In the age of mass tourism, how can we reconcile ethical concerns and the desire to travel? It is a question that becomes all the more meaningful when we visit countries less developed than our own. Following a trip to Burma, Laura Talias founded an association to promote responsible tourism. The following are some of her recommendations.
Get informed before you go
This is essential. Knowing the context of the country — particularly its political situation — helps to avoid mistakes that can have serious consequences. Once there, communicating with the local people also provides an opportunity to learn more. For example, many tourists who visit Burma are unaware that it is prohibited to stay in the home of a local resident. For the tourists who break this law, the risk is minimal. Their hosts, on the other hand, may face fines, interrogation, or arrest.
If you are in one of the cities and shopping for food, opt for mom-and-pop grocery stores rather than supermarket chains. Avoid organized tours if possible, and choose your guides when you arrive. Focus on local crafts, arts, and entertainment. You can find out about such events in cultural news magazines.
When traveling abroad, we occasionally come across indelicate behavior. Some tourists act intrusively, enter private spaces uninvited, and so on. If you wish to take photos, ask for permission first. This can be done as simply as by pointing to your camera with your hand. If you are given permission to take someone’s picture, make a habit of sending them a copy via a file-sharing app. Speaking a few words in the local language or adopting local dress practices are also signs of respect and interest.
Reduce your carbon footprint
To limit the use of the most polluting modes of transport (air travel in particular), opt for “slow travel”: don’t add too many stages to your trip. Instead, take the time to really explore the place where you are. It makes no sense to visit four countries in a single month. Rather than relying on domestic airlines and chauffeur-driven cars, travel as often as possible as the locals do: take a bus, a ferry, a train, or even rent bicycles. In Burma, more than 2,000 noisy and pollution-spewing motorboats speed across Lake Inle every day. And yet, paddling around it in a canoe is not only possible, but infinitely more pleasant! And it doesn’t damage the site!
Laura Talias From the 2016 graduate class of the HEC Stand Up program, she has a degree in communication and tourism development. A great traveler, photographer, and filmmaker, she founded the association Birmanie responsable.