The sun is shining in on my desk as I write, through the galley window, and I have already had the “where are you going this year?” conversation with several acquaintances. Easter holidays loom on the horizon and many getaways are being planned. Those thinking of travel costs may simply have in mind their own piggy banks, but for those with a social conscience I’d like to introduce the notion of “responsible” travel.
Around 30 years ago, some companies organising wildlife-oriented travel, introduced the idea of “eco-tourism”. This went some way to protect the animals that people travelled to see in foreign countries, when this business activity threatened to wipe out the very thing that created the trade. Unfortunately, this phrase was soon highjacked by the multi – corporation Big Businesses as “greenwash” and within a few years it became obvious to some that more positive action was needed, and not just for animals.
Way back in the eighties, my employment included a spell with The Body Shop. Anita Roddick, inspirational founder of the retailer, was still very much in charge in those pre-L’Oreal buy-out days and it was an inspirational, alternative place to work in those days of Big Hair, Power Dressing and cut-throat business practices. What I didn’t know until recently, was that Anita also had a hand in the beginnings of the Responsible Travel business. She summed up what it is all about perfectly in saying “Responsible travellers want experiences rather than packages, authenticity rather than superficial exoticism and holidays that put a little bit back into local communities and conservation. This is the future of tourism.” *
Since then, such companies with ethical values have flagged up, and campaigned against, those irresponsible travel practices that should be regulated, or stopped altogether. For example the protection of elephants used in trekking, whales and dolphins in water parks and children in orphanage volunteering and the “no-no’s“of ethical travel, carbon offsetting, all-inclusive resorts, cruise liners and cultural insensitivity. The ethical choices in travel do not require a lottery win for an exotic, eco-lodge nor a student back-pack. We can all choose to travel responsibly, whether camping in the Cotswolds or trekking in Tibet.
The aim is to support local people and industry, wherever you are, thus ensuring the money stays where it is needed in the local community and is not creamed off by the multi-national share-holders. Respect the culture of the lands you travel – eating the local cuisine and talking to the natives can be the most rewarding part of a journey. Someone who is born and bred in an area is better qualified than any company rep’ to educate you on their home territory. Forgive me if you are someone who demands British cuisine wherever you go, but you don’t know what you’re missing by avoiding anything “foreign “on your travels!
Put simply, for those of us that love to explore, helping those special places survive and flourish makes them all the better for us to visit. Tourism is a lifeline for many, particularly remote and developing destinations. It is common sense to put people before profit. The World Responsible Tourism Awards were founded in 2004** and since then have heralded the great and the good of ethical travel, but we can all do our bit, by taking some responsibility for our own holiday plans. So, before you rush to book that dream trip, take time to reflect on what you will get from it…and also what you could give in return. Happy Holidays!
* Amodeo, Christian (December 2002). “New Horizons: Anita Roddick, Co-Founder of the Body Shop, Is an Outspoken and Active Supporter of Responsible-Travel and Sustainable-Tourism Initiatives”. Geographical. London: The Royal Geographical Society. 74 (12). Retrieved 4 December 2013.