Responsible Travel – Don’t Leave Your Morals At Home!

(Guest Blogger: Philip Mansbridge, CEO Care for the Wild)

There’s a common saying that all of you will be familiar with: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” The saying itself refers to experiencing a place through the eyes of a local, and as a seasoned traveller I would be the first to agree that there is a lot of merit in that.

It’s great to eat like a local, visit the bars and cafes off the beaten track and venture just a page or two off of your guide book to truly experience what life is really like.

But where the saying doesn’t really hold true for me is when it comes to tourists engaging in things that they wouldn’t ever do at home – not because they aren’t available but because they are fundamentally wrong. A classic example that I have heard many times is from people who go to Spain and pay to watch a bull fight because ‘it’s part of Spanish culture’, or ‘you have to go and see a bull fight when you’re in Spain.’

Consider this: You’re on a walking holiday in the Lake District, enjoying the wildlife and the greenery and walking through a field with cows and bulls grazing. Then a man appears with daggers, swords and a cloak and starts stabbing the bull. What would you do? One thing I’m pretty certain of is that no one would go closer, sit down, watch the suffering, and then dig out £20 of your hard earned cash and give it to the man causing the pain and suffering. So, what’s the difference – Spain, Lake District – what makes one okay and one absurd, cruel and 999 call worthy?

This is an extreme example, but one that highlights that context doesn’t always make things right. Drinking wine with a snake in it in Thailand may seem a great idea, but look around you – is this really experiencing what the locals do? How many of them are drinking Beer Chang, and how many are doing snake shots? Likewise, how many locals are riding on the skinny, malnourished donkey? One, none? How about in the back of the heavy horse drawn carriage with the horse being whipped? See any locals?

Another massive temptation, and this is a real vicious circle, is that because you love animals you pay to interact with them. Some unregulated animal attractions and things like photo prop animals offer a real chance in a lifetime photo opportunity – a picture of you or your loved ones with a monkey, a tiger cub? Giving money for this won’t help the situation – it will only encourage it. If you love animals walk away.

The whole world operates on supply and demand – if people do not pay to be part of cruelty, if people do not go to watch these ‘traditional ceremonies’ involving individual or mass slaughter, then they will phase out. Vote with your feet, vote with your wallet, and more importantly……vote with your heart.

The full version of this blog can be found on our www.RIGHT-tourism.org website, here.