Responsible Travel

Responsible Travel

As we make our way in this world, we have choices. And those choices make all the difference – to both you and the environment. If the whole planet made better choices, this beautiful planet of ours would be in a much better state. So, whether it’s an overseas or a “local is lekker” jol, in this week’s column we highlight some choices you can take to change our world… 

One of the best definitions of ‘Responsible Tourism’ I have come across is “tourism that respects the destination’s environment, community, and culture. It aims to correct the adverse effects caused by irresponsible mass tourism.” Responsible tourism also tends to make travellers a (temporary) part of that community, as opposed to just being a spectator. It is with that spirit that we continue – to find ways in which we can contribute positively. 

Cape Town’s Green Map promotes ‘green as an informed lifestyle choice’. From this web site (detailed below) you are able to choose options (from many different categories) that are better for our world.  The Green Map initiative has been around for almost 30 years (since 1995) and has grown into a global movement. It has spread to more than 990 cities, towns and villages in 65 countries. Their icons are universal and easy to understand – which makes the system user-friendly to individuals across all language barriers and cultures. There are detailed explanations for all symbols on the page. Whilst criteria are not prohibitively strict, there is recognition for intent – which I think is cool. For example, a green store (an image of a lock with a leaf inside) is a “retail outlet whose major thrust is to sell a wide range of ecologically conscious products (eco-products). 100% of all products may not truly be major improvements over conventional products, but the intention, method of production, materials, reductions of impacts in use, store policies, etc. address sustainability principles.” Public can also add to the maps as and when they discover suitable spots that are worthy, so it is constantly being updated.

Beyond the fact that you don’t need to queue for everything you want to do, it is also advantageous in terms of responsible tourism to visit popular destinations outside of peak season. Often, a district’s “peak season” is dictated by their local school’s holidays rather than the absolute best time to be there. Whilst you will benefit from cheaper accommodation and flights (and better availability), you will also be helping stimulate the local economy’s growth and job creation. One of the challenges the tourism industry faces the world over is seasonal demand, and workers are often laid off in the down season. By creating demand during the low period, you are contributing to the reduction of this trend.

If you have a holiday planned to one of the large, most popular cities, be sure to include some days in local villages in the surrounding areas. You can still visit all the famous landmarks, but you will be mitigating your effect on “over-tourism” (the result of tourist demand exceeding the carrying capacity of host communities in a destination). You will also be directing your spend to those more in need…

When travelling to neighbouring countries, or even outlying areas in South Africa, do your research and then purchase as much as you can locally in the way of groceries. For example, I am always amused when people have a meltdown at not being able to take meat into Botswana when that country has some of the best beef in the world! Local, seasonal, fresh fruit and vegetables are often freely available where you are going – and you will be sharing the love and spending your hard-earned cash in places where it will once again be most appreciated.

Wherever possible, employ local guides. They’re familiar with the area, and often the indigenous flora and fauna as well – far more so than ‘imported’ guides. They will be able to give you the cultural relevance and share the local stories and anecdotes. They often know the best places to leave your vehicle – and are intimately connected with the community, who will hopefully support the tourism initiatives as well. Once again, your money is going where it is most needed.

When planning a holiday, the most interesting and unique experiences are available in areas that need your support the most. The local populations in those environments are entrepreneurs, trying to make a living and contribute to society. They are always grateful for the support and often go way above and beyond in terms of making your experience something really unique.

When you choose to travel responsibly, it doesn’t only have a positive impact in the destinations and communities that you visit. It will also provide you with enriching experiences and perspectives that will stay with you for many years to come.

Travelling is a way to open our minds to the world, and interacting with those who are “different” to us allows us all to discover that most people are essentially the same. That we have more in common than separating us. But our experiences will be different. We are able to learn through meaningful connections with local people, and when we leave, we will not only have learned about new social and environmental issues, but we will more than likely have more tolerance towards people who don’t live in exactly the same way that we do. And it is soooo interesting – as opposed to the same boring, high-end five-star resort to whom we are just a number and all the memories are completely interchangeable year after year! 

The aim is to become a “temporary local” as opposed to a tourist…

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team


Cape Town’s Green Map: (Parent Company)

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