Responsible Tourism

Responsible Tourism

Elephants as they should be – wild and free…

In 2002 (yes – more than 20 years ago!), a conference was organised in Cape town by the Responsible Tourism Partnership and Western Cape Tourism (as a side event preceding the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg). The Cape Town Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations was attended by 280 delegates from 20 countries. The conference grew out of the South African work on responsible tourism guidelines and involved delegates field-testing the South African Guidelines on sites in and around Cape Town. What is fascinating to me is that the “Cape Town Declaration” is still the ‘gold standard’ worldwide…

“The Cape Town Declaration recognises that Responsible Tourism takes a variety of forms – it is characterised by travel and tourism which:

  • Minimises negative economic, environmental and social impact.
  • Generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry.
  • Involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life changes.
  • Makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity.
  • Provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.
  • Provides access for people with disabilities and the disadvantaged.
  • Is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.

Behaviour can be more or less responsible, and what is responsible in a particular place depends upon environment and culture. It’s interesting that there are a variety of debates going on about Sustainable vs Responsible Tourism. I’m not going to get into that – my opinion is that it’s as simple as DOING what you know to be right. One can argue semantics until the cows come home, but it all means nothing unless accompanied by action. 

And, talking of action, you can do so much without worrying about words. Simple things, like purchasing your groceries in the areas where you a travelling (where possible). One is then moving money from the big cities to the small settlements – and that cash injection can make all the difference. Utilising the services of community lodges is another way in which you can make a difference. Many moons ago, we stayed at a community-based lodge known as Santawani (in Botswana). It was delightful but very rustic. I see that it is now a far more sophisticated operation, still operated by the community. It’s very rewarding to see a community thrive like this – even through Covid. I’m not sure of its entire history, and how it happened, but it went from being a Gametrackers lodge to a community run entity. “Santawani is one of the longest standing camps in the whole Okavango. Chosen as a site when sites were there to be chosen, by the legendary Jon Panos of Gametrackers fame, Santawani proudly continues the tradition of home-grown hospitality.” Isn’t that wonderful?

Let’s do what we can to preserve our beautiful inheritance that is Africa’s wilderness…

There was an amazing programme in the then Rhodesia in the ‘60s called The Campfire Project… “The CAMPFIRE concept is based on the premise that conservation, management and sustainable utilization can only be achieved by placing natural resources in the custody of the communities who suffer the consequences of living with the resource. The lessons which have been learnt from the commercial farming sector have been the guiding force in establishing the CAMPFIRE programme. It is clear that the programme promotes local governance and economic self-reliance in the communities who are involved. People increase their income levels and get or create employment through the wise use of local natural resources. The programme reconciles conservation of the environment with development.” (Unesco). In my humble opinion, it is approaches like these that are going to save our wild regions in Africa…

Wild lion cubs growing healthy and strong within their pride.

Another way of practicing Responsible Tourism is not going anywhere near venues that offer Lion Cub Petting. One needs to ask the question: “Where do these lions end up?” I can assure you that the vast majority of endings are far from a happy Disney story. Lions that start life in this way inevitably become part of a darker reality which could include the canned hunting industry, the black markets specialising in wildlife parts and/or the exotic pet trade. When cubs are exposed to people for eight hours a day, they don’t get enough sleep to develop naturally, and they are also often injured as their bones are not yet well-formed enough to deal with their consistent handling. No lion that has endured that level of human interaction will ever be released into the wild – and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. It just won’t happen.

The South African Boat Based Whale Watching Association’s (SABBWWA) mission is to “create a self-regulatory model of a clearly defined and controversial tourism sector, in accordance with the basic guideline for Responsible Tourism and the development and adherence to Best Practice principles”. In terms of Regulations of the Marine Living Resources Act (1998), it is an offence to approach any whale closer than the 300m without a permit. SABBWWA’s member base consists of over 80% of South Africa’s permitted operators. So, if you want a close encounter with a whale at sea, be sure that you choose a professional, licensed SABBWWA permit holder with whom to have your experience. 

The sad romance of elephant back rides…

There is an air of romance about elephant rides. Which is a tragedy for the animals. I think that the public are now aware of the cruelty involved in circus acts and also with the elephants in Thailand. But the sad reality is that it is, generally speaking, no different in South Africa. In fact, the pressure from tourism operators, both local and especially overseas, has forced most elephant safari / ride operations to close down. Ethical travel operators simply refuse to promote any operation involving elephant riding or any other form of physical contact between captive animals and visitors.

To swim with dolphins… I am certain that this has been on all of our bucket lists at one stage or another! Which is well and good if they approach you in the surf. But did you know that commercial swimming with dolphins in South African waters is strictly illegal (in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act). Our dolphins are protected by some of the strongest cetacean conservation laws in the world. Scientific studies suggest that the feeding and nursery habits of dolphins are disturbed when people swim with them. This legislation is not new – it has been in place for well over a decade. You can, however, take a boat ride with a company who has the appropriate permits. Many of these companies are dedicated to the observation AND preservation of these beautiful creatures – so choose wisely.

Free-swimming dolphins – let them be.

Use local bird guides when embarking on a birding adventure. BirdLife South Africa understands the role that local communities are able to play in conservation. As a result, they became involved in bird guide training and skills development, and launched the Community Bird Guide Training Program in 2001. These guides are self-employed (i.e. you are creating direct employment and financially benefitting to the communities whose area you are visiting) and they are free to set their own rates. That said, they are generally affordable and offer very competitive fees within the guiding industry. “The guides provide improved security and valuable information on where elusive and special bird species may be found, and in some cases can gain you access to otherwise restricted locations.” (BirdLife South Africa).  You can find a list of these guides here:

Whilst some may view the restrictions is simply painful red-tape, in reality these laws are protecting our wildlife. Maya Angelou wrote “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I think that is an incredibly apt quote for this subject. If we all do the right thing, there will be no financial incentive to those who are destroying our wild resources!

Long may Africa’s wild regions thrive!

Jacqui Ikin & the Cross Country Team

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