One Billion Tourists, One Billion Responsibilities

This post is brought to you in partnership with Travel Indochina who specialise in Vietnam holidays

Promoting responsible and positive interactions between locals and tourists. Photo credit: Travel Indochina

Promoting responsible and positive interactions between locals and tourists. Photo credit: Travel Indochina

One billion tourists travelled outside their borders in 2012. This record sparked the idea that one billion international tourists can create one billion opportunities for local communities. Kian Rackley of Travel Indochina was on hand to discuss this increase in international travel, what it means for local communities and what travellers can do to be responsible travellers.

By December 2012, one billion tourists had travelled to an international destination. This marked a new record in international tourism – one billion tourists travelling across an international border in a single year. On the domestic front, it’s estimated that another five to six billion tourists will travel within their own countries annually. Such continued growth is a positive sign for the tourism industry, despite economic uncertainties that many countries are currently facing.

Not only is tourism seeing a continued increase in tourists travelling to international destinations, the industry is also exhibiting favourable attributions. Tourism itself seems to be in healthy shape. According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), tourism is responsible for one in 12 jobs created, $US1.2 trillion in exports, 6% of world trade and 8% of exports of least developed countries. Plus, it’s never been easier for a tourist to travel overseas. Tourists encounter this ease via the use of online booking systems which offer a direct line of communication between them, airlines and tour providers.

“As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, and culturally homogenised, destinations that were once visited infrequently, or were relatively inaccessible, are becoming more popular and are helping to drive up global passenger numbers as travellers yearn to experience something totally new,” Kian Rackley, E-Commerce Executive at Travel Indochina explains. “Travellers now have a new world of travel inspiration and research tools at their disposal that makes emerging destinations even more accessible.”

While tourists become more motivated and empowered to travel overseas (51% travel for leisure, recreation and holidays alone), questions are now being raised as to whether international tourism can sustain itself, and help sustain the communities and environments to which tourists travel. As a result of this increase in international tourism, discussions surrounding responsible travel are now edging to the forefront of travel-related debate.

With so many tourists travelling internationally in a single year, as the industry witnessed in 2012, opportunities for local communities abroad to earn income and share culture have increased too. On a scale of one billion tourists, simply buying local goods or eating at a local restaurant has a profound, positive and collective effect on local communities. Conversely, the ill-educated intentions and actions of some individual tourists add up and impart a negative effect on local communities. “There’s no denying that mass or Laissez-faire forms of travel have caused or compounded socio-environmental issues that, in some instances, have become pervasive,” Kian offers. “We must note that travellers do not wish to intentionally damage or leave a negative legacy. It is poor education and knowledge that cause the bulk of ills we see from tourism. National and local governments, tour operators and travellers all have a responsibility to understand and mitigate any negative impact travel may have.

“As a tour operator, we’ve a duty to ensure we understand the effects of tourism and act to manage them accordingly. In Travel Indochina’s case, we do all we can to help our travellers understand how they can travel responsibly in Asia.”

And, this is where responsible travel has seen its rise in recent years. Tourists opting for responsible means of travel bypass mass tourism in favour of those travel experiences that respect and benefit local people and environments. Many tourists now want to experience local environments and cultures that mass tourism may fail to provide, and tourists now prefer smaller tour group sizes and the ability to give back to the communities they visit. Responsible travel can also mean choosing travel methods that reduce the impact of CO2 emissions. All of these attitudes and desires, partnered with travel companies that support local businesses, thus contribute to curbing the negative effects of tourism on local communities. Opportunities are available for travel companies and tourists to sustain the future of tourism and the communities to which they visit.

“By patronising local start-up companies or social enterprises travellers can contribute to companies that aim to offer a diversified and lasting legacy, not just a quick buck.” Kian confirms. “Social enterprise – although not perfect – is an effective way to help local communities escape poverty and reduce the impact on local environments. Donating to seed projects and frequenting them when they’re up and running is where travellers come in.

“Travellers want to experience a destination in a responsible way so it is important that travel companies know their stuff so they can help clients reduce their impact and help them contribute where they wish to do so…Around 280,000 Australians alone visit Vietnam each year. If each of those decides to dine in a family owned restaurant or visits a local NGO run institution then the value at a grassroots level would be exceptionally positive.”

Despite the challenges that responsible travel sometimes faces, Kian sees an optimistic future for those travelling on an international scale and the local communities that see to benefit from one billion tourists and beyond. “Travel has been facilitated by relative global peace, cheap transport and a timeless desire to escape the routine of home. So long as these continue to be stable, tourism will continue its ascent as a global past-time…I think we’ll see a continued increase in people wanting more culturally immersive escapes that take them out of their comfort zone and allow them to really understand how other people across the globe live.”

Here are some of Travel Indochina’s simple tips for responsible travellers:

Be polite: For example, asking locals to take their photo as opposed to snapping away without their consent.

Learn a little lingo: Learn a few key phrases to use to interact with locals on their level.

Dining local: Dining at independent restaurants is a great way to experience delicious, authentic cuisine and spreading your tourist dollar.

Travelling in smaller groups: Travelling in smaller groups reduces your impact on everyday life in local communities and enhances your cultural experience in the country you’re visiting.

Bartering with locals when bargaining: The process of bartering is sometimes misunderstood and is reduced to a point of contention by some travellers. Bartering should be light-hearted so approach the process with a smile and an open mind.

Dress conservatively: Many cultures dress more conservatively than those in the West, especially at sacred sites of worship.

Do your research: Look up local charities you can visit or donate to when you visit a country.