Are You Traveling Responsibly?

By Michelle Baran
January 12, 2022
Courtesy Michelle Baran

We've all heard the words tossed around. Responsible tourism. Sustainable tourism. Green travel. But what do they mean?

Several years ago, World Travel Market, one of the world's largest travel events currently taking place in London, partnered with the United Nations World Tourism Organization to heighten awareness of responsible travel with the launch of a World Responsible Tourism Day. This year, World Responsible Tourism Day is Nov. 9.

So, what is responsible tourism? It’s a loaded question and one that has engendered much thought and speculation from those in the travel industry and who bring hoards of tourists to and through sites around the globe.

In 2002, nearly 300 tourism representatives from some 20 countries gathered in Cape Town, South Africa to try to define responsible tourism. According to them, responsible tourism is tourism that minimizes negative economic, environmental and social impacts on local communities; generates economic benefits for those communities and involves them in decisions that affect their lives; takes into account the conservation of natural and cultural heritage; provides more meaningful experiences for tourists through improved connections with local people that emphasize local cultural, social and environmental issues; and provides access for disabled travelers; among other things.

"Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries and a strong contributor to sustainable development and poverty alleviation," the Global Sustainable Tourism Council notes on its website.

The GSTC is focused on ensuring that the 1.6 billion tourists who will be traveling the world by the year 2020 (according to a UNWTO forecast) potentially do more good than harm by responsibly and sustainably contributing to local economies.

"It's a matter of what the relationship is when you make that visit," Harold Goodwin, professor at the International Centre for Responsible Tourism in Leeds, U.K., has said about the impact of privileged travelers heading into less privileged communities. "If it's purely voyeuristic, if all you're doing is going to look at the poor and take photographs, that seems to me to be exploitative and unacceptable."

But, said Goodwin, “Not to be exploited, not to be economically engaged, not to have the opportunity to earn from these things is far worse."

What about you? What are your thoughts about responsible tourism? Are you aware of your footprint and the impact you have as a traveler?

More from Budget Travel:

A voluntourist speaks out: a first-hand account of helping in the wake of disaster

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