How Will Your Travels Affect Local Communities
With concern for the environment growing rapidly and increasing pressure being placed on travellers to travel responsibly, it's hardly surprising that the eco-tourism industry is booming. But even within the realm of ecotourism, the social implications of travel are often overlooked.
Tourism can have a negative impact on local communities when done without respect or consideration. Indeed, tourism can cause hostility, competition, jealousy and the loss or destruction of the local culture. Many travellers fail to research before they go and simple mistakes which can often be avoided are often made, causing offence to local people and making the lives of the next travellers to visit that little bit more difficult. It's vitally important that you make an effort to fit in, to limit the impact of your presence and to show your respect for the traditions and culture of the community that you are staying in. Otherwise, you are likely to confirm the bad reputation that travellers are gradually developing.
Loss of culture
Loss of culture can take many forms. One major change can be seen in the production of souvenirs. Once tourists arrive in an area, the local people realise that money can be made by selling their crafts to visitors. After a while, though, crafts which once had a spiritual or cultural significance suddenly are just goods. Some designs may be changed to meet tourists’ demands and lose all cultural value.
Tourists are often unwilling to completely immerse themselves in the local culture and this means that in order to keep your custom, local communities must adjust to your needs. Traditional food, wares and customs are replaced with those of the traveller's homeland, effectively creating a home away from home. Yet by doing this, by demanding that destinations change to meet your demand you are taking away the very essence of travel. Therefore, in order to travel responsibly you must accept your surroundings for what they are and not expect anything else.
Tourists are frequently disrespectful of local customs. Women (and men) often walk around in revealing clothing when the social norm is to politely cover yourself up. This is particularly important in places of worship and it is often considered extremely rude. This behaviour can cause ill-will and can also cause the local people to stray from their beliefs and customs.
Ill will can also be caused by the way tourists interact with locals. Many take pictures of local people like animals in the zoo, without subtlety or permission, then move on without purchasing any of their crafts.
Tourism can lead to overuse of natural resources, vandalism and crime. Competition for local resources is a huge problem in tourist areas. Resorts use an enormous amount of water to run a golf course, depriving local people of drinking water. Similarly, grazing land may be destroyed for resort development, therefore significantly damaging the ability of local communities to maintain their traditional lifestyles.
Frequently local people are denied access to areas that have been set up as tourist destinations. Local people can no longer play on nearby beaches or visit the local national park, which doesn’t give them much incentive to protect it. This is more often an indirect consequence of tourism as local people simply cannot afford the prices that tourists can.
Before you get too depressed by the negative impacts of tourism, remember that with a little consideration, much of the problem can be solved. If you travel respectfully there is no reason why you can’t minimize these impacts. In fact, tourism can have positive impacts on the culture as well. Making an effort to meet local people will give you a more accurate insight into the way they live their lives and make the interaction more pleasurable for both parties.
When people from different backgrounds get the chance to connect, they have the opportunity to see each other as individuals and not the nationalities they represent. Travel is a wonderful opportunity to talk to people and let them see that you, as an individual, do not fit into all the negative stereotypes of your ethnicity. And likewise, not all indigenous people are what you expect them to be. Making an effort to meet people can reduce these negative perceptions and stereotypes and develop appreciation and understanding of different cultures. People who live in developing countries are often extremely friendly and if you show them a little respect they will be able to introduce you to a side of your destination that you never knew existed.
As long as the welfare of the local community isn’t disregarded, creating facilities for tourism can benefit the local population as well. Tourism development brings money to the region and also forces improvement of local facilities like roads and water supplies. These two things together can easily help to develop the infrastructure of an area. Tourism can create new recreational or entertainment facilities, health systems, restaurants or public spaces. The longer that tourism thrives in the area, the more improvements that will be made.
If the money being made in a community is staying there, it can decrease emigration from the area. It can pay for a new school or community centre. It can bring the community together to create tourist facilities such as a local restaurant or visitors centre. They can also work together to manage tourism in the area and the profits will go directly to the community.
When tourists come to see an authentic ceremony, the local people realise that they are unique. They take pride in the fact that people are interested in them. They take pride in their natural surroundings, heritage and art. Tourism can cause indigenous people to revive old traditions and preserve customs that may otherwise soon be lost to globalization.
A true eco-tourism organization employs local people. If people from the community have jobs in the tourism industry this will improve their economic situation and also decrease the hard feelings towards tourists.
If organizations work with the local community and hire local residents it opens employment opportunities up to people to whom opportunities are rarely available. It offers them motivation to learn and to develop their skills and gives them the opportunity to build a better life for themselves. The bottom line is, it gives them hope.
Local people make perfect guides. They know the area they live in. They may know more about the plants in their backyard than a university educated botanist would. They can imitate birdcalls and track animals. Hiring local guides is not only better for the community, it’s better for the visitor too.
There is a fine line between tourism and responsible tourism. At first a community is keen on bringing tourists into the area. They see it as easy money. But bringing too many tourists into a place causes animosity and loss of culture. Sometimes it's difficult to see the damage that is being done to a community until it is too late, even if you're an active member of that community. The key to the development of sustainable tourism is effective management. It’s up to you to be sensitive to cultures other than your own and make the effort to travel with companies that truly are eco-friendly, but it is also up to local governments and communities to ensure that they are controlling tourism and monitoring its effects on both local communities and environments.