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Responsible Tourism: What Does It Actually Mean?

Travellers are, generally, curious people. And so they have plenty of questions, especially when it comes to responsible tourism. We want to stimulate debate around responsible tourism, encourage activism and get people thinking. But we also want to show how responsible tourism is so not about having a guilt trip. It is about opening up people’s eyes to the wonderfully ethical ways to travel in the world, but ways that still tap into our dreams.

Going on holiday should always be exciting. The escape, the exploration and, of course, the welcome rest. A responsible holiday is no exception. When you take a responsible holiday you are ensuring that the money you spend stays locally, which might mean staying in a family owned lodge on the edge of a lake, instead of a multinational chain behind gates. Discovering eclectic eateries which not only source their food close to home but also celebrate local cuisine as part of their culture. This might be in a remote valley in South Africa, a mountain village in Morocco; a beach café in the Mauritius or visiting the Bijagos Island with a local like “Adelino da Costa” from the Dakosta Island Beach Camp, who shares all his local secret spots.

First and foremost, as soon as you remember that you are visiting people’s homes, and see them as hosts rather than homogenous holiday providers, you become more responsible tourists. By respecting people who live in the places you visit on your travels, and engage with them in an open, dignified way you are opening yourself up to the possibilities of more heartfelt holidays. You will learn why the Maasai elder became a conservationist rather than a poacher. You will hear a Botswanan safari guide serenade you with songs as he pushes you in a dugout canoe across the Okavango Delta. Or simply watching Barbara from Zambia, a mother of two preparing a packed lunch for her kids, and kissing them before they go to school. It’s the everyday stuff that moves us on our travels.

Some aspects of tourism invoke more emotions than others of course. The obvious disparity in wealth is one. The exploitation of children is another. The crushing of a community or culture can also be devastating. And the recovery of communities such as Mozambique after the cyclone Idai, Nairobi after the hotel attack back in January or indeed Angola, still mid economic crisis, is humbling to witness. But also imperative to support.

The reality is that we can all be responsible tourists – it is easy. If you are camping in the Bijagos Islands, cruising in South Africa or chilling in Tanzania, as long as you support local people, respect their culture and go easy on their homelands, you are being responsible. It’s easy because it is just common sense.

Tourism is often cited as being the most important employer in tourism destinations and, therefore, a force for good. We agree with this, but when the employer pays below a living wage or offers unreasonable employment conditions, imports people and services rather than sourcing them locally, tourism can be perceived by local people as a new form of colonialism – or at worst, slavery. Responsible tourism is about putting people in the destinations first. Their livelihoods, their landscapes, their learnedness and their living culture.

 For United, business is not just about profit, it is also about giving our contribution to make our continent a better place. There are many tourism companies around the world putting people before profit, and sometimes we are not celebrated in the way it should be. As a company representing Africa as a whole, we recognise the importance of responsible tourism moving throughout the tourism industry, not just at the grassroots.

We hope that all of the above helps to define responsible tourism for you. In short, responsible tourism is about creating better places to live in and better places to visit. The order of that sentence is key. Creating benefits for our hosts comes first. Then, when our hosts are happy, we, the guests, will be too. Because, all in all, we recognise that responsible tourism is a win win situation. 

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