4 Ways to be a Responsible Tourist When Travelling to Developing Countries

Responsible tourism is about being aware and owning YOUR responsibility to leave the countries you visit a better place than before you arrived. There is a certain amount of responsibility that can be outsourced by travelling with a responsible tourism provider, but there is also a large amount of responsibility that will always sit with you, the tourist, and it is up to us to make the change. Here are 4 ways you can become a more responsible tourist on your next adventure!

1. Educate Yourself on Climate Change


It has been found that tourism transport alone contributes 75% of the share of tourism greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which seems shocking but is true! This is particularly a problem when the growth of tourism is predicted to increase at a faster pace than the technological advancements trying to curtail the mass of GHGs that are contributing to climate change. 

Air travel is the major contributor to the GHG emissions, and the increasing growth in the number of domestic and international tourists is undoubtedly going to have the greatest impact on climate change. Flying may be the only viable option for you to get to the country you want to visit, especially if you live in Australia, but it is not sustainable. Next time you buy flights, why don’t you try carbon offsetting to reduce your footprint or combine multiple trips in one to limit the number of flights and stop overs you need to make?

Another great way to reduce your footprint is to immerse yourself in the lifestyle of the locals by using public transport instead of ordering a taxi every time you want to explore. Walking or riding a bicycle are also great options to be a more responsible tourist.

While tourism in developing countries provides many economic growth opportunities, it also exacerbates the climate change issue because developing countries are more vulnerable and less capable of dealing with climate change due to high levels of corruption and poverty. This makes it extra important for you to be aware of how to decrease your carbon foot print when traveling to developing countries.

2. Be Aware of Street Beggars


Street begging is a world-wide phenomenon that is more prevalent in developing countries. As a tourist you must be aware of this behaviour. In Tanzania for example, the street begging culture is a major problem and has become an established industry. Some people exploit children by sending them into the streets to beg, often disguising them as being physically disabled, blind, crippled or deaf. In some countries parents will deliberately injure or disable their children so that they can become more effective beggars. Government efforts to curb begging have largely been ineffective which begs (pardon the pun) the questions of who can fix this issue? 

As tourists, we ultimately have the power to help. While there are many people trying to exploit us when we travel, there are also many more who are genuinely poor and don’t know what else to do. Regardless of the beggar’s circumstances, money, food and clothing won’t help in the long term.



A good rule of thumb when you are giving anything to someone in a developing country is, am I giving a hand out or a hand up?

If it is a hand out (food, money, clothing, etc.), it will likely solve the problem in the short term but make it worse in the long term. If you really want to make a positive impact on the world, focus on giving a hand up, this way you will be empowering that person with an opportunity that they can use to change their circumstances and break free from poverty. Examples of a hand up include:

  • Paying school fees for a disadvantaged student to attend school so they can graduate and get a good job in the future
  • Paying medical expenses that allow a sick person to get better and go back to work
  • Helping someone find a job or if that is too hard, employ them to do a job for you (i.e. rather than giving them $5, pay them $5 to clean your shoes or your clothes). You still pay the same but you are empowering that person to earn their own money, not fuelling an existing problem.  
  • Making an effort to support locals who are attempting to help themselves. This could involve buying souvenirs and other products from street sellers or donating to street entertainers rather than beggars. 

Most importantly, don’t cultivate the begging culture by giving money to children even though it can be tough to say no. Tara Shubbuck, a travelling whiz, gave a useful and positive suggestion from her travels in India. She suggested that your response to children should be, “No, go to school”. Hopefully if they are reminded often enough, you will help to enforce the importance of an educated and productive lifestyle. 

3. Know the Cultural Customs and Norms



To be a responsible tourist, you have to be respectful of the country’s culture and practices. When the news broke that a group of British tourists were arrested in Cambodia for dancing provocatively in front of one of the country’s religious temple’s, I was in disbelief. I never realised how strict the Cambodian officials and government were towards its tourists. My perception of Cambodia has always been based around travellers going there to build houses for the less fortunate, the remarkable temples and the local street food. This perception clearly indicates the lack of awareness I had on the appropriate behaviours that are tolerated when travelling to such a country. Therefore, it is imperative you read about and learn the country’s cultural practices and be respectful of and adopt their behavioural norms, including dress codes and alcohol restrictions. Think carefully about your actions and also realise that children in developing countries may idolise you. If you are not careful, your behaviour may teach the young to undermine their local practices too. 

Here is a link to the news article on the British tourists if you’re interested.


4. Wildlife


The protection and correct care for animals in developing countries is imperative for the responsible sustainability of each species. One must be able to differentiate the good from the bad when it comes to choosing responsible tourism operators in developing countries. 

Thailand for example allows tourists to ride elephants and each year thousands of people pay for this unique experience. The cruelty inflicted on these animals however is often unknown to tourists and the techniques used to crush the animal’s spirit allow it to work and make money 365 days a year. The Thai government does very little to regulate elephant tourism with no current restrictions being implemented on the welfare of these animals. 

It therefore falls on other organisations like non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to improve the welfare of these elephants and solve the issue of their mistreatment in the tourism industry. One example is Save the Elephant Foundation who have established an elephant nature park which houses 35 elephants that have been saved from the tourism industry. Tourists are still able to visit the park and admire these incredible animals without inflicting cruelty upon them. Another example is the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi who rescue orphaned elephants when their mothers are killed by poachers and reintroduce them to the wild when they are older. Visiting an organisation like this is much more responsible and equally as enjoyable as riding an elephant. 

The trick to being a responsible tourist is to make educated decisions. One of the ways you can do this is by researching before your adventure, looking at an organisations website or sending them an email with questions you’d like answers to. If you don’t have time to do this, why don’t you book with a responsible tour operator like Adventure Out Loud instead? 

Together, let’s create better places for people to live, and better places for us to visit. You are at the heart of the responsible tourism movement and hopefully now you feel better equipped to make a positive difference on your next adventure. Step up, take action and enjoy your travels.

About the author

Originally from South Africa, Bianca's interest in the tourism industry started from a young age through her love of the African bush and safaris. Bianca is currently studying at the University of Queensland and hopes to pursue a career in the tourism industry in the near future.

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