Why do we need responsible tourism?

Tourism is a thriving industry that has the potential to inject cash into the economies that need it most. According to the United National World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world, accounting for 1 out of 11 jobs,  30% of services and exports and one of the main income sources for many developing countries.

However, using tourism as a tool for development is a coin with two sides: as communities grow into tourist destinations, the profits are unevenly shared, and the most marginalized often become more marginalized. There are serious issues with international beneficiaries exploiting local communities or gaining profit from cultural heritage or local resources without the benefits going to local people. In the same way that ecotourism works to address environmental issues and sustainability, responsible tourism works to address socioeconomic issues in tourism.

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The idea of responsible tourism is to “ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation” (UNWTO).

What does that mean, exactly?

Let’s take Mexico, for instance. It’s a country with an estimated 53% of the population living under the national poverty line (World Bank), with some states facing much higher rates. Nevertheless, it’s a country rich in resources and famous for its beaches, archaeological ruins, cultural heritage, cuisine, and many more factors that make it a natural magnet for tourism. In fact, it topped the New York Times list as one of the best places to visit in 2016. Tourists in Mexico spend an estimated US$11.9 billion each year, and tourism-related jobs account for 16% of jobs in Mexico (World Travel and Tourism Council), both statistics which are steadily rising.

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Isn’t it logical that the economic needs of this country can be addressed, at least in part, by leveraging the tourism resources? We believe that it is everyone’s responsibility, including hotels, restaurants, tour companies and individual travelers, to exercise their spending power in a way that benefits local people in the wider community. Tourism is a powerful tool for strengthening communities and providing fair opportunities. If we can play a part in channeling some of those tourism dollars back into the local community we can make a huge impact.

Responsible tourism also works to “respect socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to intercultural understanding and tolerance” (UNWTO).

Our mission is to encourage these types of positive exchanges with the belief that given the opportunity to connect and interact, visitors will leave with a renewed perspective about what it means to be a global citizen and the part they play in their communities, both local and global.

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Tourism is a powerful tool, but only if it is used correctly. We believe in setting an example for our guests in empowering local communities by choosing to support socially responsible or locally owned businesses wherever we can. We encourage others to research the places they will be visiting to understand the current social situation and how to be culturally sensitive. We urge travelers to talk to local people and learn how to make meaningful connections and contributions. Being a responsible traveler means to be informed, aware and sensitive to the culture around you, as well as financially supporting local trade and businesses wherever possible.

Our global engagement trips and student internships work to educate visitors about what it means to travel and volunteer responsibly, through interactions with partner organizations and local clients. On our day tours, we give people an alternative type of daily activity that allows them to make a positive impact to the community, and encourage them emulate these positive interactions elsewhere. The ability to learn local people’s stories and appreciate their culture is universal.
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Our end goal is to facilitate cross-cultural exchange in a way that is mutually beneficial. By telling the human story and we allow travelers to better understand the Latin American way of life, creating a ripple effect of increased empathy, understanding, and responsibility in tourism.