Terms such as ‘Responsible Travel’, ‘Ecotourism’, and ‘Ethical Tourism’ are all gaining traction in the traveler community. But what are they? And how can you travel meaningfully while being cognizant of your impacts on the communities you visit?
OneDegreeWorld is pleased to partner with Ameer Virani, who managed sustainability for a tour operator in Myanmar, to co-author this blogpost about ecotourism. In it, we discuss the role of tour operators and how to generally be a more responsible traveler.
What is it?
Responsible travel is about considering the potential negative impacts that your activities could have on the environment and communities you visit. It is about taking steps to limit your waste and to respect the diversity of the cultures and customs you come across in your travels. Tourism has a large footprint (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions from air and land transportation) and can create significant waste, especially through the use and disposal of single-use plastics.
More and more people are taking significant strides to lower the negative impacts of their travel activities and to give back to the communities they visit.
What can I do?
There are several ways you can be a more responsible traveler, including by reducing the waste you leave in the communities you travel to (check out some of OneDegreeWorld’s Eco-friendly travel products), avoiding animal tourism, supporting local services and businesses, and conducting your own research on the tour companies you use.
By learning more about responsible and ethical tourism, you are taking important steps in advocating for a less wasteful travel industry.
The importance of tour operators in making tourism more responsible
Tour operators play an important role in identifying responsible holiday and travel activities. They can help travelers learn about local businesses and initiatives in order to make more sustainable choices. Next time you travel, ask tour operators the difficult questions about their recommendations for ecotourism, zero-waste restaurants, and low-impact activities.
Tour operators also have a large role to play in fostering eco-friendly activities in the travel industry. For example, Ameer worked with other tour operators in Myanmar to encourage hotels across the country to ask their guests to use refillable water bottles and to help install water refill stations for hotel guests to use. This one example helped to significantly reduce the use of single-use plastic waste.
What is a responsible or sustainable tour?
It can be incredibly difficult finding out which tourism businesses are truly committed to responsible tourism and which ones are “greenwashing” (overselling their commitment to sustainability) to attract more customers.
You can do your part by asking tour operators questions about how their business benefits the local community, what they are doing to reduce waste, and how they educate travelers about protecting the environment.
At EXO Travel in Myanmar, Ameer and his team identified and promoted cultural excursions led by local businesses in order to support community development. They did this by working with people across the country to help them create their own tours and initiatives through support for capacity-building. Examples of these local businesses include Amazing Grace, a social enterprise that equips people with disabilities with new skills to make jewellery and artisan crafts. Ameer worked with Amazing Grace to develop workshops for tourists, which created additional work opportunities for the social enterprise and generated additional income for its programming. These partnerships also allow travelers to learn more about local cultures and customs.
How can you be a more responsible traveler?
Responsible travel can take many forms. Make sure to do your own research on tour companies to ensure your money is supporting the local community. As a general principle, avoid animal tourism—no matter how ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ these tours can advertise themselves. You can also reduce your negative impact on the communities you visit by using eco-friendly travel products (reusable water bottles, reusable shopping bags, bamboo travel cutlery, etc.) rather than single-use plastics.
More about OneDegreeWorld
OneDegreeWorld is a one-stop-shop for eco-friendly lifestyle and travel products and information. OneDegreeWorld helps travelers, foodies, young professionals, parents, and others do their part to help the environment by reducing unnecessary waste (e.g., from single-use plastic products) and making better, more informed choices. Visit https://onedegreeworld.ca/ for tips about sustainable living, responsible tourism, low-waste parenting, and more.
More about Ameer Virani:
Ameer managed sustainability and responsible tourism development at EXO Travel Myanmar from 2015-19. With EXO Travel, Ameer led office environmental practices, delivered training programs on responsible tourism, assessed the sustainability credentials of supply chain partners, and developed responsible tours for travelers around the world.