Responsible tourism: Are you travelling the right way?

Responsible tourism and a regenerative approach to travel is the need of the hour today. Experts tell you why.

Over the last two years, the pandemic has caused probably the biggest turmoil the global tourism industry had ever seen. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the same has also given us a chance to sit back and take notice, an opportunity to introspect and reflect. And if there’s one way that revival of tourism must take shape, it must be through sustainable practices.

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Sustainable tourism is the future. Image: Shutterstock/Yuriy Seleznev.

Awareness is the key

Thanks to the multiple reality checks during these unprecedented times, the importance of responsible tourism practices is now taking shape through legislation along with the sheer acknowledgment of the fact that we, as an industry, actually have no other way to survive. Rakesh Mathur, Co-Founder, and President of, Responsible Tourism Society of India (RTSOI), believes that sensitising and creating awareness about responsible tourism among travellers is the first step towards a better, greener future that the authorities and governments must take. “It is a multi-pronged attack, this process. First, of course, is awareness creation about sustainable travel practices through social media, hoardings, and other modes at destinations. Then, these awareness talks must be supported with the right facilities so travellers and locals can actually act upon them, followed by strict protocols and strong administrative policing. Last but not the least, educating young minds about these practices will ensure that our future is in good, careful hands,” says Mathur.

RTSOI has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Tourism and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to collaborate and promote the cause of sustainable and responsible travel in India as well as the launch of The Responsible Traveller campaign. And Mathur believes this is a huge step since the launch takes their efforts as a national entity to the global level. “Are you aware that travellers cause more damage to the environment as compared to tourism service providers because they are not sensitised about the hazards of throwing as much as a single plastic bag on the side of the road? This campaign is being supported by many popular and impactful social influencers, who have created videos urging travellers to be more responsible. This will be an ongoing programme.” In addition to this, RTSOI is also working on a self-certification programme, routine workshops, and ways to help states in finalising their tourism policies and certifying eco-tourism destinations.

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Volunteer for a cleanup drive the next time you visit a beach. Image: Shutterstock/Inside Creative House.

Making conscious choices

RARE India partners with and lists unique experiences offered by small, private, concept hotels with a sharp focus on conscious travel. For founder Shoba Mohan, the duty of a conscious traveller doesn’t just end at following protocols but extends to owning a personal sense of responsibility. Mohan asserts, “Every decision you take as a responsible traveller will be geared to ensure that you tread lightly on the destination, while leaving a positive impact (on the environment). In simple words—do not follow crowds, time your trips for leaner months, and choose hotels for their attitude towards plastic, water, and energy conservation. How well does your hotel reflect the spirit of the destination? What is their impact on the local environment, socio-cultural eco-system, and the economy?” A responsible traveller must be seeking answers to these questions.

Regenerative travel is the key to better tourism. While sustainability is aimed to counterbalance the social and environmental impacts, and has been the aspirational force behind eco-tourism, the newest frontier, regenerative travel, is focussed on leaving a destination better than you found it. A simple way to adopt this travelling style is to be mindful of how your choices are going to impact a destination’s local community.

If you wish to make a start, these simple sustainable practices can prove useful in making your travel plan damage-proof for yourself, others, as well as nature:

Pick low-carbon activities for your itinerary

Only fly when the trip is long. Or better yet, seek alternative travel options (bus, train, carpool) to reduce carbon emission. If flights cannot be avoided, pick a non-stop option and pack light. Other than this, exploring a place by walking or cycling, or renting an electric taxi is a good idea. Fun adventures like trekking, kayaking, and swimming can add fun to your trip, bring you closer to nature, and further help shrink your carbon footprint.

Explore a destination on a cycle. Image: Shutterstock/gorillaimages.

Go local—all the way

Ditching crowded seasonal hotspots for a lesser-known destination, buying souvenirs from local vendors and artists, and eating meals prepared from locally-sourced ingredients at a small farm-to-table restaurant are effective ways to start your travel in the right direction. Not to forget, shopping from ethnically diverse, local shops and artisan markets (and while at it, not bargaining too much) ensures that your tourist money directly benefits and supports the local economy.

Try Voluntourism

This is one way you can actually make things better for a place and its community. Find out if the destination you are travelling to has some ongoing impact or volunteer tourism (or volunteerism) programmes and get yourself enrolled. It could be anything from a beach clean-up drive to teaching school kids to tending to a farm to conservation/rehabilitation of exotic flora and fauna.

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Choose a hotel, which is conscious in its offerings and services. Image: Shutterstock/Netrun78.

Stay at conscious hotels

Pick a destination that isn’t flocked by thousands of tourists, and preferably visit during the off-season. Once done with the destination, choose a green resort or hotel which is championing the act of responsible tourism. RARE India, for instance, connects you with hotels and experiences that are conscious of their consumption and initiatives. Simple efforts by hotels like glass water bottles, no plastic premises, energy conservation, and waste management plants, all-natural bath amenities, local ingredients used in their kitchens, etc. can go a long way.

Learn more about culture and experiences

Take our word and get a local guide to show you around—you will discover more about the customs, community, culture, landscape, and wildlife of the place. Plus, more of your money will go back into the local community. If you wish to explore solo, read up guides on local customs and experiences, and maybe learn a few words of the local language. This way, not only you will be able to explore a place better, but also get to enjoy lesser-known immersive experiences that might not be available to the crowds.

Read more.

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The Future of Travel: Greening your 2021 vacations