The concept of Responsible Tourism has, rightly, taken a front row seat in the strategies, policies and philosophies of nations seeking to grow and develop their tourism economies. Building a tourism destination responsibly, actively conscious of the impact which the tourism industry has on the place, people and promise of the destination, is critical to the long-term health and well being of the destination.

Responsible tourism is everyone‘s responsibility.

As a result members of both the public and private sector are coming together across the global Travel & Tourism community to talk sustainability, responsibility, longevity and accountabilityfundamentals of sector growth and development. Principles and programmes are being created which ensure that growth of the destination takes into careful consideration the impact of travellers on:

  • the natural environment of the destination
  • the established culture and traditions of the destination
  • the style and character of the destination
  • the spirit and ethos of the people of the destination
  • the immediate growth and development needs of the destination along with its future aspirations

The definition of ‘Responsible Tourism’ has evolved organically to include both the tangibles and the intangibles of the destination, both the present and the future, both the expectations and the experience.

Importantly, very importantly, it also reaches out to include both the travel destination and the traveller.

Responsibility for the well being of the destination is not only the responsibility of the tourism sector – it is also the responsibility of the tourist.

This, sadly, is so often forgotten. Boldly with our tickets, money and passports in hand we set forth to enter a new part of the word. We seek to explore and seek to experience something new. We seek to be educated and entertained. We seek to close deals in meeting rooms and close our eyes on beaches. And we feel good about it because we know our being there is good for the destination’s economy.

There can, however, be a cost to the destination through our presence. One which can do profound damage to both how the destination experiences us…and how we experience the destination.

There is a powerful, poignant passage in the closing of chapter one of Gregory David Roberts’ beautifully written SHANTARAM which goes as follows:

“The owners of the hotel received four dollars per day per room. That was their base line. The dollar or two above that minimum was all Anand and his staff of three room boys shared as their daily wage. The little victories haggled from him by foreign tourists cost Anand his daily bread, and cost them the chance to know him as a friend.”

The truthfulness of the passage hits one’s heart more deeply the more one reads it. All of us, we the travellers of the modern world, not only know what is meant by his words…we feel what is meant.

In a small collection of words is a message of one of the greatest risks of the growth of the Travel & Tourism sector today – the risk that in all of our busy-ness, bravely venturing out to see the world, we fail to see what the world sees in us.

When travelling to new, newly ‘open for business’ destinations stereotypes and pre-departure stories of ‘what could happen’ can often
collide with immediate sights and sensations. This cocktail causes our behaviour to change. Our awareness heightens. Our eyes widen. For some the heart opens wider, engagingly. For others the heart can close tightly, the defensive and suspicious mind taking over. It happens, within all of us, at different levels, depending on the situation we find ourselves in.

And actually this deeply personal impact is part of the excitement and growth and personal learning of travel.

Still, it is important to remember that we travellers, through our behaviour in new travel environments and situations, can impose culture shock as much as we can experience it ourselves. Our words, our gestures, our beliefs and our behaviours – these can also be intensely new experiences for people of the destination. How we treat the destination – how we engage with the local people, how we care for their environment, how we respect amd embrace their customs, codes and character, how we share our culture and how we carry home their little corner of the world – brings to life the responsibility we have to the places we travel as travellers.

As we cross borders to learn more about and celebrate the world we live in we should never forget that we are absolutely blessed to be able to experience firsthand the rich array of new cultures and communities opening their doors and putting out the welcome mat to travellers. Our interest in exploring nations is our privilege, not our right.

We are guests.
We are ambassadors of our home countries.
We are heartbeats.
And we have a responsibility to take care of the places we visit as much as they reach out to take care of their visitors.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2009