Tourism is known for its major role in shaping local economies and impacting surrounding communities. Many factors can influence success within the travel industry, including government systems, local operations and those who travel. Overtourism’s negative effects expand exponentially as the industry continues to grow, making it crucial to consider future sustainability.
Responsible tourism is the idea that organizations, locals and tourists have a duty to make decisions with their long-term impact on a destination in mind, looking after the well-being of an environment and its community. The goal is to make “better places for people to live and … to visit.”
What Is Responsible Tourism?
Responsible tourism was first defined at a sustainable development conference in 2002, but its popularity has since grown into a prominent trend. Some key characteristics include:
- Cultural sensitivity to foster respect between tourists and hosts
- Integrated decision making that includes input from key stakeholders
- Positive contributions to natural and cultural heritage conservation
- Enhanced economic well-being and benefits for local community
- Reduced negative cultural, social and environmental impacts
Ensuring prosperity for future generations seems more challenging than ever as the world faces fluctuating economies and growing concern for climate crises. The 2022 World Tourism Day conference discussed the importance of “rethinking tourism” to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Responsible tourism emphasizes preserving cultures and protecting environments while contributing to equitable and sustainable development.
Encouraging Thoughtful Travel
Successful responsible tourism is an integrated effort, from the individual to the organizational level. Tourists may practice traveling responsibly by learning about local customs or reducing their waste. Destinations can develop programs and create other opportunities which will encourage this kind of thoughtful travel.
The Center for Responsible Travel aims to “transform the way the world travels” by helping destinations develop innovative solutions. These projects “foster cultural understanding, educate travelers and provide economic opportunities to local communities.” Inviting tourists to take an active role in the places they visit through education, events and more is an effective way to promote responsible tourism.
Visit Native California is a new collaborative project by California’s 109 federally recognized indigenous tribes that will promote responsible tourism throughout the state. The program deeply connects local indigenous tribes with the travel industry while creating jobs, educational opportunities and more. A portal will formally launch on VisitCalifornia.com in March 2023, hosting informative blogs and other resources for users to “experience California’s Native heritage.” Tribes will also work with land management organizations to ensure prevention of wildfires as well as continued access for traditional cultural practices.
Below are a few ways to inspire responsible tourism in your destination:
1. Highlight your heritage.
Every destination has an important history that makes it a unique place and appeals to visitors. Why not showcase those qualities by inviting tourists to learn more? Educational centers, festivals and other ways to explore a location’s cultural and natural heritage encourage tourists to immerse themselves and develop respect for the locations they visit, while building local pride.
Camarillo, California, regularly honors its founder and Hispanic heritage to highlight the community’s connection to its history and culture. An annual celebration of founder Adolfo Camarillo’s birthday and frequent appearances from the city’s historic White Horses in parades are just a few ways they engage with the local culture. Travelers can easily find means to feel connected in Camarillo by learning about these roots.
2. Create intentional itineraries.
Exploring the natural environment or learning about a regional heritage can help immerse tourists in local culture. Encourage visitors to build deeper relationships with destinations by engaging with them in meaningful ways. Build out an itinerary with information about culturally relevant activities and publish it on your website to give visitors a starting point.
In California, Concord’s turbulent history cultivated a community rich with culture. The local tourism board explained that events of the past have lasting impacts that can still be seen throughout the modern city. Ensuring stories about heritage are continuously shared and remembered allows visitors and locals alike to “get a glimpse of what makes the present so special.” The “Culture Craver’s Guide to Concord” allows tourists to delve into the destination and learn about its roots.
3. Provide environmental education.
Informing visitors about potential ways to combat their role in environmental issues invites them to take an active role in preserving the places they visit. Teach people about the history of a landscape and what ecological problems it may be facing to raise awareness for these important topics. Expert knowledge may be utilized to provide education and promote a more sustainable future.
Ecotourism Laos fosters responsible tourism through training and employing local guides for hikes that educate visitors about the plants, wildlife and natural landscape. In this “Trekking” program, experts from the region share their “intimate” knowledge about some of the country’s natural resources. These excursions can also provide insight to contextualize the environment’s role in Laos’ history and culture. Travelers may choose from a variety of hiking tours to explore different parts of the area.
4. Promote off-season travel.
Hosting visitors during less busy seasons makes encouraging responsible tourism easier for a variety of reasons. Seasonal work poses challenges for local individuals whose employment is heavily affected by the travel industry. Inviting tourists to visit more regularly throughout the year rather than only during common times can reduce crowds that overwhelm employees and better ensure a year-round source of income.
Investing resources and revenue back into local communities helps to build more desirable destinations to live, work and visit. Supporting a local community through creating jobs and boosting the economy can help it to thrive. Industry professionals and tourists alike are embracing the rising trend of responsible tourism. Thoughtful development can ensure prosperous future generations. Creating educational and sustainability efforts within your destination can help change the way people think about travel.
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