Do you want to be a Responsible Tourist?
Making responsible choices about your holiday can help protect communities and the environment. By following some simple guidelines you can reduce the negative impact of travelling abroad, help to protect the heritages and preserve local cultures, and ensure the destination as a whole benefit.
• Your holiday, their home! Often we give little thought to the impact we will have on our holiday destination, its people, culture, economy and environment. Remember that while you are on holiday, you are actually entering into someones home and everyday life.
• Do your homework. Read up on the places you want to visit. Some things may be accepted in your home country, but in others places it may be a criminal offence! Try to dress respectfully, and follow the local costumes. Learn a few phrases in the local language. Chat with the local people and try to speak their language. You are sure to get an instant smile and a laugh to seal those memories. You can get information from sites like Caring for your destination, Sustainable Travel International, Mekong Responsible Tourism, Local Travel Movement, ConCERT or Stay Another Day on eco-friendly products and services in your target area.
• It’s not an exam. If you read up on the places you intend to visit, your experience will be enhanced, but your guidebook is just a guide. To truly experience a place, go off the beaten path. You will be glad you did!
• Help preserve the heritage. Angkor Wat is visited by millions of people a year, so care needs to be taken to allow others to be able to enjoy it in the future. Be mindful of other visitors. Take your litter with you. And do you really want your name emblazoned on the walls of it? Some of these monuments and artifacts are so old and fragile that they are sensitive to the touch of hands or bags and shoes. For more information on this, go to Heritage Watch.
• Are you too big for your boots? How heavily do you ‘tread’ on your holiday? Natural resources are precious and the size of your ecological footprint will have an impact.
- Go green. This could start in your hotel with towels and bed sheets. If you are staying longer, ask them not to change your sheets and towels every day. Turn of lights and air conditioners when not needed and think about your waste disposal. Reuse the water bottles. Don’t buy wildlife products!
• Go local. Support the local economy. Buy from local markets and roadside vendors. Eat in local restaurants. Stay in locally owned hotels. This keeps money in the economy and helps local people keep their jobs.
• Use local guides and drivers. Not only is it a great opportunity to interact with the locals and build friendship, but it encourages locals to learn about their history and culture and take pride in it.
• Book directly with your hotel. Third party booking agents take large commissions, and less money will benefit the host country, and the local community. You are more likely to get a better price when booking directly. It’s a win : win deal.
• Don’t stress. Our hurried concept of time is not the same in other cultures and local people s thought patterns differ from your own. Challenge yourself and do like the local people do, just for a day.
• A win : win deal? Bargaining is expected in many cultures and we all enjoy the haggling with a smile and a laugh, but its easy to get carried away trying to find the best deal. The money you saved could be enough to pay for an entire family’s meal that night.
• Giving back – Giving gifts unfortunately encourages begging. Try to refrain from giving to begging children. Find a project, health centre or school to donate to instead. This will have a more positive and long-lasting impact. before you give, do your research to ensure the organisation you support is a legitimate one. For more information visit ChildSafe International & Think before giving.
• Volunteering. If you are thinking about volunteering your time, think about the impacts it will have on the local organisation. A skilled volunteer can be of great help for a local organisation, especially with staff education & training, organisational development, marketing or other specific skills that are needed. If you are able to stay minimum 3-6 months or more, many organisations will welcome you with open arms. Short term volunteering is unfortunately often doing more harm than good. If you only have a few days to spare and would like to contribute your time, it’s probably more beneficial to think about other alternatives than volunteering. You can for example give a blood donation at one of the children hospitals, or visit initiatives such as the Friends Center at Angkor Hospital for Children or the see the Beatochello Concert at Khanta Bopha. The organisation ConCERT is a great source of information, and can provide you with useful information about what is needed and how you can contribute.
• Be aware of orphanage tourism. Some orphanages welcome tourists to come and play with the children for a few hours. It can be an eye-opening and a feel-good experience for the tourist, but the effect may be the exact opposite for the children. Remember that these children are vulnerable and need stability in their lives, not a constant flow of strangers visiting. Recent studies shows that three out of four orphans in Cambodia have at least one living parent. United Nations Children’s Fund and most other child protecting organisations agree that children are better off living in families or community settings if possible. Unfortunately many orphanages has been set up in tourist areas to raise funds from well-intended travelers, and some are intentionally kept in bad condition to bring in more donations. That means that good intentioned tourists and volunteers are often funding a system that is encouraging separating children from their families. That does not mean that all orphanages are bad and should not be funded. A well run orphanages will only allow tourists to enter into a designated information area accompanied by staff, and have proper child protection policies in place. Tourists visiting orphanages without a proper child protection policy are potentially putting children at risk, and it is not recommended. Click here for an informative article about the negative impacts of Orphanage Tourism from Good Intentions are not enough, or here to view a documentary on Cambodia’s Orphanage Tourism sent on Al Jazeera.
• Don’t be a critic. Things does not always work out according to the plan. Have an understanding that peace only returned to Cambodia 12 years ago, and it is still one of the poorest and least developed countries in Asia. The local people do not yet have the same level of education as people from more developed countries do, many have never attended school, but they strive to do their best and are eager to learn and improve. Try to deal with challenges in a sensitive and positive manner. It can be a learning experience for both.
• Good manners are universal. A responsible tourist is polite, positive and eco-sensitive.
• Enjoy! The chore of responsible tourism is to make a better place to live in and a better place to visit!
• Seven tips on how to help protect the vulnerable children, from ChildSafe International:
More information about Responsible Tourism available at:
Tourism & the Millennium Development Goals, United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Sustainable Travel International, International Centre for Responsible Tourism & Mekong Tourism Organisation