Irresponsible tourism


Sadly, the tourism industry just gets things wrong sometimes and, at Responsible Travel, we strive to highlight the pitfalls of our desire to discover the world. Sometimes at any cost. Or else, carried away by our desire to have a much needed break, we just turn a blind eye to irresponsible tourism. This is also not helped by the fact that many travel companies and the travel media fail to highlight the serious issues and impacts of our travel on many destinations. Mass media coverage is given to abuses arising in fashion, food and forestry but holidays are often seen as sacrosanct. They are our time to escape the stresses of everyday life, and no one wants to be made feel guilty about travel or think of themselves as an irresponsible tourist.

The other issue is that travel media is often funded by the travel industry through complimentary trips to journalists, many of whom are therefore resistant to give negative coverage. There are always exceptions, but travel editors, in general, don’t like to shout about the dark sides of tourism. Not when a big tourist board, airline, all inclusive-holiday company or cruise multinational is about to spend thousands advertising on their website. We know this from first-hand experience, as we campaign against various detrimental activities in tourism, and gaining coverage in the travel press is always an uphill struggle. We’re not bitter. We just know that the media, and other travel companies, can do better.

The irresponsible travel round up


Here are some of the no-no’s of travel which we would like all tourists to be aware of, whether they are reading right on, red tops or rags of newspapers. Because we celebrate travel, we don’t always want to give you the bad stories. We want to stress that for every irresponsible way of doing things, there is nearly always an alternative – one that is just as exciting, adventurous, restful and fun as the dodgy one. Here, in alphabetical order, are some of our no-no’s of travel. Please share with anyone you know who loves to travel and who is still turning a blind eye:

All-inclusive resorts

They might be a bargain and tough to resist, but the multinational, homogenous, fly-and-flop resorts are low on ethical cred and high on negative environmental and economic impact. According to UK charity Tourism Concern, few countries benefit directly from all inclusive resorts, as the foreign owned tourism company owns the hotel, airline, ground transport and often excursion providers. Their research found that in Turkey, only 10 percent of tourist spend from all inclusive holidays found its way into the regional economy, with even less reaching the immediate local area. Rather than condemning them all outright, we do believe that all inclusive holiday companies have the potential to be a lot more responsible and that indeed, some are taking baby steps to doing so, by sourcing more food locally, or using local activity providers and so on. What most people also don’t know is that all inclusives aren’t always the cheapest way to holiday, if you just know where to look. Read more about all inclusive holidays here.

Canned hunting

Canned hunting is when animals such as lions are reared simply for the purpose of being hunted on privately owned reserves – this is to be avoided at all costs. It does nothing for the environment – or for local people. There are several canned hunting reserves in South Africa, and tourists should also be wary of the fact that some of these are also in the market for “conservation volunteers”. Unwittingly, tourists turn up to count, care for and monitor animals, unaware that elsewhere on this massive, privately owned piece of land, the animals are then being hunted – for a fee of tens of thousands of pounds.
Alarm bells should ring any time volunteers are permitted to interact with wildlife – feeding, cuddling and petting them – as any truly wild creature (or one which is destined for release) should never become habituated. Irresponsible tourism at its most ironic and ignorant.

Captive animals

Animals that are kept in captivity have long been used as tourist attractions or for frivolous entertainment. Our best piece of advice is, in general, if it isn’t in the wild, then it isn’t where it ought to be. There are some sanctuaries or conservancies that are exceptions of course but, as a rule of thumb, if it is doing something that isn’t natural, then the animal has been forced to do so in a way that is, in our opinion, unethical. Captive dolphins and whales are off the radar unethical, and you can read more about this in our ‘Say no to Orca Circuses’ campaign.
Elephant trekking, riding, washing and playing are not on our list of top things to do either, as you can see from our ‘Elephants in tourism’ guide, although we make some exceptions when it comes to creating conservation income in national parks that helps protect endangered species, such as tigers in India. However, the mistreatment of these wild animals to titillate tourists is not something we endorse in any way. Dancing bears or any performing animals really are dodgy, such as snake charmers and dancing monkeys in Morocco.

Child sex tourism

The use of children for prostitution is a reality in many countries, such as Thailand, Sri Lanka and Madagascar to name but a few. The harsh reality is that this is a huge growth area in tourism, with children being trafficked for this purpose, even though in most cases they don’t realise that this is why they are being sent to a place, but think that they are going to do legitimate jobs. Although girls are sexually exploited, the UN states that it is young boys who face greater abuse by foreign sex offenders. Always report any suspect activities with regards to children to local authorities and, in particular, the tourism locations which are allowing it to happen. The Code (short for “The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism”) is an excellent point of contact for this purpose, as it works with tourism providers around the world to combat this horrific, but very real side of tourism.

Cultural insensitivity

This comes in many forms and, in many ways, is often the most common form of irresponsible tourism. So, dressing appropriately in sacred places, learning a bit of the local language, understanding local customs and respecting people’s living spaces are all par for the course in responsible tourism. One of the most common faux pas these days is around photography. Taking pictures and selfies here, there and everywhere. Arriving into a tiny village armed with cameras, but no sense of subtlety or empathy regarding how it might feel to be constantly at the end of a lens that has been stuck in our face. Treating people as objects for your entertainment, unless an event has been created specifically for that purpose, is wrong. You wouldn’t take a photo of a stranger’s child back home and then post it all over the Internet – so why do this with a child overseas?
The other most common issue is anti-social behaviour. Drinking binges, inappropriate dress and anti-social behaviour are just as as common and upsetting in Magaluf as in Malaysia. The easy question to ask is – would you be comfortable with someone doing this in your home? Because responsible tourism recognises that, first and foremost, when you travel, you are entering someone’s home. So you need to learn the house rules and just be nice.

Cruise liners

Cruising for a bruising in the likes of Croatia, Montenegro, Spain, Italy and, of course, the Caribbean, these floating hotels are starting to create a lot of anchor angst with thousands of people landing in on idyllic islands or tiny towns for a few hours at a time. They contribute little to the local economy and increase pollution levels in biodiverse beauty spots. Read our Small ship cruising holidays guide for alternatives and learn more about the cruising issues that we are concerned about on our cruise campaign page.

Exploiting children

From giving sweets to begging children to visiting orphanages as part of your holiday, the exploitation of children in tourism is a very difficult area. We now have guidelines to holiday companies that offer volunteering trips, with particular reference to working with vulnerable children in any of the following settings: Orphanages; children's homes; youth centres (including drop-in centres); residential facilities; trafficking shelters; women and children violence refuges and other similar settings. We only promote on Responsible Travel those volunteer projects from partner organisations that commit to our strict criteria which you can see here.

Forced evictions

There is not much you can do about it when you are there, if you discover that a fishing village has been taken over by a multinational tourism resort, and the villagers were displaced far from the sea. Such was the case in, for example, Sri Lanka, following the tsunami, when the developers poured in almost as quickly as the waters subsided. Similar land grabbing is alleged the world over, from the Caribbean to Kenya, South Africa to Scotland, when governments turn a blind eye to development impacts at the promise of ‘tourism income’. And it isn’t always development that is the culprit, however. In some countries, tribal people in particular are displaced from their lands in the name of conservation, or for the gazetting of national parks and reserves. Good for animals yes, but denying people their land and resources is very controversial.
A responsible tourism company will strive to offer holidays in places where the communities will truly benefit and thrive from tourism, not in spite of tourism. They know the families, the stories, the history, the culture and they aim to protect them and highlight a community’s pride in them.

wildlife watching

There are good ways and bad ways of doing most things, but responsible wildlife watching is thankfully on the up. However, there are still guides, drivers and tourists who will break all the rules just to get the right shot to put on Facebook, up close and personal with a tiger or hugging a dolphin. In fact any hugging, petting or walking with wild animals is not only irresponsible tourism, it is just wrong, and you should stay clear of it. Each of our wildlife watching holidays comes with its responsible rules and regulations, and you can see them all in our guides.

Irresponsible hiking
and biking

In general, hikers and bikers are pretty switched on to conservation issues, but adrenaline addiction rather than adventure in remote places has become a new trend, often making the expeditions more about the achievement than the journey. The charity climb epidemic is spreading throughout the world now, with thousands landing on the hills, trampling and littering, with little financial benefit for local people and huge environmental destruction. Some charity companies or race organisers have responsible tourism policies, but they are rare. Charity and competition is good, churning up a precious landscape, not so much.
Similarly, mountain biking is a huge growth area in many destinations. Many are switched on to the potential negative impacts of frightening not only wildlife but other trail users, such as hikers and horses, but also to the damage caused to the landscape by braking hard or skidding. But, many are unaware and don’t want to think or see beyond their next bend or bump. Responsible tourism destinations need to work together in partnership between governments, national parks, state parks and walking or biking groups, to create the right guidelines and messages for all lovers of the outdoors.

Shark cage diving

Shark Cage Diving is big in South Africa, and many claim it is responsible for the increase in great white shark attacks. This is because very often the sharks are attracted artificially to the site by throwing chum (dead fish, offal, and blood) into the water. Attracting wild animals in this artificial way can never be responsible in our view, as it disrupts natural behaviour. There are some responsible diving companies, however, which do not use chum, so the shark viewing becomes no more harmful than any other kind of wildlife safari. So if putting yourself into a cage and surrounding yourself with sharks is your thing, always ask your operator if chum is used, to ensure your tour is not harming wildlife or people.
Photo credits: [All inclusive - single: Vox Efx] [Canned hunting - single: FrontierOfficial] [Child sex tourism - single: NH53] [Cultural insensitivity - single: Jason Eppink] [Cruise liners - double: Dan Davison] [Exploiting children - single: Nan Palmero] [Forced evictions - single: Vikalpa | Groundviews | Maatram] [Irresponsible wildlife watching - double: David Bacon] [Irresponsible hiking & biking - single: Kyle Taylor] [Shark cage diving - single: Voyages etc...] [Whiskey sign: Amy Adoyzie ] [Elephant: joaquin uy] [Monkey: Poi Photography] [Dolphins: abdallahh]
Written by Catherine Mack
Cuddling wild animals Cruises causing anchor angst Cruise liner Elephant rides Elephant rides Child exploitation Child exploitation Captive animals Captive animals Displaced tribal people Displaced tribal people Performing animals Performing animals Anti-social behaviour Anti-social behaviour Canned hunting Canned hunting Photography
Photo credits: [Page banner: Ian Gratton]