Doing your research, planning and making informed choices before and during your trip is no doubt the single most important thing you can do to become a responsible traveler.
The features, articles and tips here will help inform you of your different choices and options.
See also our page on irresponsible travel to see what you should be avoiding.
Check back for updates on actions to take, personal audits, and donating.
The spectacular Indian Roller bird, dazzles with its blue wings as it comes into land on the bamboo.
Planning your trip
People want to leave difficult decisions and issues behind when they go on holiday, so for most people choosing the right tour operator is the primary consideration. 75% of Trip Advisor respondents believe it is up to the tour operator to do the right thing.
If you are planning a trip to India: choosing any one of the operators, agents or accommodation providers highlighted in the TOFT good wildlife guide means real peace of mind. Each operation has set out to not only ensure you have a life enhancing and memorable journey, but every business has made a commitment to ensure your visit supports both the wildlife you see and the rural communities bordering these parks through their internationally recognised PUG eco-rating certificate.
Click for more about them or click the the TOFTigers image for your free guide download.
5 Things You Can Do For Your Trip
1. Do your research.
Doing your research, planning and making informed choices before and during your trip is no doubt the single most important thing you can do to become a responsible traveller. Think about the most important things you can do to make a real difference to the animals, humans, and destinations you visit. Spend time finding out what’s available, from where, and at what time of year. Then find travel companies or experts that can help you achieve it. For India, Use a TOFTigers tour operator or agent to help you, as they have committed to best standards in their operations.
Primarily, the choices you have are for: destinations, tour operators, accommodation, attractions to visit and see, guides and interaction with local villages, the gear you take, and what you leave behind (the over all 'carbon cost' and impact that you have).
In each case consider which ones work to protect the environment and benefit local cultures and communities. We will be looking at each of these in detail in future articles and updates, asking experts and getting the best recommendations.
2. Beware of 'fake' eco-tourism or green-washing.
Its so damn easy to label something "green" or "Eco". For some this just means outdoors...case in point is Hong Kong's proposed plan for "green tourism" to revitalise piers and promote outlying islands, along with clam digging. It maybe great for the community, but many of these beaches are the last bastion of horseshoe crab hatchlings, but they do not have any economic benefit, and can be conveniently overlooked.
So look for real efforts, memberships and audits.
3. Confirm audits, memberships, certifications.
This is not so easy in Asia, even in the main cities and tourist areas. We will be writing more about this, but can you confirm any audits, awards, or certifications from the company you plan on using? For example, in the UK membership of ABTA means companies "should" be adhering to their excellent wildlife viewing guidelines, established by the Born Free Organisation.
Look for any known or other third party certification or approval. For example in India, TOFT runs an audit programme for approved and rated accommodation providers in India. This means you can be sure you are making a responsible choice.
It is important to support these type of programmes, as a)these certification programs can help travellers to make responsible choice and b)it allows for pressure to be applied to all business, appealing to their business sense. We will be writing more about sustainable tourism certification as one of the most effective ways to mainstream sustainability in tourism, and why this is so important for Asia.
4. Make responsible tourism your priority and make sure that the companies you contact know this.
After you have done your research you can call or email the tour operators or other companies/services. This can reveal a lot. Let them know you are a responsible consumer, that you are considering them, but you understand you have choices, and you want to know about their wildlife viewing, environmental and social policies. Some questions to ask include:
What are your "eco" credentials and how do you differ/are better from other organsations?
What certifications, memberships, or awards do you have? Do you have an Eco rating?
What is your wildlife viewing policy (tho this is often imposed by parks)?
What is your environmental policy? What percentage of your employees are local citizens? What programmes do you have to benefit the local community? Can I help directly with these projects during my visit? Is there anything I can bring?
And in India, ask if they, or their suppliers, are members of TOFT.
5. Be aware of your overall impact and think about 'giving back'.
We mentioned in our introduction that being sustainable means leaving behind more than you take away. The best Tour Operators, organisations and business already - or are beginning to - offer part of their profits/turnover to local wildlife and/or community projects. Some even offer travellers the opportunity to work directly on local projects, following the growth of "voluntourism" (which we will write about soon).
What else can you do? Can you bring supplies for a local school? a couple of (deflated) footballs are often a big hit. Can you donate to a local organisation to support wildlife, so that the animals are still there for your grandchildren to see? For example TOFT in India has a programme to sponsor a "ranger", in the parks, ensuring care and professional wildlife management. How else can you offset your trip? Perhaps a carbon offset?
A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere. In the much smaller, voluntary market, individuals, companies, or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, and other sources. For example, an individual might purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions caused by personal air travel.