How to guide to responsible tourism

How to guide to responsible tourism

Achieving the sustainable development goals isn’t all down to states and international institutions, and in this article, Sam Wigglesworth looks at how the general population have the power to positively influence the rise of sustainable tourism.

Tourism: more than white water rafting and snorkelling tours. There are significant benefits offered by a sector that is often overlooked as a driver for development. It is an industry that is economically as powerful as 9 percent of the world’s GDP, generating an estimated US $1,232 billion in 2015. The head of China’s government noted recently that tourism is one of the “fastest-growing and most resilient industrial sectors…boosting world economic recovery” It plays a vital role in lifting people out of poverty through job creation, and is an effective peace building initiative through the promotion of education, shared culture and history.

In acknowledgment of this, the United Nations has firmly placed tourism on the global agenda as part of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which consists of 17 goals selected to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.

The theme across the different goals where tourism is referenced is for the industry to become sustainable. It should meet the needs of present visitors while also protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future.

Sarahchats/Creative Commons License
Sarahchats/Creative Commons License

Unfortunately these goals aren’t often at the forefront of people’s minds when they go on holiday. Mass tourism has been criticised for exploiting those living in poverty and endangering

biodiversity and examples can be found across the world. Thailand recently just made the decision to close the popular Koh Tachai island due to high tourist numbers and in April an elephant died after giving tourists rides around the famous Angkor Wat temples.

Solutions are rarely simple, especially when we consider questions of capacity.  Elephant riding is largely condemned by animals rights groups, but the problem is complex. Elephants cost a lot to maintain, and in Chiang Mai, where it is a renowned tourist activity,  the average monthly income is around 13,400 baht per month (approximately 270 GBP), and an elephant can cost up to 1000 baht a day (20 GBP) to take care of.

So where does the buck stop? It seems challenging to suggest that someone just making a living is in the best position to start implementing wide reaching, regional and global change, despite undoubtedly having a part to play.

There is an argument that local governments are in a strong position to aid the development of sustainable tourism. Local governments are often closest to the problems associated with tourism development, have access to information about the problems existing in a community and have access to a supportive national policy framework. However, this isn’t without challenges, as local governments in developing countries don’t always have the most effective mechanisms in place to implement such initiatives. Go a step to the top, and international institutions are likely to face cultural barriers to the creation of a sustainable tourism agenda.

Perhaps, in this case, tourists themselves are in the best position to achieve change. A growing industry year-on-year, in 2015 1.2 billion people travelled internationally, up 4% from 2014. That’s larger than any government body and the ones with the most power. If all 1.2 billion people took the opportunity to learn about where they were going, and educated themselves about the culture, customers, problems and opportunities facing where they are visiting, there is a greater likelihood of unsustainable practices being phased out, thanks to the ever present logic of supply and demand.

IAEA Imagebank/Creative Commons License
IAEA Imagebank/Creative Commons License

Additionally, if you’re keen to travel responsibly, it doesn’t require hours of study either: when looking at doing something popular in an area, independent reviews are one way to find out if where you want to go will be an authentic experience. One example is the well documented problems faced by the community at the Chong Khneas floating village outside of Siem Reap in Cambodia. A popular trip for those visiting the town, the area is owned by a private company who control the tourist boat service, making it difficult for those who live in the village to make a living.

Ultimately, taking steps to ensure you’re supporting the local community isn’t necessarily any harder, just a different way to approach travelling. However, it is one that will undoubtedly provide a more rewarding experience to your journeys and is likely to be of more benefit to those who rely on the industry for the long term.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Nepal: How an earthquake shook an industry

Nepal: How an earthquake shook an industry

Nepal suffered from a devastating shock last year. Here, Nick Woolgrove discusses how Nepal’s tourist industry is trying to recover.

Last April, Nepal shook with the force of a 7.8 earthquake. Coupled with a crippling aftershock, the worst disaster in over eighty years brought the nation to its knees. When commenting on Nepal one must be mindful promoting ‘exact’ figures, yet it is safe to say that almost nine thousand people died, over six hundred thousand homes were destroyed and nearly three million people were in immediate need of humanitarian assistance. While the response from the international community was encouraging, 2015 was already a year when many response agencies were stretched dealing with crises in South Sudan, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the plight of Syrian Refugees.

The humanitarian emergency which ensued had long been dreaded by experts who had prophesied that the combination of Nepal’s architecture, geology and urbanization provide a deadly breeding ground for vulnerability. Poverty, another breeder of vulnerability, in itself renders little investment in terms of disaster management, building safety standards or controlled growth in urban areas and for Nepal revealed a distinct susceptibility to a myriad of internal struggles.

Tourism is the very foundation of Nepal’s economy, contributing to nearly 25% of its GDP and employing close to half a million people. The abundance of beauty in the Himalayas has not gone unnoticed by foreign travellers who flock in their thousands for the trekking seasons each year. Though seasonal, many towns are intentionally catered for these tourists and local inhabitants are thus economically dependent on their custom; for most, the tourist industry is seen as a means to pull yourself out of poverty and achieve a greater social equity. It is no real stretch, therefore, to imagine the consequences such an event has had on the lives and livelihoods of the people who work within the industry, many of whom already lived hand to mouth and wrestled tirelessly below the poverty line.

Eric Montford / Creative Commons License
Eric Montford / Creative Commons License

The immediate effects on the sector were tragic. Early reports suggested that nine out of ten tourists immediately abandoned their trip, hotels and guest lodges experienced damages in excess of 16 billion Nepalese Rupees and almost 150km of trekking trails were ruined, rendering hundreds of porters out of work. However, the charm of Nepal is not isolated for adventure seekers alone, many tourists are seduced by the country’s vibrant culture and this too was by no means unaffected; UNESCO estimated that five out of eight of Nepal’s Sites of Global Cultural and Religious Significance were in direct need of repair. The total damage, to be so crude as to put an estimated financial figure on it, equated to about a third of Nepal’s total GDP.

One year on and progress is slow. Good governance is one of Nepal’s most needed qualities and the lack thereof is revealed all too plainly in the wake of a natural disaster. A lack of information on behalf of the government, the loss of important documentation and property records and the failure to quickly establish a central coordinating body have led to avoidable delays in the recovery process. Travel representatives are keen for Nepal to focus on improving the infrastructure which was so badly damaged: roads are still in desperate need of repair, air connectivity is sporadic at best and power shortages continue to pose a major complication. The reality is that many buildings still lie in rubble, tourist numbers have dropped by at least a third since the quake and the bulk of the initiative to reconstruct the industry has come from private businesses, not the government.

Kesos / Creative Commons License
Kesos / Creative Commons License

Nevertheless, despite the frustrating speed of the recovery, what does shine out from amidst the dust is the steadfast resilience and unyielding optimism of the Nepalese people. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has promoted 2016 ‘The Year of Survival’ and 2017 ‘The Year of Revival’ and there is an unmistakable drive to look forward to the future.

Central to this rejuvenation so far has been to stimulate internal tourism within Nepal itself, encouraging travel across regions through promotional activities during the festival periods. Recovery is also relying heavily on the presence of Indian Tourists. As Ujjwala Dali, Officiating Director at the NTB recounted, “India and Nepal share close social and political ties, they share ‘roti-beti ka rishta’ (ties of food and family) and scarcely has this fact meant more. The border dispute between the two countries which brought six months of trade restrictions has since been lifted and Indian tour operators are confident about the revival of tours to Nepal. Nevertheless, a restoration of confidence in the global community as a whole to begin travelling and exploring Nepal once again, will be the true deciding factor in the restoration process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The harmful gaze: The inescapable paradox of travelling

The harmful gaze: The inescapable paradox of travelling

Even the least discerning traveller is aware that a luxurious holiday in an all-inclusive resort, or on a five-star cruise, isn’t the most cultural, let alone the most ethical, way to travel. Here, Connie Fisher raises the possibility that even those who profess to be cultured backpackers may not be aware of the damage they are causing.

At a time when tourism has an industry value of US $1 trillion a year, employs 1 out of every 12 people in advanced and emerging countries, and saw over a billion travellers globetrotting in 2014, we must be more aware than ever of the damage that the presence of a traveller can do. With suitcase or with backpack, it is important we continually question what we are really seeing, or perhaps what we are being shown, when we believe we are harmlessly witnessing new cultures at their best.

©Michael Reed/Creative Commons License
©Michael Reed/Creative Commons License

In the serene highlands of El Salvador, tourists are practically unseen, and those that are make do with basic local transportation and accommodation. A few hundred miles north, however, and you hit Cancun’s Zona Hotelera, an overwhelming, faceless tourist theme park, which bears no resemblance to Mexico except for an excess of oversized sombreros. For most people, from America and beyond, Cancun has now become an Americanised beach ‘paradise’, lacking any vestige of what may have been there before. Tourism has the power to change a place beyond recognition. With the growth of beach resorts in El Salvador such as El Tunco, one wonders how long it will be until this country also is taken over by mass tourism and fundamentally changed as a result.

Conservation

In Belize, on a boat tour run by locals, you might think you aren’t doing too much damage to the marine life, until you see your tour guides touching and feeding the sharks and rays excessively,. Even here, it is very difficult to witness this beautiful wildlife without feeling as if you are harming it. Such damage is seen on a larger scale in the Galapagos Islands, where tourist overcrowding has resulted in hugely detrimental effects to both the resident people and the wildlife that the tourists arrive in their thousands to see.

One of the archetypal Thai traveller experiences is to ride astride an elephant, or to have a cuddle with a cute little tiger. Tourists are told that to do so is to support conservation efforts, but reports have shown that many such institutions take young animals away from their mothers in the wild, and subject them to serious and harsh punishments in order to subdue them sufficiently for tourist interaction.

Culture

A common defense of tourism is that it can help to preserve local culture. However, countries such as Guatemala and Mexico have become so famed for their handicrafts that now the vast majority of products you can buy in local markets are mass produced and stylized for tourist taste – no longer hecho a mano (handmade).

©Wilfred Paulse/Creative Commons License
©Wilfred Paulse/Creative Commons License

In places where local dress has died out in day-to-day use, it is true that the waiters and waitresses uniformed in traditional clothing are keeping the custom alive, but they display a version of that culture which has become falsified and artificial, performed for the amusement of tourists. This is to say nothing of the treks which profess to take you deep into the jungle in order to witness and photograph indigenous peoples ‘untouched’ by the outside world.

Economic Impact

Yet another defence is that tourism supports countries financially, but a UNEP study of ‘leakage’ estimates that from each US $100 spent by tourists from developed countries, only around US $5 actually stays in the developing country destination’s economy. Specifically in Thailand, 70% of all money spent by tourists ultimately leaves the country through externally-owned tour companies, food and drink suppliers, hotels and airlines.

Helping or Harming?

The integral paradox of tourism in less developed countries is that by travelling abroad to widen our minds with the experience of other countries and cultures, we are simultaneously changing, and often damaging those cultures, sometimes beyond recognition. Travelling is an essential life experience, but when travelling to more popular destinations, it is increasingly difficult to see the realities of local culture for all the theme park-like attractions. And do we really travel to see the realities of local culture, or are we drawn in by the theme park?

There is no easy answer to this. We must travel, but we must travel wisely. With each hotel reservation, with each restaurant bill, we must ask who is benefitting from our custom; what we are really supporting with our money. We must question whether the souvenirs we buy provide income for local craftspeople and invest in culture, or help to warp and suppress it. Countries and cultures are dynamic and constantly changing. As tourists we play a part in this change. The answer is not to avoid our role, but to ensure we help rather than harm the culture we travel to see.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Volunteering Abroad: A Do or a Don’t?

Volunteering Abroad: A Do or a Don’t?

Volunteering internationally has been a rising trend for students and fresh graduates in  recent years. Our India Programme Officer Caroline Townsend offers some thoughts on steps to take before deciding to volunteer abroad. 

Thinking of volunteering overseas?

Here’s why you shouldn’t.

© Neon Tommy/ Creative Commons license
© Neon Tommy/ Creative Commons license

It was learning about the darker side to international volunteering which surprised me most when I attended the Tourism Concern International Volunteering Conference on Saturday 25th October. This conference aimed to debate the implications of international volunteering, ethical options and alternative local opportunities. Before the conference, I was sceptical of volunteering internationally as I felt most opportunities did not make a significant difference and concentrated instead on marketing and false promises. I found the conference very insightful. I am still sceptical but feel much more informed on how to responsibly volunteer abroad. Volunteering abroad can be very enriching for volunteers and beneficiaries if done well. At the conference I learnt the following handy tips when considering international volunteering:

  • Think about your motivations to volunteer. This can help you decide if international volunteering is right for you. There are plenty of reasons to volunteer (i.e. develop your CV, make new friends, see the world, learn about a new culture etc) but volunteering abroad is only one way of fulfilling these aspirations.
  • Do your research to find a scheme which makes a sustainable difference to the people you wish to help. Click here for detailed tips on how to do this. There are many schemes that cause more harm than good; just look at orphanage volunteering. Other schemes take away jobs from local people and do not give volunteers any sense of achievement or fulfillment.
  • Higher cost placements do not indicate quality. Many costlier placements mean higher profits for companies. Many lower cost placements can be more ethical and it’s really important to do your research to find out as much as possible about the organisation.
DiA Volunteers in India
DiA Volunteers in India
  • Get detailed and transparent information from the organisation about the costs and what it covers. Make a budget of the costs for the whole trip as you don’t want to run out of money while you’re away.
  • Not all roles are suitable for all volunteers. Good placements wouldn’t recruit unskilled volunteers into skilled roles. Be wary of schemes offering placements without a recruitment process as it means it isn’t a priority to them who they send out to help people. Additionally, the placement should offer relevant training and induction to their volunteers to ensure that they are fully supported.
  • Worthwhile volunteering is hard work and not a relaxing holiday as advertised by some travel operators. You should treat volunteering like a job as a good placement requires you to be reliable, flexible and hardworking. This gives you a much more enriching experience and a chance to grow.
  • If you’re mainly looking for a holiday/travelling and wish to support local peoples consider ethical travelling where a lot more of the money you spend goes directly to the communities you visit. Also, you might want to consider fundraising for a charity which supports people internationally, as they have the expertise and infrastructure to help.

Finally, there are plenty of volunteering opportunities at home as well. It is obviously much cheaper, gives you a chance to develop your CV and make friends. Additionally, many of these volunteering opportunities will increase your skills more than going abroad. You can find volunteering roles online on websites such as do-it and at your local volunteer centre. And remember, DiA is always looking for volunteers too. Good luck!


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Sex tourism in the Caribbean

Sun, sea, sand and…?! Photo by mdanys/Creative Commons

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Why is the sex industry so inherent in Caribbean tourism? Saara Jaffery-Roberts, who spent a year in Cuba, examines the issue. Saara is studying International Development and Spanish at Leeds University.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The Kenya terrorism threat is not just for tourists

In light of the increasing terrorist threat from al-Shabab in Kenya, Emma Forrest assesses the dangers for Kenyans as well as British tourists and reflects on her time volunteering in the country.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Have an opinion on this or another topic? Why not write for our blog? Click here to find out more and get in touch.

Incredible India

The latest ‘Incredible India’ advert leaves you breathless and awestruck. It encompasses everything that is truly great about the nation. In light of the commercial, DiA’s Executive Committee discuss what makes India so incredible for them. You can also have your say on what defines ‘Incredible India’ by posting in the comment box below the article.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Slum of Ambivalence

Dharavi seems to need little introduction. Accommodating approximately one million Indian citizens, the vast slum sits in the heart of Mumbai. No longer simply a residential area – instead an economic hub that exports goods internationally and attracts tourists from across the globe. Development in Action’s Emily Wight, discusses the phenomenon of the “Slum Tour,” which gives sightseers the opportunity to experience Dharavi firsthand.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Have an opinion on this or another topic? Why not write for our blog? Click here to find out more and get in touch.