Keep it Authentic and Leave just Footprints
Sustainable tourism is crucial to the health of the industry. Much like global warming, it’s difficult to reverse the damage once it’s done. Although change is inevitable it should be allowed to happen organically and without unnecessary influence. The real challenge with tourism is to ensure an authentic experience that benefits all involved. The key is not to tarnish the existence of what is being seen and experienced for future visitors. It’s certainly a sensitive, delicate issue that can be a bit of a minefield to navigate. Here are some of the best practices to ensure tourism is sustainable.
Respect for the places you visit
When visiting anywhere, whether it’s a remote tribe, a national park, or a friends house it’s always polite to show respect and consideration. It’s so important to have this mindset when travelling, as well. Too often I’ve witnessed tourists briefly passing locals, taking their snaps on their camera (without permission), and moving on. If you’re a local how would you feel towards that visitor? You’d think they were pretty rude! We recommend trying to engage, building a rapport if possible, complement the host, maybe even buy a little something.
Give & Take
In interacting with locals, we encourage a two-way flow of information. This is the norm when it comes to meeting and getting to know someone new either way. When tribes or communities educate us on their traditions, we should also share our own traditions, creating an education cycle for everyone. You might be surprised, but even something basic like experiencing four seasons is new to them! It’s important that our guests don’t just become faceless visitors easily forgotten, but people who the hosts are able to engage with. It results in a more rewarding experience for all involved.
Leave nothing but footprints
Leave nothing but footprints is typically a phrase used for protecting national parks, but can also be applied to communities. It’s customary to bring gifts when visiting someone. Equally important is giving proper consideration to what you are offering and the impact it has after your visit. We recommend you use a familiar currency when giving gifts, offering something practical such as soap or food. It can also be easy to be over-generous due to the instant gratification you’re likely to receive. More often than not, you’re upsetting the balance, creating expectations, and ultimately feeding into the unfortunate perception that tourists equal money. If people start to feel exploited, then they stop visiting and that can have disastrous implications for the local communities.
Support the local business
Instead of giving money, buy local products. Personally, I have a bedside draw at home filled with souvenirs I didn’t particularly want at the time but got as a thank you to my hosts. Every souvenir in that draw tells a story, holds a memory and is now dear to me. Of course, I’m now so grateful for that so ultimately it was money very well spent! We ask all our guests not to give anything to locals during our village or tribal visits, but to purchase something instead. We also support the communities in the form of essentials such as medical supplies, clean water, or anything they need that is difficult to source locally. It ensures everything is fair and ethical creating a smoother, more interactive and enjoyable experience for both our guests and their hosts.
As an operator, it’s important to listen to our local partners as well as our guests. It’s our job to educate our partners on how to host international visitors. It’s also on us to educate our guests in relation to their hosts, their particular customs, and the appropriate way to behave.
Sustainable tourism benefits us all. Much like preserving our planet, it will only succeed if we all work together, consider the impact of our actions, and those of others. But most crucially, we need to communicate with each other.
If you’re looking for authentic experiences that give you the opportunity to really immerse yourself in the local culture then we’d highly recommend you take a look at our Local Flavour experiences. If you want more information or would like to book then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Written by James Chisnall, Untravelled Paths