What is Responsible Tourism?

What does responsible tourism mean to you? For some, it might be about sustainable tourism practices – being mindful of your travel's impact on the environment and local communities. For others, responsible tourism might mean positively impacting the places you visit by supporting local businesses and initiatives. No matter what responsible tourism means to you, one thing is for sure – it's always about creating a more sustainable future for our planet and its people.


The travel and tourism industry accounted for 6% of the world's GDP in 2021, a decrease from previous years but an increase from 2020. With so many people traveling, our earth has begun to feel the pressure. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that by 2030, there will be nearly 1.8 billion tourists worldwide. With responsible tourism practices, we can minimize the negative impacts of tourism and maximize the positives.


In this blog post, we'll explore the definition of responsible tourism and some of the key concepts behind sustainability and sustainability in travel. We'll also look at some examples of responsible tourism in practice, so you can better understand what it means to be a responsible tourist.



What is Responsible Travel and Tourism?


The term 'responsible travel' is used a lot these days, but what does it actually mean? Responsible travel is about being mindful of the impact your travel has on the environment, local communities, and economies. It's about making responsible choices that help to preserve and protect our planet – both now and for future generations.


Responsible tourism is so crucial that the United Nations has its own organization to support the movement. The UNWTO, or United Nations World Travel Organization, is responsible for promoting responsible, sustainable, and universally accessible tourism. The UNWTO website states, "responsible tourism is about making better places for people to live in and visit."


The term 'sustainable tourism' is often used interchangeably with 'responsible tourism,' but there is a slight difference between the two. Sustainable tourism focuses on the environmental sustainability of tourism, whereas responsible tourism encompasses all three pillars of sustainability – social, economic, and environmental.


At its core, responsible travel is about making a positive impact. This could be through supporting local businesses and initiatives or by minimizing your travel's environmental footprint. It might also be about using your platform as a traveler to raise awareness of important issues, such as climate change or over-tourism. Whatever form it takes, responsible travel is always about making a positive change.


Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism


The responsible tourism movement began in the early 2000s with the launch of the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Travel and Tourism. A group of stakeholders from across the travel industry created this declaration, who came together to discuss how tourism could be developed more responsibly. The declaration set out several responsible tourism principles, including minimising negative social and environmental impacts, maximising economic benefits for local communities, and respecting cultural heritage.


The Cape Town Declaration defines responsible tourism in several ways:


  • minimises 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;

  • provide access for people with disabilities and the disadvantaged;

  • is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.


Since then, the responsible tourism movement has grown exponentially, with more and more businesses and travelers getting involved. In 2018, the World Travel & Tourism Council launched its Sustainable Development Goals Action Framework, which outlined a number of actions that the tourism industry could take to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. And in 2019, the World Tourism Organization launched its responsible tourism policy, which aims to promote responsible practices across the tourism sector.


The COVID-19 pandemic has also spotlighted responsible tourism, with many people using their time at home to learn more about sustainable travel practices. Social media has played a significant role in this, with travelers sharing responsible tourism tips and advice and raising awareness of the importance of sustainability in travel.



Examples of Responsible Tourism


Local Communities


One of the fundamental principles of responsible tourism is supporting local communities. This could mean staying in locally-owned accommodation, eating at locally-run restaurants, or participating in activities and tours organized by local businesses. By spending your money with local businesses, you're directly supporting the local economy and helping to create jobs.


You can also support local communities by using responsible travel companies. Many tour operators now offer responsible tourism experiences that help to empower local communities and give back to the places they visit. For example, Intrepid Travel offers a number of responsible tourism experiences in developing countries, such as homestays, community-based projects and responsible elephant sanctuaries.


Environmental Sustainability


Another critical element of responsible tourism is environmental sustainability. This means minimising your impact on the environment while you travel and making choices that help to preserve and protect our planet. Ecotourism is a type of responsible tourism that specifically focuses on minimising the impact on natural environments.


You can travel sustainably in many ways, such as choosing eco-friendly accommodation, using public transport, offsetting your carbon emissions, and avoiding single-use plastics. You can also support sustainable tourism initiatives, such as plastic-free beaches, responsible wildlife tourism, and sustainable fashion.


Cultural Heritage


Respecting and celebrating local cultures is another essential part of responsible tourism. This could mean learning about the history and culture of the places you visit or participating in activities that give you a deeper understanding of the local way of life. It's also important to be respectful of local customs and traditions and to avoid anything that could be seen as cultural appropriation.


One way to ensure you respect local cultures is to choose responsible travel companies that offer authentic cultural experiences. For example, G Adventures offers several responsible tourism experiences that help travelers to connect with local cultures, such as homestays, community-based projects and traditional cooking classes.



Responsible Tourism Tips


Now that you know what responsible tourism is and some of its key principles, you might be wondering how you can incorporate responsible practices into your travel. Here are a few responsible tourism tips to get you started.


There are many ways to travel sustainably. Choose accommodations recommended by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. The GSTC is an organization dedicated to preserving lands and cultures. They set forth a standard of principles that tourism businesses must adhere to to receive the sustainability label. In the GSTC criteria are four pillars that guide their principles - sustainable management of property and land, socioeconomic impact, cultural impact, and environmental impacts (including consumption of resources, reducing pollution, and conserving biodiversity and landscapes).


GSTC certifies several types of businesses within the travel industry. You can use their guidance to find everything from sustainable hoteliers to local tour guides dedicated to cultural preservation. When choosing tours, only book with locals. This provides economic stimulation for their economy and ensures jobs are not taken by people outside their culture.


Learn more about the local culture and customs where you'll be traveling. Try to read the latest news out of the area. This will help you avoid cultural gaffes and show locals that you respect their way of life. Avoid anything that could be seen as cultural appropriation, such as taking photos without permission or wearing sacred items as fashion accessories. It's important to remember to respect their culture. You're not on a safari to observe; people have meaningful and rich lives that you must respect.


Try to learn a few phrases and words from the local language. This will show that you're interested in the culture and provide an opportunity to connect more authentically. It's a sign of respect and, along with polite manners, will go a long way when traveling. Never expect them to speak your language. You wouldn't appreciate someone coming to you demanding you speak an unknown language, don't do the same to them.


Support local businesses. Wherever possible, choose accommodation, restaurants, and tour operators that are locally owned and operated. This helps to ensure that more of the money you spend goes back into the local community.


Minimize your negative impact on the environment and ecosystems. Reduce your carbon footprint by offsetting your emissions, using public transport where possible, and avoiding single-use plastics. Bring your own reusable water bottle; this simply reduces waste.


Reduce, reuse, recycle - not only a motto for home but travel as well. You can bring your own travel-sized toiletries to avoid using single-use plastics in hotel bathrooms. Bring a reusable bag for shopping or souvenirs.


Choose alternative transportation to air flights. This is the most impactful way to reduce your environmental footprint while traveling. You can take trains, buses, or even cars to avoid air pollution. Traveling by other means also gives you new travel experiences.


Stay on designated trails and leave no trace while in the wilderness. The old age camping phrase of leave no trace applies to travel abroad. You should always take your garbage with you, stick to paths, and respect any natural areas or landmarks. Don't feed wild animals or take living souvenirs such as plants or animals.


These are only a few responsible tourism tips, but they provide a great starting point for those interested in sustainable travel. If we all make an effort to be more responsible tourists, we can help to preserve our planet and cultures for future generations to enjoy. Now go out and be the change you want to see in the world, one trip at a time.


What responsible tourism tips do you have? Share them with us in the comments below.