Recent months in Phuket have seen some careless tourists jet-skiing through protected mangroves and littering beaches with plastic, but even travellers with the best of intentions can unknowingly harm their host communities.
Fortunately, student travel company GROUND Asia has created responsible traveller training modules and made them free for anyone interested in travelling responsibly or teaching others how to do so.
The training modules are closely aligned to the values and aims of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and are being made available to everyone – students, teachers, faculty, host communities, education sector suppliers, tour operators and any other interested parties.
The modules teach how to do the right thing when it comes to sensitive issues such as giving donations, child safety, responsible photography and plastic.
The initiative follows a company workshop, held in Mai Chau, Vietnam in March, to address challenges that kept arising during student trips to Asia.
“Best practices from four years of leading student groups in Asia were distilled into new practical guidelines, policies and procedures for all GROUND Asia trips,” says Lauren Groves, GROUND Asia general manager. “The aim is to provide thoughtful, practical and responsible guidelines that benefit everyone in travel, education and related fields.”
The training is “concise, factual and informative”, she says. “We want to lead the conversation about issues, rather than simply dictate behaviour.”
Groves adds that responsible traveller values learned at an early age will give young people and the public at large the skills and perspectives to help them be responsible travellers for the rest of their lives.
Here are just some of GROUND Asia’s top tips for responsible travel in Asia:
When you see low-income communities in the places you visit, it can feel compelling to give money and gifts to the people you meet out of generosity and a sense of philanthropy. This well-intentioned act of giving, however, is not always the best thing you could do. Instead:
- Support the local services of guides, transport providers, food establishments etc. This brings money into the local economy and supports local employment.
- Do not give cash handouts to individuals. Giving donations can reinforce negative power dynamics and a sense of “foreign saviour” complex. Instead, consider donating to local NGOs, schools or community organisations for more positive social impact.
- Buy locally. By encouraging local entrepreneurship, you are putting money into the local economy, reducing your carbon footprint and lifting up the community through the jobs entrepreneurship creates.
It’s estimated that 168 million children worldwide are involved in child labour (defined as any work that deprives children of their childhood, potential and dignity). It’s important to minimise harm to children anywhere in the world. With this in mind:
- Do not support Orphanage Tourism. Children in orphanages are sometimes exploited as ‘attractions’ for tourists and ‘projects’ for volunteers. Children in many orphanages are not orphans but used as attractions in order to earn money through donations.
- If you see or suspect child abuse while travelling, report it immediately to the child protection hotline or the nearest police station/officer. GROUND Asia’s in-country staff are able to help with this.
- Seek out alternatives to giving out money to children begging or selling things on the street. You could support local children’s charities, for example.
- Avoid giving gifts directly to children as this can encourage them to leave school or start begging.
- In this digital age where we can easily take photos and videos on our smartphones, it’s important to remember the ethics of capturing certain memories on camera.
- Remember to ask for permission before taking photographs of local people. And make sure they feel okay to say no to your request. Consider whether you would want someone to take a photo or video of you in that situation; if not, then don’t take theirs.
- Ask permission from parents or responsible adults before taking pictures of local children.
- Never disturb wildlife for your photos. It could change animal behaviour and even lead to the destruction of natural ecosystems.
- Be sensitive about taking photographs of religious or political sites or people praying.
To make use of non-recyclable plastic waste you find on your travels, make ecobricks. Ecobricks are plastic bottles packed with used, clean and dry plastic to achieve a building block that can be used over and over again.
Making ecobricks is an exciting way that individuals, communities and companies can start their immediate transition from plastic towards greener harmony with the Earth’s cycles while waiting for a solution to completely replace plastic.
There are many ways you can actively reduce plastic pollution in the first instance:
Problem: Plastic take-out containers made of styrofoam.
Solution: Bring biodegradable food containers made out of organic bamboo or other reusable containers. Use banana leaves (a locals’ favourite type of packaging).
Problem: Coffee/drinks cups made from plastic.
Solution: Bring your own reusable cups to refill. (We may think using paper cups is a solution but they usually contain plastic too.)
Problem: Plastic straws and bags.
Solution: Bring bamboo/rice/ grass/reusable straws and bags made out of natural materials and keep reusing.
The full tourist training guidelines, including these tips and more, and ready-made presentations, are available here.