Strolling up the street towards the local market, the din of buyers and sellers negotiating deals gets louder as you approach the entrance. On the block leading up to the large covered area, the pavements burst with temporary stalls and once inside, the intensity of a local market in full swing hits you.
A stall laden with colourful fruit catches your eye, and next to it, one astonishes you with its variety of root vegetables. Further down the aisle you can buy fruit smoothies and milky drinks and then you turn a corner and are suddenly confronted with a hunk of meat hanging off a hook, a pig head resting on the corner of the counter and the distinct smell of raw meat.
You leave with a bag of bananas, a slice of cake (which you later realise has too much icing), and a key ring in the shape of a llama, complete with mini indigenous-print blanket. Plus you feel like you’ve had a real adventure, muscling your way through the market aisles, discussing the state of the produce with the vendor in broken Spanish…
These kinds of travel experiences are enriching in ways that stick, and in a sense represent what lies at the heart of responsible tourism – respectful interaction, engaging with local people, being open to learning and not leaving a massive footprint on the earth either. As concerns about the sustainability of our current lifestyles grow, more and more industries are adopting more thoughtful ways of practising. The tourism industry, as a large and therefore powerful one, and also one which has the potential to commit great harm, has seen a strong shift towards more conscious travel of late, largely due to changing consumer concerns. It’s clear that travellers want to travel greener, although they’re not always sure what that means. If you fall into that category, these tips will help.
1. Contribute to the Local Economy
Spend your money in the area you are visiting. Financial reward is one of the main reasons that local communities are willing to share their knowledge, culture and smiles with visitors. Make an effort to spend money in the local area by eating in local cafes and restaurants, and buying souvenirs from local markets. This approach will reward you with more authentic experiences, and contribute to a happier relationship overall between locals and tourists. Furthermore, it means that in your own small way you will be contributing to the development of a community, instead of just passing through.
2. Be Respectful
Ask before taking photos, bargain with respect. Engaging with other cultures and interacting with local people is one of the greatest joys of travel, and you are much more likely to achieve this if you approach people with an open mind and in the spirit of the place you're in. Bargaining aggressively because you are convinced you're being ripped off is unlikely to lower the price, and will make the tourism experience unpleasant for everyone involved, and considering the benefits that tourism brings to poorer communities in particular (as well as to travelers), it seems like a good idea to maintain friendly relations.
3. Keep the Environment in Mind
Choose tour companies and activities that contribute to conservation and respect the environment. Be discerning with the kinds of activities you engage in on holiday, for example, choosing jungle lodges which contribute to the employment and education of local communities, thus limiting more harmful economic activity like mining and deforestation.
4. Fly Smart
While flying is unlikely to be a carbon-free affair any time soon, you can offset the negatives a little by contributing to renewable energy projects run by Practical Action - our chosen charity.
Abiding by these basic principles - many of which are common sense anyway, will ensure a pleasant experience for you as a traveller, and ensure that people and wildlife in your destination are not harmed by irresponsible tourism.
You can read more about Llama Travel's approach to responsible tourism here.