What Is Responsible Tourism Exactly & How Does It Impact You?

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There are many myths floating around about responsible tourism and what travelers should or shouldn’t be doing when they hit the road. I talked to Olivia Ruggles Brise, Director of Policy and Research at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) to get some answers. Without further adieu, here are 10 myths about responsible tourism.

Myth 1. There’s No Clear Definition Of Responsible Tourism

That’s not true. Responsible tourism is an easy concept – it’s about ensuring that that the rights and needs of all those working to create or support your holiday are respected. There may be different variations of that definition. But companies that measure and monitor the impacts of their business are leading the way in being responsible.

Myth 2. It Means Roughing It

Does being responsible mean giving up your creature comforts? Not at all. In fact, many luxury operators are leading the way in developing responsible tourism – check out Asilia Africa, Six Senses, Banyan Tree for example.


Photo courtesy of _doc.

Myth 3: Flying Isn’t Responsible

While there’s no denying that flying is an important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, not flying has its impact too. Aviation directly creates more than 8 million jobs around the world. A world without it would be much poorer. Not surprisingly, it is those destinations that are most in need of money from tourism spend which would suffer the most. Bear in mind that there are ways of flying more responsibly – pick direct routes, use airlines that have environmental commitments, and consider offsetting. Some of the cleaner airlines include Thomson, Cathay Pacific, Air New Zealand. Plus, Nature Air in Costa Rica is an example of a carbon neutral airline.

Myth 4: Mass Tourism Is Not Responsible

It’s true that the mass tourism segment has a bad reputation for leaving little positive impact behind. However, if you dig a bit deeper there are some benefits. Charter flights with high load factors are much more efficient/responsible than empty seats in scheduled carrier; bus transport to/within a destination much better than using a taxi, for example. And where the mass tourism operators are embracing sustainability, the impacts can be huge. Have a look at TUI Travel’s Sustainable Holidays’ Plan.

rural travel

Rural travel. Photo courtesy of KX Studio.

Myth 5: Responsible Tourism Is Only For Rural, Less Developed Destinations

Impacts are often more obvious in remote, rural , less rich areas where tourism is the only/main economic activity. However, look at the challenges facing Venice, Barcelona and Berlin. And even in cities such as London, you can do your bit to be responsible – look at the Drayton Hotel’s award winning ‘Keen to be Green’ programme. Other examples of best practice include Costa Navarino in Greece, the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, and Alpine Pearls in the Alps.

Myth 6: It’s A Niche Market

There are still those within the industry who consider ‘responsible or sustainable tourism’ as a niche market – separate from mainstream tourism operations. But the world cannot be based on responsible and irresponsible companies or consumers. Responsible tourism has to be embedded in all activities. Most big companies have cottoned on to this now – Marriott, Accor and tour operators such as Kuoni among others.


Lemur. Photo courtesy of belgianchocolate.

Myth 7: Responsible Tourism Is Just About The Environment

Of course, looking after the planet is very important. If we don’t take care of places, there will be nowhere to visit. But, making sure the people who live and work in a tourism destination are benefiting positively is vital for tourism to be properly responsible – such as at Arviat Community Ecotourism, Abercrombie & Kent and Basecamp Explorer Kenya.

Myth 8: It’s Expensive

No. As with any tourism product, there are a variety of price points. Being responsible does not mean you have to pay a premium – check out responsibletravel.com for all kinds of options. But one thing you can be sure of; the more responsible you travel, the better value you’ll get – for your money and for the places you visit. Win, Win!


Asilia Africa. Photo courtesy of World Travel & Tourism Council.

Myth 9: It’s Difficult To Find Out Who Is Most Responsible

While this may have been true in the past, there are now a number of tools for consumers to compare and contrast companies’ performance – those companies, which give most back to their communities, treat their staff well, monitor their supply chains and are best at reducing waste, water and energy.

Myth 10: It Is The Responsibility Of Companies And Governments To Provide A Responsible Product

Yes. But travelers have to play their part in responsible tourism too. It’s all about showing respect; respect for the environment (don’t litter, don’t overuse resources) respect for culture (learn about it, talk to locals, don’t wear inappropriate clothing), and respect for people (show interest, be polite to staff, tip as appropriate).

Companies and travelers and governments can all play their part in working hard to create a sustainable Tourism for Tomorrow and ensure that tourism is a positive force for good. Maximizing Travel & Tourism’s potential as a Force for Good requires leadership, commitment and action from all.

Do you have a responsible tourism myth to add? Please share in the comments below.

top photo credit: Lorikeets. Photo courtesy of aussiegall.

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