Travelers who strive to do no harm
More tourists today say they want to travel in an ethical fashion. But how many really act in accord with their words?
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You can't buy ethics, he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Part of what may drive people to try to "purchase" ethics is the motivation for going on vacation in the first place. Many Americans, who have the shortest vacations of any developed country, travel for escape - to leave behind overstressed, overworked lives.
"If your purpose in traveling is escapism, one of the things you want to escape from is thinking about these questions," Hasbrouck says.
Weaver concurs: "I think a lot of people probably get a bit tired of behaving ethically every day." When on holiday, he suggests, some like to cut loose.
Broadly defined, ethical travel is low-impact tourism - something that conserves the environment and benefits the locals. And there are travel companies who design the tours they offer to do exactly that. World Expeditions, an Australian adventure travel company in the forefront of the field, offers this motto: Take only photos, leave only footprints.
Brad Atwal, president of World Expeditions' US operations, says, "When you talk about leaving a footprint, you're talking about a physical and mental footprint.... You don't want to leave an impact on the culture."
Each traveler who signs up with World Expeditions gets a 20-page "Responsible Travel Guidebook" before their trip, which expands on the do's and don'ts and the sometimes less obvious whys. For instance, not giving money to beggars seems straight- forward. But handing out other gifts like pens or drawing paper is also discouraged because "this only decreases the respect for us, creating expectation and dependence that turns into disappointment and resentment when future travelers do not hand out similar goodies," the booklet explains.
Or on shopping, it asks: "Please don't enter into price negotiations unless you are serious about purchasing the goods. Price haggling for its own sake is insulting to the trader and an unethical form of amusement."
Not cutting the vegetation or taking souvenirs from the environment, and picking up litter are all basics of ethical travel.
And in that vein, various green certification programs and industry association codes of ethics have recently sprung into being.
Although the number of consumers insisting on such standards is still minimal, Weaver estimates that as much as 50 percent of the population are veneer environmentalists who could be pushed into the "committed environmentalist" column with a bit more education and motivation. Weaver likens the movement to public demand for organic food which has filtered into the conventional grocery industry.
The question travelers should ask, he says: What can I do to make my travel a positive impact - not just a neutral impact, but a positive impact?
• BE AWARE OF WHERE YOUR MONEY IS GOING, and patronize locally owned inns, restaurants, and shops. Try to keep your dollars (or baht, or pesos) within the local economy.
• NEVER GIVE GIFTS TO CHILDREN, only to their parents or teachers.
• REMEMBER THE ECONOMIC REALITIES OF YOUR NEW CURRENCY. A few rupees one way or another is not going to ruin you. Don't get all bent out of shape over the fact that a visitor who earns 100 times a local's salary might be expected to pay a few cents more for a ferry ride, a museum entrance, or an egg.
• BARGAIN FAIRLY, and with respect for the seller. Again, remember the economic realities of where you are. The final transaction should leave both buyer and seller satisfied and pleased. Haggling for a taxi or carpet is part of many cultures; but it's not a bargain if either person feels exploited, diminished, or ripped off.
• LEARN AND RESPECT THE TRADITIONS AND TABOOS OF YOUR HOST COUNTRY. Each culture has its own mores, and they're often taken very seriously. Never, for example, pat a Thai child on the head, enter a traditional Brahmin's kitchen, or open an umbrella in a Nepali home.
• CURB YOUR ANGER, AND CULTIVATE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR. Anger is a real issue for Westerners - even the Dalai Lama remarks on this. It's perversely satisfying, but it never earns the respect of locals or defuses a bad situation. A light touch - and a sense of cosmic perspective - are infinitely more useful.
• LEAVE YOUR MEDIA-BASED PRECONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE WORLD AT HOME. The inhabitants of planet Earth will continually amaze you with their generosity, hospitality and wisdom. Be open to their friendship, and aware of our common humanity, delights, and hardships.