What can you do to travel responsibly?

Why would a traveler want to travel responsibly?

People travel for many reasons. It may be business travel, for work or business purposes, especially to partake in Meetings, Conferences, Exhibitions and Trade Fairs, or Corporate Events. It may be leisure travel, for a vacation, adventure, hiking, experiencing different cultures, and so on.

In all cases, traveling is within the realm of the tourism industry, the commercial organization and operation of travel and visits to places of interest.

As an industry, tourism has many positive sides: providing jobs ad opportunities, creates wildlife and cultural heritage awareness, and much more. Obviously, there are also negative impacts on local societies, economies and environments, have become very noticeable lately. According to Booking.com’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report, 81% of travelers say they want to stay in a sustainable accommodation in the upcoming year – which is a notable increase from 62% in 2016 and 74% in 2020, just prior to the pandemic (if you are reading this page, you probably belong in that group!)

Travelers may want to travel more responsibly for many reasons. As visitors, we share the responsibility to act in a responsible manner to protect and respect local customs, and choose services that maximize the positive impacts of tourism. This way of traveling will also allow us to continue traveling for generations to come.

Defining Responsible Travel

Quickly, let’s go back to and define the term Responsible Travel. Responsible Travel is a term used when referring to the behavior of travelers aspiring to make choices on their trip according to sustainable tourism practices.

Sustainable Tourism refers to sustainable practices in and by the tourism industry. Meaning, this term is for those businesses (and governments) that provide services to you, the traveler.

If you’re interested in learning more about the travel terms, read here: What is Sustainable Tourism? or The Difference Between Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism.

How to travel more responsibly?

More resources are becoming readily available to travelers, such as yourself, on how to engage in responsible tourism. Responsible tourism guidelines may seem overwhelming at first, but if you break it down one by one, traveling responsibly can actually be more peaceful and exciting. You can sometimes also save money!

To travel more responsibly, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) encourages business and leisure travelers to choose sustainable accommodations and sustainable travel providers. To know that these businesses are truly sustainable, stay at accommodations and use the services of tour operators that are certified as sustainable. Sustainability certification verifies for you the claims of the business that is indeed sustainable.

Travelers can affect change by asking hotels and other travel providers to gain certification as the most effective means to provide strong evidence that their operations are sustainable.

In short, choose sustainable travel companies.

How to identify sustainable travel companies?

Certified sustainable tour companies and certified sustainable hotels proudly display information regarding their certificate and the certification body that issued it.

However, there are a lot of labels and certifications out there, which may cause confusion: which one is proper? How do I know it’s not just greenwashing?

“Certified to GSTC  Criteria” logo

Sustainability certification (what some call eco-label) is a voluntary third-party assessment through an audit, of accommodations and tour operators for conformity to a sustainable tourism standard. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) recognizes certain sustainability standards as equivalent to the GSTC Criteria. Note that the ‘recognition of the standard’ is not a verification or validation of the quality of the certification process. GSTC does not conduct certification. Certification is conducted by relevant Certification Bodies throughout the world. GSTC accredits those that certify.

Accreditation is a mark of quality that GSTC places on Certification Bodies that choose our independent and neutral process to verify that they certify businesses, in a competent and neutral manner. Some refer to it as ‘certifying the certifiers’.

We recommend travelers choose sustainable travel companies that have been certified by a GSTC-Accredited Certification Body. They display the GSTC logo along with the Certification Body’s logo.

More resources on how to be a responsible traveler

1) Read the short guide “The Responsible Tourist: How to find, book and get the most from your holiday” by Anna Spenceley & Andrew Rylance.

2) Read EXO Tips Booklet for responsible travelers in the following languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian

3) Read this short article with very useful infographics: Sustainable Travel: Make Sure Your Next Trip is a Green One! by Andrea Moore

4) More tips:

  • Find out as much as possible. Learn if your hotel or tour operator has been certified as sustainable. The more you know about your destination before arriving, the more the destination will come alive. Look into the destination’s history, culture, natural environment, customs, legends, advisory notices and more.
  • Learn a few words in the local language. Making an effort to speak the local language allows you to interact with the people who know the site best. People appreciate your efforts and your interest in learning. Simple words like “Hello,”“Please” and “Thank you” can go a long way.
  • Pack light. It is tempting to pack everything you think you might need, but remember to be smart about your necessities. If traveling to a developing country, the local laundry service is affordable and is appreciated income to local service providers.
  • Lodging choices. Look for hotels that have a written policy covering their environmental impact, employment and cultural policy. The best evidence that a hotel follows a broad range of sustainable practices is if they are certified sustainable by a Certifying Body that is GSTC-Accredited.
  • Explore transportation options. Remember that traveling affects the environment. Wherever possible, try to minimize your pollution and impact on the environment by looking to high-occupancy transportation and offsetting your carbon emissions.
  • Engage in local culture. The saying, “While in Rome do as the Romans” still applies today. Your trip provides a unique opportunity to explore a new culture and to see the world through a different perspective. Remember that eating local foods, shopping in local markets, and attending local festivals are all part of experiencing the culture.
  • Buy local products and services. Choosing to support locally owned businesses, community tour operators, and artisans means that you’ll have a one-of-a-kind experience and your money will go directly to the community. Before purchasing goods, ask about their origin. Avoid buying products made from threatened natural resources and report poaching and other illegal activities to the local authorities.
  • Refrain from aggressive bargaining. It’s often difficult to know your limits in bargaining so if you’re not sure, ask your local hotel for tips. Remember that the purchases you make directly affect vendors’ livelihoods, so decide if you really need to hang onto that extra dollar or if it could impact the vendor more.
  • Hire local guides. Enrich your experience by choosing local guides who are knowledgeable about the destination. Ask local tour operators and hotels for good recommendations.
  • Tread lightly. Destinations are exceptional due to their natural or cultural splendor. Do your part to keep them that way by following designated trails, respecting caretakers, and not removing archaeological or biological treasures from sites.
  • Respect the natural environment. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Even though you are just visiting and not paying the utility bill, disposing of your garbage properly and minimizing your consumption of water and energy will benefit the overall destination.
  • Reduce consumption of intensive carbon-emission meat products, namely lamb and beef.
  • Distribute your responsible travel tips. In addition to telling family and friends about the wonderful memories you made, also consider sharing tips on how they too can positively impact the World while having an amazing journey.
  • Share your photos. Pictures can say a thousand words.
  • Explore more. Traveling is just the start of learning. Once you return home continue exploring and being involved with the issues or region that captured your attention. Build upon your knowledge and also learn about another fascinating place.
  • Give back. Traveling often opens your eyes and heart to something new.