What is “Responsible Travel?”

What is “Responsible Travel?”

You can enjoy adventure, nature and/or culture, and be socially and ecologically conscious. Responsible travel is about having fun, while also giving back. It is ethical travel that strives to reduce negative impacts of our journey while creating long term benefits to the environment, local people, and their communities.

“Eco-Green-Sustainable-Responsible Travel.” Really? Just How “Green” is Green?
By Peggy Lichter President, Wiser World Travel

The last time I checked, I could place my company on an online eco-directory for 0, no proof necessary as to my sustainable practices (other than professing my “green-ness.”)  As a tour operator, I can convey my environmental concern by asking travelers to offset their carbon emissions ? at their expense. How do we determine if our journeys support local communities? Are we staying in locally owned accommodations, eating in local restaurants, being educated by local guides, better insuring financial benefits to host communities? How do we know if negative impacts of travel are being minimized, that long term benefits to local people and communities will outweigh possible short term costs?

Are we being “greenwashed”? Just what is that, anyway? EnviroMedia Social Marketing says greenwashing is “when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. It’s whitewashing, but with a green brush.”

Eco Practices?

I recently attended a conference in a U.S. city.  The hotel that hosted the event belongs to a major chain, which touts its commitment to sustainable practices. They have been recognized twice as the Energy Star Partner of the Year for Excellence in Energy Management.  Yet conference attendees were wearing extra layers of clothing to keep warm in the conference rooms due to the air conditioning setting; just think what energy could be conserved if the temperature was set even two degrees warmer.

Plastic cups wrapped in plastic were replaced daily.  After using a thimble-full of shampoo and hair conditioner, the almost full bottles were removed and replaced with new ones. I don’t have to tell you how plastic and non-biodegradable products clog our earth, not to mention the waste of product.  Is a “green” hotel one that asks guests to place towels on the floor if laundering is desired and guests can choose to not have sheets changed daily? While of course a plus for conservation, are these practices suggested because they are environmentally correct or primarily because they are visible, sustainable practice that positively affect the bottom line and the hotel’s image? And does conservation become the responsibility of the customer?

Questions to Ask

How do we know if tour operators providing great “eco” trips are “walking their talk”? What questions might we ask? Does the operator have any eco-certifications? Are you staying at locally owned and operated accommodations where the employees are from the local community? Are you eating at local restaurants and being guided by local experts? If on a tour, does the tour operator support sustainability programs in the communities/regions to which they go? Do they contribute to a carbon offset program? Does the operator and the accommodations that they support recycle and demonstrate energy efficiency when possible? Are travelers educated about the local culture and environment? Are they encouraged to conserve and recycle?

The New Green

Perhaps we should do what British journalist Nick Rosen (off-grid.net) suggests regarding greenwashing, “. . . we have to adopt a new color: brown. Brown is the new green . . . Advertisers will never want to hijack such a color. Brown is a reminder of what we talk about when we talk about the Earth. It’s a reconnection with our own dirt . . .”

“Green” has become fashionable, and of course every little bit helps for whatever reason, even if it’s for financial gain. But over the long term, in order to sustain our earth with the least negative impact to it and to life, don’t we need to change our fundamental belief systems about the connectivity between all people and the earth? If we love to travel, by encouraging responsible travel practices, we can contribute to our world’s life span ? and not lose a bit of the fun, adventure, or excitement of new experiences! And if bottom lines are positively affected, it will happen.

About Wiser World Travel

Wiser World Travel matches travelers to the most fitting, enjoyable, quality, and sustainable packaged and custom tours and itineraries offered by our ever-growing group of committed tour operators. We strongly believe that members of the travel industry have a responsibility to the environment and people of the world, and we intend to make sure that the travel providers within the Wiser World network meet the expectations set by our caring travelers.

Responsible Travel: Helping Now

Scientists are no longer debating if climate change is occurring, as the devastating effects can already be seen globally. Nor is there any doubt that human activities are a major part of the problem.

So why is this important to you, fellow travelers? Well, if emissions continue to rise as currently projected, many of the places we like to visit will simply no longer exist. A 2005 study conducted by Sustainable Travel International found that the travel industry contributes about one third of the world’s climate damaging emissions.

Are we saying that you should not travel? No, of course not. Not only does travel broaden our perspectives, but many economies in the developing world are dependent on it. Put simply, we believe the lesson to be learned is how to strike a balance.

Some members of the travel industry recognize their responsibility to curtail negative impacts of tourism; they are making efforts to create positive outcomes for the environment, local people and cultures, and raising awareness about the need for green alternatives and sustainability.

For the rest of us, it has never been more important to understand and implement our own responsible travel practices, and to support those travel providers and tour operators who are demonstrating such practices.

What exactly is “responsible travel”? It is ethical/conscious travel that strives to reduce negative impacts while creating long-term benefits to the environment, local people and their communities. It’s about having fun, while also giving back.

Go local. Protect the environment. Respect cultures and customs. Offset carbon emissions. These are just some of the many things you can do as a responsible traveler.

Responsible Travel Tips To Enhance Your Journey

Before You Leave

Choose a travel provider that best meets your needs and demonstrates best practices for responsible travel and sustainability.

Request to see your provider’s responsible travel policy.
Ask relevant questions, e.g., are local guides hired, are group sizes limited (to minimize environmental and social impact)? Are accommodations they use locally owned, do they purchase locally, recycle? Does the tour operator participate in a carbon offset program?

Be an informed traveler.

Learn a few words of the local language to be polite, e.g., hello, please, thank you.
Do as much research as you can via the internet and guidebooks to learn about the local culture and environment.

Traveling with understanding and respect earns you respect

Recycle/leave as much excess packaging at home as you can, e.g., film boxes, plastic wrapping.

Consider your transportation options. Can you take a train rather than fly?

Offset your carbon emissions (visit carbonfund.org).

If traveling to developing countries, ask your tour operator or hotel what might be useful gifts for local people, e.g., pens, pencils, writing pads.

While You’re Enjoying Your Trip

Go local.

If looking for a guide, hire a local person or participate in a group that employs a local guide.
Purchase local food and products.
Eat in local restaurants rather than international chains.

Protect the environment.

Use public transportation, hire a bike, or walk when you can.
Avoid littering.
Stay on existing trails.

Conserve resources.

Use water sparingly.
Avoid wasting food.
Re-use towels and bed sheets.
Don’t litter.

Demonstrate respect for the local culture.

Be sensitive to cultural differences, and show respect for differences in customs, e.g., dress codes.

Understand the differences in concepts such as personal space and time, and with non verbal communication.

Avoid obvious displays of wealth or handing out of money, which may result in jealousy and resentment.

Understand bargaining; know when it is appropriate and when it is not.

Upon Your Return

Provide feedback to your tour operator. We can make a difference, creating positive impact towards environmental and economic sustainability, and to supporting local communities and cultures around the world!

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Eternal adventurer and wanderlust seeker! Always thinking about (and planning) our next adventure, hence the name"Thinking Nomads"! Wife to Marco and mamma to Isabella and Maya. India, Nepal and Vietnam are my top three countries! Norway, Iceland and South Africa are top of my bucket list!

3 thoughts on “What is “Responsible Travel?””

  1. These are really great points. I cannot stand fake green efforts. I find a lot of hotels put the pressure on the guests just like you mentioned. Don’t put bottled water in my room then tell ME I need to take shorter showers and reuse my towels.

    I also really like the suggestion to bring supplies to developing countries. I have read so much about how thankful schools are to receive pencils and supplies, so it is really a great idea to bring some with you.

  2. @Rease- Yes stationary supplies definitely a good idea! On our trip to India we gave a load of pencils and pens to an orphanage we visited and they were really grateful. Also when we were doing the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal nearly every village we walked through we had children running up to asking for pens and pencils, unfortunately we didn’t have many on us. But we thought afterwards what a simple way to make a child’s day.

  3. Lots of great points here! There are a lot of tour operators, hotels etc purporting to be ‘eco friendly’ or responsible but they’re just doing the industry required standard nowadays. Worse are the companies offering volunteering trips that do little for (or even negatively impact on) local communities and environment. Always ask questions if you’re unsure, and see how they go above and beyond the norm.

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