The concept of the “responsible traveler” or “ethical tourism” is about cultivating respect for other cultures and reducing our footprint upon the world while traveling. This awareness goes beyond eco-friendly behaviors to practicing a “global code of ethics for tourism.” There are many ethical concerns about the impact of tourists, especially affluent Westerners’, upon developing countries’ cultures and economies.
When thinking of ethical issues around travel, I have one image permanently burnt in my memory. In 1999, I witnessed a young western backpacker giving what she thought was something of value to a local Indonesian woman –an empty water bottle. The local woman politely accepts the bottle. The backpacker turns and walks away. Almost immediately the woman tosses the empty water bottle into the nearby water ravine and returns to her work without a pause. That situation could have easily come out of the 1982 movie, Koyaanisqati (“World Out of Balance”). The cultural misunderstanding and environmental implications of this exchange, has never left me.
The following is taken from World Tourism Organization website:
THE RESPONSIBLE TOURIST AND TRAVELER
Travel and tourism should be planned and practiced as a means of individual and collective fulfillment. When practiced with an open mind, it is an irreplaceable factor of self education, mutual tolerance and for learning about the legitimate differences between peoples and cultures and their diversity. Everyone has a role to play creating responsible travel and tourism.
Governments, business and communities must do all they can, but as a guest you can support this in many ways to make a difference:
1. Open your mind to other cultures and traditions – it will transform your experience, you will earn respect and be more readily welcomed by local people. Be tolerant and respect diversity – observe social and cultural traditions and practices.
2. Respect human rights. Exploitation in any form conflicts with the fundamental aims of tourism. The sexual exploitation of children is a crime punishable in the destination or at the offender’s home country.
3. Help preserve natural environments. Protect wildlife and habitats and do not purchase products made from endangered plants or animals.
4. Respect cultural resources. Activities should be conducted with respect for the artistic, archaeological and cultural heritage.
5. Your trip can contribute to economic and social development. Purchase local handicrafts and products to support the local economy using the principles of fair trade. Bargaining for goods should reflect an understanding of a fair wage.
6. Inform yourself about the destination’s current health situation and access to emergency and consular services prior to departure and be assured that your health and personal security will not be compromised. Make sure that your specific requirements (diet, accessibility, medical care) can be fulfilled before you decide to travel this destination.
7. Learn as much as possible about your destination and take time to understand the customs, norms and traditions. Avoid behaviour that could offend the local population.
8. Familiarize yourself with the laws so that you do not commit any act considered criminal by the law of the country visited. Refrain from all trafficking in illicit drugs, arms, antiques, protected species and products or substances that are dangerous or prohibited by national regulations.