doesn’t pay. We are in a powerful position to make positive changes.
You can further your impact by talking to your friends and family about responsible tourism and sharing your experiences. The more people who get together to support responsible tourism, the more those people, our environment, and our beautiful wildlife will be protected.
As you can see, we’re pretty passionate about responsible tourism here at Pro Niti Travel. It has long been our dream to show visitors the beauty of Myanmar, while also helping our local community and protecting our unique and beautiful wildlife and nature.
We are proud to provide small group adventures and private tours that reflect our commitment to responsible travel. We’d also love to answer any questions you might have about this, or help you to plan your dream holiday to Myanmar.
We hope this article has helped you to feel empowered to understand and support responsible tourism, in Myanmar and around the rest of the world!