Travel and tourism is certainly something to be enjoyed but it is also a practice which requires maturity and responsibility. Sure there are many who travel and will continue to travel without much heed for what they see, but much of that gap can be filled in with good suggestions and discussions on travel ethics and topics. It seems that there are more and more stories about clashes between travelers or with travel industry providers. The travel world is too big and important to be run without a proper sense of rules and respect on both sides of the equation. Travel and tourism is an important subject which has a far reaching impact on the world market year after year. The Ecole Hoteliere Lausanne, a hospitality industry management school, reports travel and tourism economy as: “The largest and fastest-growing sector, with more than 800 million people travelling every year and a strong predicated growth rate. Travel and tourism is the world’s number one employer and represents more than 10% of global spending.” This industry is quite prolific and one of the more serious discussions which continues to develop, surrounds the rights and duties of tourists. This implies a two way street, which is to say that we have certain rights as travelers and we also have obligations and responsibilities. Our main premise which we put forth is that we as travelers take on the bulk of responsibility because when we enter a foreign country or a new culture, we are in essence coming into someone else’s home. It is proper to expect basic friendliness, courtesy and respect but ultimately it is unfair to impose our standards, desires or expectations of those whom we are visiting. It is an observable fact that both the tourist and the host people are allowing themselves to be vulnerable. The bulk of the responsibility lies with the visitor in this case because the visitor is interrupting the routine of the inhabitants. People may be happy that we have come and they are generous in sharing their borders but we must take care not to play the pitiful role of an obnoxious guest.
The first area in which we find responsibilities of the tourist is very important. It concerns our attitude. This is perhaps one of the defining themes of our trip. Chances are that whatever attitude you bring to the trip’s preparation is the same that you will bring to its execution. If you feel that you have no need of planning and preparation then you will probably be left helpless when things go awry or worse yet become upset at your situation and make an embarrassing scene for yourself and all around you, trust us we’ve seen it, a lot. As well, if you plan on bringing everything in your bag including the kitchen sink, you may want to ask yourself why you need all of that. Isn’t it better just to stay at home and enjoy all your gadgets that way? Travel requires adequate preparation, this ranges from the physical, to emotional, to the practical. A good attitude can make all the difference.
This is a responsibility that applies to our everyday lives and it’s probably the first lesson you learned from your parents as they grabbed your wrist and said: “be nice!” Such a universal rule is an essential tourist responsibility. As we mentioned before the tourist is a guest in someone’s realm. Even when we are excited to be on vacation and freed from our daily duties we must not forget that daily life is forging on for the local people all around us. People are going to work, school, relax and obligations. While you may have all the time you wish to meander the streets they may not. Something so simple such as where you stop to take pictures can make all the difference. An example would be tourists in Rome who block up a whole street of traffic, just to go and get a perfect shot in the middle of the street. Other tourists may be enjoying a great party in a Dublin flat, but all of us know the annoyance we feel when we are the people next door trying to sleep for our test or conference the next day. The main point of both of those examples is not that you can’t do these things, but we should do them without bothering the local population.
Some people believe that their hard earned money and accomplishments allow them a sort of license to walk around like they own their destination. This is simply not true. One has every right to make their money and spend it as they wish, but becoming an inconvenience to others is never justified. Being on vacation can often well up feelings of privilege or accomplishment because we are enjoying the fruits of our labor. Even spending our money is a responsibility because it should not be tempered with a sense of entitlement, or charity, or superiority. It is important to remember that you are the one on vacation. This means you have far less stress and anxiety than the staffer checking you in at Marrakech or the fitness center employee on the cruise line. Often these people who work directly with tourists work long eight hour shifts dealing with every range of personalities. It is perfectly reasonable to expect objectively good service and friendliness, but don’t expect people to have a good impression of your or your country if you treat them like an indentured servant, or come across as putting on airs. Money is also a powerful responsibility even when we aren’t spending it. If you happen to encounter people in need it is best not to let your generosity get in the way of real help. Oftentimes local entities are best equipped to help the needy and best know their needs. By giving out money to just anyone who asks you may be inviting dangerous or pushy people to come to public areas. Many times even acts of good intentions like this or something like tipping has created a mess long after the first tourist to do it has come and gone. Tipping has been introduced into countries where previously waiters made a full salary without tips. This raises prices for both locals and future tourists.
The best way to understand respect is as simple as the Golden rule: Do to others as you’d have them do to you. Ultimately respect is not about finding out which is better or worse or any form of comparison. Comparisons have their place to be sure, it’s often fun to compare countries and their peculiarities with travel friends and acquaintances, but respect isn’t about comparisons. One thing is not good or worse, bad or good, things simply are what they are and the good and happy traveler is one who appreciates the multi-hued experience a new culture presents. Respect implies many don’ts as well as do’s from our perspective. Very often the things that constitute respect are best embodied and burned into our memories from having witnessed acts of disrespect. Things like throwing trash, acting superior or disrespectfully, or destroying monuments, heritage sites such as (Pompeii) or natural wonders (like Red Sea Coral) are all attacks on people’s identity and homeland. Some very basic things can go a long way. Knowing and following local laws insofar as possible is a sign of respect and be sensitive to the fact that many sites are already over capacity and taxed by the daily crowds they were never designed to hold. As far as language goes we must always be generous with people who go out of their way to assist us. Even when making use of international languages like English tourists should be gracious and flattered that someone has taken the time to learn to communicate on a large scale and not scoff or highlight their shortcomings.
Just as attitude was brought up as an essential ingredient which would set the tone of a whole trip, it has a bookend which corresponds exactly to this most basic responsibility: Accuracy. Most of the problems which plague our lives can always be reduced to misinformation, miscommunication and ignorance. Just your shared impressions and experiences will often shape the future travels of those within your spheres of influence. Many times hasty generalizations or offhanded comments can make or break the reputation of a destination. Accuracy calls for objectivity. We should be accurate in the good as well as the bad things. Always an element of reflection and impartiality will help us formulate a correct scenario. For instance it is not fair to call a country a group of thieves if you got pick pocketed by just one person, or even if it is more common there than other places. If you encountered a lazy or unpleasant staff member it does not mean the entire hotel lacks class and sophistication. When we qualify our statements it always helps. As travelers we have the responsibility as well to be discerning. We cannot apply the standards of a major European city to those of a developing destination in a broad generalization of quality. One must be aware of what is being contrasted and the variables at play. If there is anything we should take away from this discussion concerning our responsibilities it is that graciousness is required to be a good traveler whether one likes it or not. We need to understand that money is not something that makes us invincible and aloof and that ultimately tourism is about the building of mutual knowledge and relationships by our humble exchange of experiences.