By: Natalie Austin, TWIP
There is a certain stigma that comes with tourists. We may picture a group of Americans dressed in sun hats and cargo shorts, obnoxiously taking pictures at popular landmarks. These tourists do not experience travel, only observe it; aggravating locals and perpetuating the ubiquitous tourist traps. However, what many travelers don’t realize is that even if they are “blending in”, their travel habits may still be negatively affecting the local community. Traveling to exotic locations but not truly appreciating their culture and traditions happens all too often. Once destinations become popular in the travel world, travelers of all kinds bring high and often unreasonable demands. Big corporations take over and create adverse impacts on communities. Islands like Jamaica suffer as a hefty portion of tourism capital goes out of the country while the industry makes up 20% of their economy. If we travel to appreciate culture but are contributing to its degradation, what does that say about us as travelers? If you’re a Twipper, you will know that travel means more than simply picking an exotic place to spend your vacation days. Twippers are those who travel with purpose; to engage and absorb culture while making long-lasting connections. As passionate travelers, it is our responsibility to shape the industry in a way that does not harm the places we so admire. Whether it’s a donation to a local charity or an application of travel integrity, we as Twippers have the capacity to create mutually prosperous travel practices that can positively impact the travel industry.
Economies grow when small business owners are supported; this we know. But we often forget it’s importance when we are in a foreign place. Shopping and dining locally have a direct impact on the communities we visit. As travelers, we are often influence local business, giving us great power in the marketplace. When local businesses are supported, we contribute to a growth of the economy and create a positive relationship between communities and tourists. Not to mention, dining at locally owned restaurants and purchasing goods from artisans deepens our understanding of indigenous customs.
“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma.” -Anthony Bourdain
Often times food is gives us the most intimate sense of what a culture is truly about. What they value, their cultural history and national pride can be expressed by the way in which they eat. Epicureans know that sampling local cuisine is often the best way to connect with the locals. This is why travelers must avoid tourist-targeted restaurants like the plague. Eat Your World is an online travel resource that helps travelers do just that. With over 130 city guides to local dishes and drinks, Eat Your World can pioneer your search for both native and responsible food. All of the dishes and restaurants on their guides are not only traditional to the area, but are always harvested, sourced or crafted locally. Eat Your World seamlessly benefits dining that is both ethical and authentic no matter where your Epicurean adventure leads you.
Shopping responsibility is just as important while traveling. In countless places around the world, artisans craft some of the most beautiful luxury items that can be bought. But with factories in China expediting processes and cheapening goods, local artisans are finding themselves unable to compete with these lowered prices. Mass-produced goods are of lesser quality, deplete local jobs, and are quickly bringing artistic industries into extinction. As travelers, we have the ability to change this. Shopping responsibly not only directly benefits economies and ancient trades, but can award you with souvenirs of the highest quality. Before you leave, make sure to do your research on industries, crafts and shopping spots of your upcoming destination. Learn what items are crafted in the area, particularly items that are made by hand with traditional techniques. This with ensure you’re getting the best quality items, unlike those outsourced by a local factory. When looking for authentic vendors, seek out is best to specialty stores or local markets. Ask vendors about the items available to learn more about the craft to appreciate and understand the livelihood you are supporting.
While we all love a good barter, it is best to avoid it when shopping overseas. Since handcrafted goods are made with such care and precision, vendors often sell these items at the correct market value; they know their product, they take great pride in their product and they’re not trying to rip you off. Vendors are also forced to compete with lower prices of factory produced goods, so unless items are ridiculously priced, there is little need to bargain. Although it is just a few more extra dollars from your pocket, it can greatly impact theirs.
Small But Significant
As the dollar rests at a much higher value in many overseas countries, seemingly small donations can greatly impact local charities and organizations. With the rising trend of travel that gives back, it’s becoming easier than ever to make an impact in the places you venture to. Globe Drop is an organization that allows travelers to search for local charities in your travel area and make donations according to the organization’s wishlist. Once travelers are in the area of the charity, they are encouraged to buy all wishlist items locally to contribute to the regional economy.
Kiva is another organization changing the way charities function. Kiva allows individuals to lend as little as $25 to local entrepreneurs to help grow their businesses. The most amazing part: these are not donations, but loans. Those who choose to donate will receive their money back to either withdraw from their account or lend it to another person in need. This not only stimulates local economy but educates entrepreneurs on how to manage their money and create a profitable business.
Luxury That Gives Back
If you seek luxury but want to travel ethically, there are a number of resorts that cater to guests while employing and supporting surrounding villages. Guludo Beach Lodge lies on the Northern coast of Mozambique and marries breathtaking views with practical preservation. As a “beach lodge that’s heart lies firmly in the community,” Guludo was named is a virtually deserted beach and the host of an intimate tropical experience unlike any other. Take sunset boat rides, go on a whale watching excursion or buy quality handcrafted gifts from villagers. Every activity or service is provided or services by the locals. At Guludo, you have the opportunity to make real connections to provincial traditions while making a contribution to sustainable tourism.
The Como Group, a luxury hotel and resort group, is pioneering the way hotel groups function with local communities. The group is comprised of urban hotels, island getaways, adventure retreats and wellness resorts. Each hotel and resort within the group are an integral part of the community in which they operate while still providing a heightened level of luxury for their guests. Whether you travel to Bali, Bangkok, Turks and Caicos, or Bhutan, The Como Groups ensures the luxury experience is not at the cost of local culture and economy.
You don’t have to build a school in a third-world country to make an impact. In fact, traveling ethically can often be more beneficial to local communities. When we learn to travel in a way that truly appreciates the places we go, we are not only enhancing our experiences but creating travel that’s mutually beneficial.