Holidays are often associated with an adventurous, cheerful lifestyle that alternates with relaxing moments. However, as carefree as we might feel, what we choose to do at the destination is not solely our own business. Often our travel destinations are also homes of the local population, both humans and animals. Our way of travelling is bound to have an impact on them.
Travelling and cultural exchange enriches the lives of millions around the world and has built massive industries around tourism, creating much needed economic growth. But, there is a downside as well. Child prostitution, environmental pollution and slave wages are some of the sociocultural, economic and environmental consequences that our hunger to discover the world has brought about. Also animal welfare can be threatened, as was shown by the recent case of a baby dolphin in Argentina, that died after it was plucked from the water so that tourists could take selfies with it.
The negative effects of travelling certainly aren’t going to stop us from moving around, and in the other hand, simply ignoring the flip-side of tourism isn’t a sustainable option. Luckily, there is an increasing amount of actors focused on helping us to do things smarter. One of them is the Finnish Association for Fair Tourism (FAFT), established in 2003.
“The key is that travellers, where ever they decide to go, shouldn’t worsen problems that already exist.”
Tytti McVeigh, president of FAFT, says their core idea is to help people travel in a way that maximizes the positive and minimizes the harmful effects of tourism.
– It is important to acknowledge that there are problems in almost every tourist destination. The key is that travellers, where ever they decide to go, shouldn’t worsen problems that already exist. Tourism enables many harmful activities, such as child prostitution or beating animals into submission for entertainment, she says.
Information leads to better decisions
Certainly, travellers are not the only to cause problems in their travel destination. There are many actors responsible for the big picture.
– Nations obviously need to carry their responsibility for things, such as fulfilment of human rights and practicalities like waste control. Travel agencies on the other hand need to ensure that their actions do not cause harm to local communities. Ideally they’ll work together with local governance to improve e.g. infrastructure, which in its turn will make it easier for people to move around and attract more tourism.
According to McVeigh, most tourists are not purposefully ignorant – travellers usually simply do not know what effects their choices have and how to make better decisions. However, she firmly believes that individuals can make a difference.
– Travellers are always responsible for their own behaviour: how they use their money and whether they respect local traditions. However, not all traditions are to be respected, such as objecting children to sexual contact, she says.
“Travellers are always responsible for their own behaviour.”
5 tips on how to travel with a clearer conscience:
1. Have the talk with yourself
Think about what is important for you. What do you value and which practices do you absolutely not want to support financially? Information is key and internet makes it pretty easy to find out about potential problems that can guide you in your decision.
2. Make greener choices
Utilize as much public transportation as possible, both at your destination and on your way there. E.g. railway connections are extremely handy when moving within Europe. However, when traveling from fairly isolated spots, such as Finland, sometimes flight is the only option. When this is the case, favor direct flights and instead of making e.g. frequent weekend trips, stay in one place for a longer period.
3. Consider who do you give your money to
A good strategy is to go for services provided by local entrepreneurs in order to ensure that the money spent will stay at the destination. Small choices can have a great impact on the local economy. International chains create work within the communities and usually possess a great pressure to ensure good working conditions. Unfortunately, the profits seldom stay within the country.
4. Don’t shut your eyes from crime
When abroad, one is sometimes tempted to distance oneself from everyday life and look the other way when facing uncomfortable situations. However, especially when it comes to witnessing serious crimes such as child sex tourism, reporting is extremely important. Even though a single observation would not lead to an arrest, reporting may facilitate a wider international investigation and, perhaps even more importantly, create change in people’s behavior and the local culture. The Finnish Association for Fair Tourism’s campaign against child sex tourism, Too Bad to Be True, emphasizes that the more reports, the stronger the message that such behavior is not accepted.
5. Give constructive feedback
Feedback is a good way for the individual to show both their appreciation and disappointment. Economic pressure is usually an effective method, so i.e. informing an animal park that you won’t be using their services because of bad treatment of animals will hopefully make them consider their practices. Social media has made it easy for people to approach travel companies directly and share experiences. While doing so, it is important to keep a constructive approach and not blame one company for all problems within the industry.
Text: Mikaela Remes
Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / CC BY 2.0