Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries — making up about 10 percent of global GDP, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council — and it shows no signs of slowing down.
But the economic boon that tourism brings can have detrimental effects on the people that live in popular destinations, and even on the destinations themselves. Around the world, tourists have driven up rents, disrespected sacred monuments, and even defiled monuments when they wanted to leave their mark.
And this isn’t even to mention the simple wear and tear that comes with more of even the most well-behaved travelers. The industry is growing, but the actual attractions remain the same size. In 1959, tourists gathering to look at Rome’s Trevi Fountain would number about 20 at a time. Today, there are about 1,000 people in front of the fountain at any given time.
When destinations start becoming victims of their own success, travelers must question their old approaches. These are some simple ways you can become a more responsible person on the road.
Learn about the culture before departure.
The foremost guideline of the World Tourism Organization (WTO)’s “Global Code of Ethics For Tourism” is to open your mind. “It will transform your experience, you will earn respect and be more readily welcomed by local people,” the organization advises tourists. “Be tolerant and respect diversity – observe social and cultural traditions and practices.”
Learn how to say “hello” and “thank you” in the local language. Educate yourself on local customs and actions that could be considered offensive (like taking photographs without permission). The first step to being a responsible tourist is being a respectful tourist.
Be sensitive to destinations combatting over-tourism.
It’s basic manners but it bears repeating: Don’t go where you aren’t wanted. Many destinations that are currently battling over-tourism are currently holding protests and campaigns meant to keep tourists out. A few destinations where you should take extra care in planning a trip include Venice and Barcelona, where locals have protested over-tourism. Cinque Terre, Machu Picchu, and the Taj Mahal have all been dealing with huge numbers of tourists, and would-be travelers should research the restrictions in place at each. (For example, entrance tickets for Machu Picchu have split entrance times.) The Galapagos Islands recently instated strict rules for tourists to follow, including the rules that tourists can only travel with authorized guides.
Visit destinations with tourism management plans
“Greater numbers of visitors provide economic opportunities, but also represent the risk of greater damage to the ecosystem,” a 2017 Griffith Institute for Tourism study said. “Counting and understanding trends is therefore essential.”
About half of UNESCO’s 229 World Heritage Sites don’t have tourism management plans — but monitoring how many tourists visit is vital to maintaining the site and preserving it for future visitors.
In the beginning stages of planning a trip, research if your destination has a plan for dealing with growing tourism. If available, this information can easily be found by Googling “tourism management plan” and the name of your destination. You can also call or contact a visitor center for more information.
Purchase locally made goods
Purchase products from the people who make them in order to directly support the economy. Opt for locally made handicrafts instead of mass-produced magnets, mugs or keychains. When bartering for goods, consider fair pricing rather than a “good deal.” Compare prices around town before purchasing.
The same rules for eco-friendly living exist all around the world. Don’t leave lights on in your hotel room, don’t leave water running and take public transport whenever possible. Resist the urge to take seashells or sand from the beach or leaves from the forest.
Cut back on your consumption of plastic water bottles. In destinations where the tap water is not drinkable, consider buying large jugs of water and splitting with a group or purchasing a water sterilization tool.
Leave no trace.
Don’t carve your name into anything. Don’t leave love locks. Don’t litter. There should be no physical evidence that you were there.
When packing your bags, leave unnecessary packaging at home. You may not be able to recycle certain materials in other parts of the world.
For more information about how to reduce your physical impact, check out Leave No Trace, a program committed to sustainable exploration of the outdoors.
Think twice about interacting with wildlife.
While attractions like elephant rides in India or holding sea turtles in the Cayman Islands may seem like a great way to connect with nature, the animals that work the attractions are often mistreated. About 75 percent of animal attractions around the world actually perpetuate wildlife cruelty, according to a study from Oxford.
If seeing animals is a vital part of your travel, research businesses and ethical tourism companies before booking. Check out the World Animal Protection’s guide to an animal-friendly holiday for more information on what to look for in wildlife attractions.
Support leadership committed to sustainable tourism.
If you live in a tourism destination, make your city a better place to travel by supporting politicians with concrete tourism management plans. Question candidates on how they plan to support the growth of tourism while combating rent increases that displace locals. Around the world, politicians have creative solutions to dealing with homeshare regulations. Be sure to ask candidates about their positions before casting your vote.