How to help generate positive economic and environmental benefits for local communities
The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) was founded in 2003 with a mission to “transform the way the world travels.” We were responding to the growing ecotourism movement, which posits that, done well, tourism can generate positive economic, environmental, and sociocultural benefits for local communities and host countries.
Over the last 15 years, CREST has conducted field projects, produced handbooks and fact sheets, published articles and books, organized conferences, and made films, all geared toward educating consumers, as well as businesses and governments, on the principles and good practices of ecotourism, or what we call “responsible travel.” And we have found that one of the “unintended benefits” of this type of travel is that it gives the consumer—the traveler—an enriched vacation experience centered on enjoyment and experiential learning. In contrast with generic mass market, “fly and flop” beach or cruise tourism, responsible travel provides consumers—travelers—with opportunities for engaged interactions with local communities, slower-paced exploration of far-flung destinations, and opportunities for new experiences ranging from scuba diving, wildlife viewing, and white water rafting to yoga and wellness classes, wine tasting, and cooking lessons based on local cuisine and ingredients.
Today CREST’s mission remains a work in progress: While the tourism industry has certainly not been fully transformed, we are in an era of transition. Each year we find growing numbers of consumers who are choosing responsible, sustainable types of travel both because they’re better for the planet and local communities and because they offer a superior vacation experience.
Ready to become a more sustainable traveler? Here are CREST’s practical guidelines for traveling responsibly.
Before You Depart
Do your research:
- Consult guidebooks and online resources to learn about your destination’s environmental, social, and political issues.
- Research websites specializing in responsible/sustainable travel options.
- Check if the companies you are considering have achieved recognition in leading responsible travel competitions, such as World Travel & Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards and World Responsible Tourism Awards (responsibletravel.com).
- Check if the companies have eco- certifications and eco-awards or labels.
- Ask about the environmental policies and practices of hotels and tour operators you’re considering.
- Ask if the tour operator or hotel supports any local conservation or community-development projects (see CREST’s travelersphilanthropy.org).
- If you’re interested in voluntourism, carefully investigate the local projects (see CREST’s Dos and Don’ts of Travel Giving & Travelers’ Philanthropy Handbook).
While You’re At Your Destination
Be responsible with giving and buying:
- Eat in locally owned restaurants and stay in locally owned lodges, hotels, and B&B’s.
- Buy locally made handicrafts and products.
- Never buy crafts or products made from protected or endangered animals.
- Hire local guides, and make sure they are licensed and live locally.
- Pay the fair price—don’t engage in overly aggressive bargaining.
- Think twice about giving money to children; this can perpetuate a cycle in which children are sent to beg rather than to school.
Be culturally sensitive:
- Before entering sacred places, homes, and private land, ask for permission.
- Always ask for permission before taking photos of individuals.
- Dress appropriately for local customs.
- Take the time to learn some words and phrases in the local language.
Be environmentally conscious:
- Refrain from taking seashells, coral, or other natural objects.
- Make your transportation count! Explore eco-friendly transportation. Are low-carbon or public transportation options, such as trains or buses, available?
- When traveling short distances, try not to fly.
- When flying, choose direct flights if possible, on larger planes and/or newer, more fuel-efficient fleets.
- “Offset” the carbon emissions from your flights to mitigate your carbon footprint.
- Choose “green” airports, like Seattle-Tacoma International, Portland International JetPort, Baltimore-Washington International, and San Francisco International, which are taking steps to be more sustainable.
- Always carry your trash away from natural sites to dispose of properly, and recycle and compost waste when possible.
- Use limited resources wisely, such as water, fuel, and electricity.
- Stay on designated trails and observe set distances from wildlife—never provoke, touch, or otherwise engage animals.
- Be an animal-friendly traveler; we suggest at minimum following the 5 Freedoms, explained by Born Free (bornfree.org.uk), and avoiding circumstances that endanger animal welfare.
When You Return
Help perpetuate responsible travel:
- Share with others your experiences and promote responsible companies, destinations, and practices (blogging, social media, and the like).
- Consider making a donation to programs that give back and benefit the local community you visited.
- Integrate further responsible travel suggestions into future trips.