Five ways to be a better traveler in 2016

PictureTravel is an excellent way to learn and expand one’s world.  Travel trends such as lower airfare, cheaper accommodations and increased disposable income for younger people,   have all contributed to the increased tourist traffic of popular, as well as new destinations.  Travel has never been  this big before.  Experts predict that it will further increase in the coming years  as destinations become more accessible, and new outstanding places are discovered.

Although increased tourist traffic may drive the economy,  people can also cause negative impacts on the places they visit.  Unfortunately for the Philippines, the measure for the industry are both economic – tourist arrival and tourist receipt – such that the price of economic development is not part of the equation.  We simply do not have an idea of the extent of the  social and environmental costs of tourism development in the country.

It goes without saying that every tourist has a footprint,  since every human being leaves an impact on the planet on  a daily basis.  The footprint comes in the form of the resources that are utililized, such as water, energy, food, as well as the wastes that are produced.  It is therefore  important for people to be more conscious of their decisions and behaviour when travelling because they may actually be contributing to the destruction of the destinations that they visit.  Here are some tips on how to travel more responsibly and lessen ones’ impact.

  1. Learn, don’t just take photos. The selfie culture is making travel less experiential. People scramble to take their photos against the landscape or with somebody from the community, primarily to post in the internet.  Learning or getting inspired have become secondary objectives. Very few willingly immerse themselves in the culture of the place, or consciously capture the available knowledge with their  minds. Travel is no longer an opportunity for deep experiences. It has been reduced to a chance to simply take a photo. Consciously enhancing one’s travel through experiential learning can create long-lasting memories.
  2. Follow rules and protocols.  Visitors equally share the responsibility of taking care of the place with the locals.  The money that tourists pay gives them  the right to experience that place and the people.  It does not  provide them the right to exploit or disrespect those who live in the community.  Visitors should be the ones to adjust to the culture of the people living in the places that they visit, and not the other way around.
  3. Be conscious of your footprint on a daily basis.  One’s footprint is measured by how much resources are used and the volume of trash produced. When visiting another place a visitor should be more mindful of his/her  choices, behaviour and actions.  Reducing the use of plastic and avoiding the use of styrofoam or disposable packing materials will contribute significantly to environmental conservation.  Disposing of trash responsibly and following “Garbage in / Garbage out” policy is the hallmark of a responsible traveler.
  4. Learn to appreciate community-based initiatives.  Studies show that social enterprise is the most appropriate business model for rural destinations.  It provides an opportunity for many of the marginalized members of the community to be part of tourism development.  Having well organized and capacitated communities should be the goal of all local governments, so that the concept of “inclusive growth” can truly be realized. Purchasing products of social enterprises will   help provide an economic incentive for the protection of natural and cultural assets.
  5. Willingly pay a premium for high value experiences.  There is  value for  being in outstanding natural  landscapes and seascapes, and having the privilege to witness unique and authenic traditions and culture.  Destinations that have management regimes need to  earn from tourist visitations for them to be sustained over many years. Nature or heritage is not free.  There is also value in being given the right to experience a place,  especially if only a limited number of people are allowed to do so. High value/low volume strategy is  best applied for protected areas and pristine environments because it  provides an opportunity to generate income from tourism without having to compromise the integrity of the natural assets.

So,  the next time you travel, seriously consider these tips.  They will  put more meaning to your vacations.

This article was originally published in Chen Reyes-Mencias’ blog, QuantumLight.
Photos are by Chen Reyes-Mencias