Exploring socially responsible tourism
Everyone looks forward to their holidays. How could you not?! A week on the sunny shores of somewhere is just what the doctor ordered after a long, arduous winter of gale-force winds and perpetually numb fingers. It’s a great opportunity leave daily life behind, relax and unwind. Sadly, one thing that many people forget to pack is their awareness of social responsibility.
The list of places ruined by tourism is shocking. It includes Stonehenge, Bali, Masi Mara, The Great Wall of China, The Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and The Great Barrier Reef. These are treasures that are slipping through our fingers at such a rate that our children might only hear stories about them.
In 2013, Bali welcomed 3.2 million tourists to its shores. It is estimated that every four-star Bali hotel suite consumes an estimated 300 litres of water a day. This is pushing the nation to the brink of a water crisis. 700 hectares of land each year are converted into hotels or luxury residences, and each day 13,000 cubic metres of rubbish are thrown into the public dumps.
What the ads don’t tell you is that many of our favourite spots don’t have the infrastructure to cope with the impact of the tourism. In the end, the locals and the environment feel the effects.
I’m not telling you this to ruin your holiday before it’s even begun. But the saying is true… it is all fun and games until someone gets hurt. We need to be sure that our holidays are not hurting others!
As Christians, we don’t get to take a holiday from being the hands and feet of Christ. Being a socially conscious tourist means you will understand the impact you have on the places you visit and do everything you can to minimise negative consequences. By adding thought and care to your holiday planning, you could be a blessing instead of a burden to the local community. Here are a few practical tips to get you started:
Respect culture: Research the area before you go and try to learn a few words in the language. Many places have English speakers, but if you’re going off the beaten path, chances are you’ll encounter non-English speakers. Simply speaking louder and slower will not help the situation! Avoid criticising someone else’s culture just because it is different. If in doubt, keep your mouth shut!
- Respect wildlife: Follow the rules and use your own common sense. Many animals have been put down as a direct result of tourists being too curious and too keen for that amazing photo. Ending the life of an elephant (or any other creature) is not the kind of holiday memory you want!
- Respect holy places: Observe all the rules of holy places, even if you don’t agree with the local religion. If in doubt, ask someone or go somewhere else instead. Stomping through an ancient holy ground is not a good way to show the love of Christ.
- Respect Resources: Be aware of the amount of water you use. Water is a precious resource that we take for granted in Ireland. If you are staying in a hotel, request that your sheets and towels are NOT changed every day.
- Before you leave Ireland, remove any excess packaging and waste from your luggage. Many countries are already struggling to deal with excess waste - don’t add to it. Only take things with you that you intend to bring back home. If in doubt, leave it out!
- Make an effort to buy local produce instead of foreign goods and never buy products made from endangered species.
2. Hire a local tour guide
Seeing your surroundings through the eyes of someone who is invested in the community can completely change your experience and you’ll be providing him or her with some income, which boosts the local economy. Win-Win! Check out Tripadvisor.com or ask your hotel or booking agent for recommendations.
3. Ditch the wheels
When possible, hire a bicycle, walk, or use public transport. You’ll meet local people, use some of that new language you’ve learned, cut down on carbon emissions and keep your waistline in check because, let’s face it, your diet is long gone by now.
If you are able to, connect with a local church prior to your trip and ask if /how you could support them. You could also ask your tour operator or hotel if there are any local projects where you could serve for a day or two. If you’re interested in doing serious volunteering abroad, contact Tearfund or Team Hope or visit www.imap.ie for more opportunities. Be aware that not all volunteering is helpful! Read “When helping hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert for some important perspectives.
5. Give Feedback
If you had an amazing holiday at a socially responsible hotel or resort, give feedback about your experience online. It will encourage others to book with them and have an eco-aware holiday themselves!
5 things to look for in a hotel
- Ask to see their written policy regarding the environment. If they don’t take you seriously, then chances are they don’t take the environment seriously.
- Ask how many local people they employ and if any of them are in management positions and if they employ local guides.
- Ask what percentage of their goods and services are sourced from within 25km of their location.
- Ask how they treat their wastewater. Many hotels are pumping waste water into the sea, which is destroying the coral reefs and polluting the ocean and beaches.
- Ask if they know of any local projects that you could get involved with while you’re there.
There are tonnes of resources that can help you book a socially responsible holiday. Here are a few that could get you started:
At www.responsibletravel.com you can book anything from a city break to a gorilla safari. All their vendors have gone through strenuous screenings to ensure they comply to a strict code of ethics.
At www.workaway.info you can book into a farm or similar venue to receive free food and board in exchange for helping out a few hours a day. It could be a great way to go for someone looking to travel on a budget. There are listings world wide so the opportunities are endless.