by Eve Lacroix
When travelling to a new place you know to anticipate that things are not the same as at home— and you will discover in which way quickly enough. This could mean hearing a new language, covering your head and shoulders when entering a place of worship, or drinking a different type of coffee. You may learn to point your feet away from the statue of the Buddha, eat with a fork and spoon, greet people with a kiss on the cheek, or even expect incoming traffic on a different side of the road. Keeping in mind all the differing customs helps to properly respect the historical, spiritual and cultural significance of landmarks, locations, or places of faith.
Are you lucky enough to have the time, funds and chance to travel, but want to do so in a way that is ethical and sustainable? Here are some pointers you may want to consider:
1. Air miles and carbon footprint.
One aspect of sustainable tourism is the practise of travelling whilst maintaining or enhancing the natural flora and fauna and environment of a country or region.
A major cause of climate change is carbon emissions generated by airplanes. Airplane emissions cause an estimated 4-9% of the total climate change impact of human activity by producing greenhouse gases. However, if you are travelling abroad, particularly to a different continent, air travel is sometimes inevitable. Once in the country of choice, if you are not in a time crunch and your budget can stretch that little bit further, try to avoid flying and instead take a train, bus, or some shared mode of transport with lesser carbon emissions. It is possible to explore continents this way, such as travelling through Europe by train or around South America by bus. Certain bus companies and airlines allow to you to pay a supplement which goes towards counteracting your carbon footprint.
2. Animal cruelty.
Another thing to consider whilst travelling is the treatment of wildlife.
Many travellers look forward to the chance to spot or interact with animals that are not native to a tourist’s home. Sometimes, this comes with a great cost to the animals. For example, many tourists who travel to the northern city of Chiang Mai in Thailand are keen to pet tigers. The now infamous Tiger Kingdom asks visitors to pay for every tiger you pet and snap a selfie with, with each interaction lasting a quarter of an hour. For the tiger to remain docile it is separated from its mother as a cub, kept dependent on its human owners, and hit with bamboo sticks as training. Many believe the adult tigers are drugged to remain calm amongst visitors, and when not being photographed, they are kept in a cages far too small for their health.
Consider skipping this attraction and instead visit an ethical elephant reserve, such as the Patara Elephant Farm, located near Chiang Mai. Patara Elephant Farm takes in young orphaned elephants and raises them and makes sure to not overwhelm them with an excessive number of visitors. You can feed and bathe the elephant and ride one for a short amount of time bareback. Not all elephant reserves employ the same treatment— make sure to avoid a trip in which you sit on an elephant’s back on a wooden chair, which is harmful for its skeleton. The practise contributes to the lack of of interaction with other elephants, and the dwindling numbers of the species.
3. Poverty tourism and conservation.
The practise of ethical tourism seeks to economically enhance the lives of local communities without exploiting them. A good place to start is to book your tours locally rather than booking them at home, thus ensuring the money goes into the country you are visiting.
Certain countries such as Brazil have an incredibly visible wealth disparity. In Rio de Janiero, for example, the upmarket Ipanema beach stands up against the backdrop of rolling hills and favelas which are composed of colourful corrugated iron houses. Despite once notorious crime, a 2011 effort of “pacification”, which was a government programme of installing armed police presences in favelas at all times to reduce crime ahead of the 2016 Summer Rio Olympics, has lead some areas such as Vidigal to become prime real estate. In some of the safer neighbourhoods, a popular excursion is a “favela tour”, in which a guide explains the history of favelas and shows tourists around certain streets in cars with blackened windows, walking down designated streets and suggesting tourists take pictures at specific locations whilst armed men look on. Some tours also encourage tourists to buy local art, however the economic compensation of the tour and the art does not balance out the intrusive nature of this ‘poverty tour’.
the upmarket Ipanema beach stands up against the backdrop of rolling hills and favelas
Similar exploitative tourist activities happen in Bolivia. In Potosí, which at a staggering 4,090m high is one of the most elevated cities in the world, a big tourist attraction is touring an active silver mine. Whilst miners continue to work in subpar conditions, tourists can come in, imagine the reality of this line of work for an hour, take pictures and then leave.
A successful example of tourism contributing to local communities can be found in the Amazon jungle near the city of Rurrenabaque in Bolivia. The Madidi National Park is a national reserve, which, in an effort of the government to return land to native Bolivian communities and create employment has been separated into sections each owned by different indigenous communities. In order to sustain themselves, each community runs an eco-lodge. One such lodge is the Madidi Jungle Ecolodge which is run by the indigenous Tacana-Quechua community. Activities include hiking or walking around the jungle to see tapirs, wild boar, monkeys, parakeets, spiders and more depending on your luck. The creation of eco-lodges has meant that there is no longer an exodus of rainforest-dwelling indigenous young people to the cities. Here, tourism has created income to indigenous communities and permitted them to continue living traditionally.
The creation of eco-lodges has meant that there is no longer an exodus of rainforest-dwelling indigenous young people to the cities
If you are planning a trip, try to keep in mind these three pointers to be respectful of our planet, animals and the communities around us. As always, it is best to do lots of research to make sure you are choosing the most respectful, sustainable and ethical travel choices.
Cover image © madidijungle.com