Visiting another country is an exciting adventure, where rich learning opportunities are available at your fingertips. As a tourist, however, it is important to remember that the place you are journeying to is not simply a beautiful scene to look at, but rather a fully functioning society, with its own stories, complexities, cultures, ecosystems and economies. Being mindful and respectful of these aspects during your tour, will make not only your experience a meaningful one, but also that of the community you are visiting.
Responsible tourism involves a mutual respect between local and traveller, where the traveller gains an educational experience, which simultaneously benefits the local people. The phrase stems from the idea of “sustainable tourism”, which formed the foundation of thinking about the three key pillars of a society (the environment, economics and social factors). The term “sustainable”, however, has oftentimes caused confusion and so “responsible” provides a simpler understanding.
Being a responsible tourist means being considerate towards local culture, supporting local businesses and products, encouraging the preservation of cultural heritage, conserving resources and acting environmentally conscious.
Hotels and other lodging services can be incredibly resource intensive, producing large amounts of waste and using masses of water and electricity which need to be shared with the rest of the city. Looking up sustainable accommodation when booking your trip is one way in which you can be a responsible tourist. If you aren’t sure how to find out which places are using sustainable practices, why not get in contact and ask the ones you are leaning towards what they are doing to play their part? Things to look out for are:
Every little bit helps and endorsing these practices is a great way of ensuring that you make a positive impact whilst exploring.
Being mindful of the local economy also makes you a responsible tourist. Try your best to purchase local produce and make use of local services for the majority of your trip. This will allow income generated from tourism to positively flow into the local stream.
Besides staying in sustainable accommodation, being mindful of your own resource use is involved in acting responsibly as a visitor.
Tourists can easily have a large carbon footprint when travelling. The plane ride, multiple car journeys, and other forms of fossil fuel intensive travel all add up.
Try carpooling as much as possible to minimise the number of vehicles going to the same place. Using public transport, like the MyCiTi bus service in Cape Town instead of private travel is another way of lowering your carbon footprint.
Be water savvy
South Africa is a drought-prone country, with Cape Town only recently starting to recover from a severe water shortage. Despite the dam levels slowly rising, water is still not as abundant as it should be. Using water responsibly is something everyone should be a part of and is one of the most positive ways in which tourists can make their stay a mutually positive one. Remember that locals need water as much as you do! Taking TWO minute showers, only flushing when necessary, and even using cool products like dry shampoo and on-the-go waterless hand sanitizer are all simple ways of saving water and making a difference.
Be aware of energy consumption
Being considerate of your impact on the energy sector of a country as a tourist also makes you a responsible traveller. Switching lights off that aren’t in use or grabbing an extra blanket instead of running the heater for long periods of time can all help save energy and will add to your positive impact!
What you consume in your destination country forms part of your impact on it. There are a few simple things to keep in mind when dining out.
Some meat is best left uneaten
In South Africa, certain animals, fish and birds are counted as endangered species and should be steered clear of when considering what to eat. Many restaurants are starting to get on board with these warnings, however, it is always a good idea to stay clued up in terms of what is good to eat, as not all restaurants are taking these suggestions seriously.
The South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI), for example, has categorised all the fish available in South Africa into three colour codes - red, orange and green. Fish on the red list are regarded as unsustainable and illegal for trade - these should be avoided at all costs. Orange listed fish are those which have been identified as being a cause for ecological concern. Although these fish are still available to eat, it is strongly advised to seek alternatives. Fish on the green list are ultimately the ones to look out for, as these represent the most sustainable choices.
Some restaurants have been identified as sustainable
The four key indicators of a sustainable restaurant are energy, water, waste and food source. Many restaurants in Cape Town present themselves as adhering to sustainable practices in accordance with these. Supporting businesses who make this kind of effort encourages the spread of positive change! Why not check out some of the restaurants which have been identified as sustainable in The Inside Guide and make each dining experience a meaningful one.
When touring a new country, it is important to maintain the fine balance between learning from a culture different to yours and invading private space.
Stay mindful throughout your trip that some of the spaces you might have wanted to see are actually the homes of others and that the people you encounter are real people. Some may not feel comfortable with your presence in certain intimate settings and it is important to remain respectful of that.
Always ask permission when including locals and/or their homes in photographs and keep dignity and personal space in mind when planning where you would like to go.
There is a lot to learn from others and there are many who would love to invite you as guests into their cultures. As long as you maintain a lens of putting yourself in the shoes of others first, the experience truly has the potential of being an enriching exchange of knowledge.
Being a responsible tourist involves making simple changes to the way you travel and explore. Staying mindful is the key to making your experience in another country mutually beneficial and will leave you with a rich bank of memories to take home with you!