Article by Vik Chege
Travel can be a lot of pressure. You have to wake up alive and decide which 32 of your 10 t-shirts you should pack in a suitcase you probably borrowed from your mum when you were moving out. Or maybe you didn’t move out but you still had to borrow one. As hectic as it is, for the most part, you get to go somewhere and come back. If you like you never even have to go back.
Today let’s talk about the reason you see signs that say “Touch only with your eyes”. Responsible travel! Sometimes you just have to spell things out because some people make dumb choices. What do we mean when we talk about responsible travel? That’s where you try to leave a positive impact on the places you visit. Lucky for all of us, there’s no one right answer you’ll have to cram. You could plant a tree or something. Every different place needs different things and there’s also no one place that will have everything you need.
Conscious travel? That’s where you mindful of what you do, what you buy and how you interact with others. In my opinion, in doing so, there is value addition and an understanding created as to why you need to respect and celebrate people, their cultures and their environment.
How about eco-tourism? That’s where you travel to threatened natural environments, with an intention to support conservation efforts and mind our wildlife species. Think of Ol Pejeta in Laikipia. That’s a legit ecotourism hotspot. Just ask UNTWO. They got the Eco-Warrior Award some time back because they, among other things, are a sanctuary for apes and they also reinvest a lot of money back into the community.
Responsible travel means a lot of things. It could mean optimal use of the environment which is why you shouldn’t litter. It could also mean respect the local culture. In Germany, dozens of tourists are arrested every year for doing the Hitlergruss which is what they call the Nazi salute. Some people even go as far as mimicking the moustache. The Third Reich may last 1000 years but you can still get 3 years inside for that one gesture. Unhail Hitler; that’s all I’m saying.
Responsible travel could also mean that it has a viable long-term benefit.
In Rwanda when they saw that the silverback gorillas were getting more popular, they just made it more exclusive. Human traffic messes with natural habitats no matter how delicate your touch is. Now if you want to see the silverbacks, a permit will run you about $1500 according to the Bwindi National Park website. Yep. That much. Fewer people means less impact on the environment and just like that; problem solved. Much fewer people. Btw, the cost of gorilla trekking in Uganda is about $600.
Sustainable tourism was one of the picks for the hot topics in 2020 tourism. A lot of people have some great ideas about how to pull it off. There’s plenty of resorts out there that are going green and this one aspect sometimes translates to higher occupancy. People want to stay in places that do things they like. And people like going green. Travelers are starting to care about what happens at the places they go to. So now you’ll eat with bamboo cutlery, you can’t have a straw in your drink because they kill turtles, and the heating you have in your hotel room comes from the in-house biogas processing plant. Eco-friendly products in partnership with Andvironmentstraws
Can tourism really be sustainable?
The problem with being so conscientious is that it’s a lot of work. A lot of education has to happen. If you’re the hotelier, there are lots of infrastructures you have to swap out if you’re planning on being up to code. If you’re the traveller, what’s offensive in one place is a time-honoured tradition in another. On top of all of that, is it really possible to travel entirely responsibly?
Maybe it is but it’s also very hard to get there. It’s worth it though. Not only does it reduce the negative impact of tourism, but you also get to learn loads. So get out there and plant a tree or two, ask around and see what the dos and don’ts are for the place you’re in, and also leave only your footprints.
Make it a lifestyle, not a duty to live a sustainable life. Happy Africa Day, every day should be Africa Day!