Updated April 2023Many tour and activity companies operate in destinations that rely heavily on tourism to fuel their local economy. These tour and activity operators are often looking to generate buzz about their destination in order to encourage travelers to visit their area and book their tour products. While there’s nothing wrong with raising awareness about the amazing attractions and amenities that your region has to offer, it’s important to promote and implement responsible tourism practices. Negative tourism practices can damage local communities by creating excess waste, pollution, and a higher concentration of littering. 

Tourism can also put pressure on local resources such as energy, food, and water, which can be particularly damaging to fragile communities and economies. Currently, tourism accounts for almost a tenth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

This isn’t to say we should abandon travel. Tourism can regenerate local economies, encourage cultural exchange, and help provide justification and funding for the protection of natural resources. When balancing the pros and cons of traveling, it becomes clear that we need to find a balance between encouraging tourism while also safeguarding the environment. This is where the role of sustainable tour operators comes into play.

A responsible travel tour operator supports both their local community and nature. This gives customers assurance that their holidays are benefiting not only themselves but also the community and environment they are visiting.

What does responsible tourism actually mean?

responsible tourism guidelines

Responsible tourism is the practice of promoting your region in a way that benefits the local culture, environment, and economy. It provides visitors with an authentic experience and insight into the local area, without sacrificing the natural beauty of the destination or without taking advantage of the people who call it home. Responsible tourism practices take into account the footprint that the company has on the environment, on the local citizens, and on the culture and history of the area.

When someone travels responsibly, they are acting in a way that shows respect to their cultural and natural surroundings. In a sense, responsible tourism is an investment that will protect the environment your tour or activity operates in while also providing a satisfactory, eco-friendly service for your customers. 

The 4 principles of responsible tourism

There are countless ways you can adopt responsible tourism guidelines at your tour and activity company. Sustainable, responsible tourism often supersedes company policies and relies on concerted, continual efforts from both the tour operators and their customers. Here, we cover 4 of the most popular avenues to ensuring sustainable responsible tourism as a tour operator:

1. Use sustainable and energy-efficient equipment when running your tours

It’s important to properly assess the sustainability of the equipment you use when running and organizing your tours or activities. Inside the office, you may want to consider investing in smart technology that reduces the energy you consume or developing an energy management program. Power down devices at nighttime, turn off lights in rooms exposed to natural daylight, and maybe even invest in low-energy lightbulbs. Switching from paper to technology for certain tasks can also be an easy yet practical way to decrease your energy consumption. One way to achieve this is by adopting a booking software for tour operators.

Outside the office, electric vehicles and rechargeable audio and visual equipment can also play a role in promoting eco-friendliness within your organization. To combat problems like littering or overconsumption, invite your guests to bring a reusable bottle filled with water rather than selling bottled water to your guests. 

responsible tourism practices

2. Showcasing local goods and products

Promote growth within your local economy by hiring nearby residents and using as many locally-sourced goods and supplies as possible. Most people who live in a tourist destination rely on the tourism industry for jobs, so it is important that you provide opportunities with fair pay whenever possible. It’s also a good idea to showcase local goods and products that are unique to your destination as one of the latest trends in the travel industry is people seeking authentic experiences.

You may even want to partner with nearby businesses to sell those products to the travelers who book your tours. This is an easy way to add life to your local economy while at the same time authentically enhancing the experience of the people who are visiting from afar.

3. Providing accurate information

A necessary component of ensuring responsible tourism is providing accurate information about the local culture in your region. Accurate information will encourage your guests to be polite and respectful at all times – something that is especially important for tours that take place in or near sacred indigenous sites. Most travelers are not purposefully rude or disrespectful. In many cases, they simply are unaware of cultural norms or traditions. You can be a valuable resource to travelers who wish to learn more about the world around them, and could also provide them with additional information if they express interest in further supporting the local community. Consider creating a list of the best charities in your local area that travelers may want to donate to or volunteer for.

4. Offering small group experiences

sustainable responsible tourism

If you want to practice responsible tourism, it’s a good idea to organize intimate, small-group experiences rather than potentially contributing to over-tourism. Smaller groups will naturally have less of an impact on the local environment. In addition, many of your guests will find this to be a more personable and rewarding tour experience. Small groups are great for meeting new people and offer a far more personalized, authentic experience. Customers will often feel more engaged with your tour or activity if they’re not overwhelmed by large crowds. Plus, small group experiences tend to use smaller, more fuel-efficient transport vehicles.

Benefits of responsible tourism

There are numerous benefits to promoting responsible tourism as a business in the travel industry, including:

Improved reputation and brand perception

Responsible tourism practices demonstrate that a business is committed to sustainability and protecting the environment, which is highly valued by many consumers. As was the case for several businesses in New Zealand, this can attract a growing number of eco-conscious travelers who are actively seeking out environmentally-friendly options for their travel.

Increased customer loyalty

Responsible tourism practices show that a business is committed to ethical and sustainable practices, which is becoming increasingly important to consumers. When customers see that a business shares their values, they are more likely to choose that business again in the future.

On a similar note, responsible tourism practices can create a positive impact on the local community and environment, which can enhance the travel experience for customers and support the future of tourism. When customers see that a business is working to make a positive difference, they are more likely to feel a sense of connection and loyalty to that business. 

Cost savings

responsible travel tour operator

Responsible tourism practices can lead to cost savings for businesses in several ways, one of which is by reducing waste and resource consumption. For example, implementing energy-efficient measures such as using LED lights and motion sensors can reduce electricity consumption and lower utility bills. Similarly, reducing the use of single-use plastics and implementing recycling programs can reduce waste and lower disposal costs. 

Better risk management

Responsible tourism can lead to better risk management for businesses by minimizing the potential negative impacts of tourism on local environments and communities. By implementing responsible tourism practices such as reducing waste, conserving resources, and supporting local communities, businesses can mitigate the risks of negative environmental and social impacts that could potentially harm their reputation or lead to legal issues. For example, reducing waste can prevent pollution and avoid potential fines from local authorities. Supporting local communities can also help to build positive relationships and prevent social tensions that could lead to protests or negative publicity. 

Contribute to destination resilience

Responsible tourism can help contribute to destination resilience by supporting the local economy and preserving cultural heritage. By promoting responsible tourism practices that support local communities and businesses, destinations can create a more resilient tourism industry that is better able to withstand external shocks such as economic downturns or natural disasters. For example, by encouraging travelers to purchase locally-made products and eat at locally-owned restaurants, destinations can help to support local economies and reduce dependence on outside investments.

Additionally, by preserving cultural heritage and promoting sustainable tourism practices, destinations can create a more diverse and authentic tourism offering that is less reliant on a single type of tourism activity or attraction. This can help to diversify the tourism industry and make it more resilient to changes in demand or external factors.

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Key takeaways

As travelers become more aware of the impact of tourism on the environment, local communities, and cultural heritage, they are seeking out businesses that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, social responsibility, and ethical practices. Tour operators have a key role to play in promoting responsible tourism, by implementing strategies and tips such as reducing waste and resource consumption, supporting local communities and cultures, and preserving natural and cultural heritage.

By adopting responsible tourism practices, tour operators can not only enhance their reputation and build customer loyalty but also contribute to a more sustainable and resilient tourism industry.

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