What is ethical travel?

Darah Ghanem | United Arab Emirates | 04.04.2018

Now, more than ever, young people are becoming ethically conscious. A sustainability study by market researchers Nielsen found that 73% of global millennials are willing to pay more for products that are eco-friendly. A similar study found that nine in ten global millennials would rather purchase products linked to a social cause.

 

Today, the youth are eager to combat global issues like climate change through ethical shopping, lifestyle, and consumption. Despite this, similar trends in travel and tourism are lagging behind.

 

My journey into ethical travel

 

When I first started my journey into ethical travel I didn’t even know the term existed. I had just left my job in the non-profit sector, and was looking for ways to make a difference while doing something I loved. I packed my bags and headed to Latin America, and it wasn’t until I began my trip across the Hispanic continent that I became passionate about ethical travel.

 

In a nutshell, ethical travel is the awareness that the choices travellers make can potentially affect the lives of the communities they are exploring. Some also call this ‘responsible tourism’.

 

 

When I first got to Latin America, I began noticing that travellers were unaware of the ways in which they affected local communities. In Nicaragua, for example, tourism had caused rapid increase in the prices of food and rent, affecting the livelihoods of families. Examples like this helped me note the importance of awareness and making informed decisions on my journeys.

 

How to become an ethical traveler

 

Fortunately, there are many ways we can become more ethical travellers. One way can be by supporting industries that combat local issues. In Colombia, for example, I made sure to visit coffee plantations and buy coffee from independent farmers. Colombian coffee plantations currently work alongside unions to fight against the illicit drug trade, which has affected the country for a long time. Travellers can do the same by supporting local artisans, social businesses and non-profits, in an effort to ethically support local economies.

 

In addition, travellers can opt to stay with host families (often referred to as ‘Casa Particulares’ in Cuba) or at ecolodges, to support local businesses and the environment.

 

 

There is, however, an important distinction to be made between ‘authentic’ travel experiences and ethical travel. In today’s travel jargon, young people often ask for ‘authentic’ experiences — referring to seeing non-touristic sights or eating indigenous local foods particular to a destination. While these activities might include ethical elements, they are not necessarily ethical in and of themselves. When travelling ethically we should really take ourselves away from the mindset that we are purchasing ‘experiences’. At the end of the day, destinations aren’t simply destinations — they are complex, multilayered, multifaceted communities that make travel a responsibility.

 

Ethical travel as an emerging trend

 

 

Ethical travel is slowly gaining traction. Travel start-ups dedicated to ethical tourism, such as Colombia-based El Camino, are growing, and influential publications are beginning to believe in the concept. However, more needs to be done for us to become more conscious. It is through connecting with communities and being aware of their nuances that we become better travellers.

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