World Tourism Day: 1 Billion Ways to be a Bad Tourist

by Megan Lee

Your holidays and vacations have a bigger impact than you think, and not always for the better. The decisions you make while on the road matter, and can lead to a brighter, more inclusive future for countries around the world (or inadvertently contribute to leaving them in the dust).

World Tourism Day was created to raise consciousness among tourists for the impact of these everyday choices. Where you spend your dollars, how you interact with the locals, your process for booking; each seemingly minute act matters. The 2015 theme for World Tourism Day, “One billion tourists, one billion opportunities,” encourages personal awareness of your travel behavior. 

Visitors looking at a monkey in Uganda

Who is observing who - Kampala, Uganda

Photo Credit: Shehab Yassin

What they forgot to mention, though, is there are also one billion ways to do it wrong.

Just because you can’t quite pack your bags and jump on a plane by this evening doesn’t mean you can’t start daydreaming about your upcoming adventures or reflect on your personal travel style. Here are some ways to avoid being a bad tourist on your next trip abroad:

1. DON’T eat out at international chains.

Say "Bye bye" to your annual Hard Rock Cafe stops. Opt instead to support smaller enterprises or food stands, even street food for those who can stomach it (FYI: it’s usually the best tasting and most affordable option, win-win). Embrace the opportunity for cultural exchange and a more-authentic taste of the local flavors.

Traditional Vietnamese mushroom dumplings

Traditional mushroom dumplings from a roadside stand in Hanoi, Vietnam

Photo Credit: Richelle Gamlam

2. DON’T tip at restaurants.

Unless it is local custom, tipping can unintentionally reinforce stereotypes of the rich westerner and poor local dichotomy. Remember that every interaction with a local is an invitation to learn about your respective cultures. Being flagrant with money might encourage petty theft and begging, and ultimately discourage both parties from seeing each other’s more human side.

3. DON’T stay in hotel franchises.

Your Marriott points ain't helpin' nobody, but YOU! Seek out accommodation options that support the communities you are visiting, such as homestays or smaller bed and breakfasts owned by the locals. Money spent at huge hotels rarely trickles down to the local economy. By staying in a locally owned and operated guest house, your experience will be far less generic too.

Cabin at Witt's End Guest Ranch in Lac la Hache, Canada

Authentic cabin at Witt's End Guest Ranch in Lac la Hache, Canada

Photo Credit: Kelly Van de Vliet

4. DON’T stick only to your resort.

While safety precautions are necessary, the world isn't as scary as it seems. Explore the surrounding communities outside of your resort paradise for more exposure to the local way of life. Your resort is a microcosm within you host country, and as alluded to previously, rarely do dollars spent within these independent economies benefit the overall national economy. 

5. DON’T buy handicrafts from huge tourist stores.

Support the local vendors on the street to avoid unintentionally financing the outsourcing of souvenirs. Your item will be more unique, you can share a conversation with the actual craftsman or woman, and your dollars will be invested in the economy at the ground level. Who wants cheap, plastic throw away stuff, anyway? (which presents a nice little segue to the next point…)

Spice vendor at a market in Calella, Spain

Local vendor at a market in Calella, Spain

Photo Credit: Anna Konoshevskaya

6. DON’T forget to consider the environmental implications of your travels.

From your flights to your preferred method of on-the-ground transportation to whether or not you decide to buy that unnecessary, cheesy t-shirt that you’ll wear once. Keep in mind that tourism can strain ecological systems and pose a threat to a region's natural and cultural resources. Support environmentally conscious efforts and initiatives that aim to conserve and sustain wildlife rather than overuse and abuse.

7. DON’T only visit during the peak-season.

If climate works in your favor, consider visiting your destination-of-choice during the off-season; this will discourage the seasonality of employment for locals and allow them to earn a more steady income. When tourists “peace out” come off-season, locals are left jobless, paycheckless, and with increased costs of living. 

O-K, you caught us. We didn’t quite make it to 1 billion ways to be a bad tourist, but we are getting closer, right? 

A responsible traveler is a well-informed traveler, one who is sensitive to the needs of the communities they are visiting and aware of their unavoidable impact on their host communities.

What type of legacy do you want your travels to have?