Responsible Travel? What the…?
15 Jun 2015

Responsible Travel? What the…?

To some, the idea of responsible travel is an oxymoron.

Travel requires energy, mass travel requires mass energy, mass energy is currently  produced unsustainably.

The world would be a sad place if, in the name of travelling sustainably, we must simply daydream from our armchairs. To promote this would also be madness: who would listen?

People will travel. People should travel. But we’re going to be in trouble if we don’t do it sustainably.

So what on earth is responsible travel?

Responsible travel can act as a cover-all term for two flavours of travel, socially responsible travel and environmentally-sustainable travel.

The socially responsible bit refers to the communities we visit when we travel. Do we stay in all-inclusive resorts which exploit local resources and then export the vast majority of what we spend out of the community? Is the very reason we travel there – the local culture or environment – being protected, or destroyed by us going there?

Environmentally-sustainable travel, as mentioned earlier, is easier to pigeonhole. Can I travel without a huge carbon footprint, or mitigate this, and how can I avoid my trip causing problems for the host environment?

Prague tourist hordes on Charles Bridge - is it sustainable?

Hordes of tourists on Prague’s Charles Bridge – is it sustainable?

Is it possible?

Is Mallorca overrun with British and German tourists? Having posed so many questions, here’s one answer:

Yes, it is possible.

I probably come at this from a different perspective from industry professionals. My experience with responsible travel comes largely from having travelled on a relatively-meagre budget for a first-world tripper. It’s often involved hitch-hiking, sleeping on the couches of hometown heroes, finding the cheapest places where the locals eat and going there and soaking up all of that lovely, costs nothing-zip-nada-free foreign culture.

No matter how much it suited me, this is not a model for sustainable travel. Commercial reality and personal preferences of comfort guarantee that.

Let’s break that responsible travel experience down further:

Environmentally-friendly mode of travel. Staying with locals. Eating and shopping locally. Experiencing and supporting host culture.

The good thing is that there is actually a commercial alternative for each of my budget tenets of responsible travel, alternatives which cater for the comfort-loving traveller and leave (more) money in local economies.

Where does one find this responsible travel, then? 


For carbon offsetting unavoidable transport and activities, try Atmosfair  or TripZero, and compare alternatives to flying with websites like GoEuro.

Use Airbnb for a room putting money directly in local pockets, or find an environmentally-sound hotel with BookGreener or Travelife.

Look for apps which organise authentic dining experiences, one of countless companies running responsible excursions, eco-friendly dog retreats and so on…

There’s no shortage of options, but there’s the problem.

People are intrinsically rather lazy.

Even if someone wants to make a sustainable choice, how much time will they be willing to spend figuring it all out before they say, “bugger it” and get a cheap package deal off one of the major travel websites?

Something is still missing.

Sustainable travel options... Sometimes hard to find.

Sustainable travel options… Sometimes hard to locate.

So now what? 

Good question.

One could argue that a solution exists through all-inclusive package tour companies like G Adventures.

This company takes travellers on a sustainable ride from arrival to departure: the tour stays with local providers, guests connect with people en route via public transport, dining and through cultural activities and the company creates social enterprise projects to give back to host communities.

They are not the only ones, but they do provide a very clear example of a company making it easy to choose responsible travel.

The options are increasingly there for choosing socially responsible and environmentally-conscious travel, whether it be through packaged tours or individual choices.

But I argue we still need to make it simpler for to people to choose it.

Do you agree? How do you think we can make sustainable travel an easily-accessible commercial reality?






About the Author:Joe Dodgshun

Brand storytelling consultant creating stories to scale solutions in social enterprise, cleantech, climate action & responsible travel. What's your story?

2 Responses to Responsible Travel? What the…?

  1. Hi I’m Yuko, that was nice to see you at the Sustainability drinks!

    Great article! I like it you introduce actual companies and services so that people can refer to.

    For the easier access to the sustainable tourism, I think “branding” is really important.
    Since its idea is not familiar to most of the people, first it should be spread more and more through marketing or some influential people who are eco-conscious.

    At the same time, I’m kind of suspicious about the packaged eco-tour thing.
    It’ll be great if people think what the sustainable tourism is, and mix the ideas what to do and which transportation they use during the trip, but the packaged tour has less opportunities to think about what sustainability is.

    • Hi Yuko, it was great to meet you both, too! Thanks for your kind words, there are some really interesting companies out there and even more starting up, so I’m hoping to get my head around them and help spread the word.

      I understand where you’re coming from regarding the packaged tours, but I think they’re a good option for someone who would not otherwise have the experience (and patience!) to consider all sustainable options. I imagine you’re probably right in thinking that they might not have as many opportunities to think about the issues once they’re enjoying the trip. Even so, hopefully such a tour could inspire them to recreate the sustainable measures they encounter the next time they travel!

      Branding and awareness are really important, too. I’ve included G Adventures as an example here for a number of reasons, but they have a very aggressive marketing campaign, so they’ve managed to carve out a pretty impressive niche. By the way, what is the sustainable travel scene like in Japan?

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