How to be a responsible tourist

By Claire Dukes - 26 July 2018


As people prepare to jet set on holiday The Link looks into responsible tourism.

  • Photograph by H

    Photograph by H

  • Photograph by H

    Photograph by H

There are very few people who don’t like to travel.

Travelling is an incredible opportunity to experience different cultures, lifestyles, architecture and religions. But there are different ideas and expectations when it comes to travelling or going on holiday.

For some travelling is about diving into a complete culture shock, and for others an all-inclusive paradise is the destination. Whichever one is the goal is irrelevant because what many people fail to consider is what impact they themselves have on the place they visit.

I met up for a coffee with Rosa Matheson, one of the founders of the Swindon-based charity. The charity provides Nepali women and girls with sanitary products – up until FKB’s interaction with them this is something they did not have access too. They didn’t even know that menstruation is something that every woman across the world goes through. Until now they were told it was a curse.

For the last 10 years Rosa has been travelling back to Nepal twice a year. Working closely with Nepali communities, and engaging with many travellers and volunteers passing through, she has been noticing the ways in which tourism affects Nepal and the people who live there.

“We have a responsibility to be a good tourist,” explained Rosa. “We have to think seriously about where we’re going, what we do there and what we leave behind.

“Everyone has their own travel dreams, but responsible tourism isn’t about feeding your needs off the needy –  going to feel good about something you can put on your CV – because the local people and children are left with a feeling of being used.

“Often when people come to look at children in orphanages it’s like they’re a ‘tourist attraction’, just another tick box.”

The latter strikes me a little because it doesn’t sound too dissimilar to tourists visiting foreign animal sanctuaries or zoos – you know the ones where you can shamelessly ride elephants. It basically sounds like the human equivalent of cuddling a sedated tiger and feeding it milk – yes, you have solved cruelty to animals and I’m sure the picture will do well on your Instagram.

Rosa added: “We had a group of travellers come through one of the villages. After they left a young girl came up to me and said ‘Didi people come, they look at us, they want us to sing and dance, they take photos of us and say ‘smile’ and then they go away. Why do they do that?’

“If you want to volunteer that’s brilliant but go and spend a long time doing something that will make a difference – and give back to the place. You should create a real relationship, leave a good impact with good integration.”

She explains that when travellers visit tourist hot spots the villages on the outer rims don’t actually economically benefit but are visited as more of an attraction – ‘how the other half live’ – and then left by travellers returning to their luxury cabins.

She said: “Nepalese people go on holiday in Nepal, but a lot of the time can’t afford the prices tourists are willing – or able – to pay. ‘Foreigners pay more’ they’re told.”

Her charity Freedom Kit Bags works alongside Exodus Travels to make sure locals are not neglected. Exodus have sponsored 1,000 of the eco-friendly kit bags for village women and young girls. The organisations are currently working together to build a custom-made maternity centre in a remote region to reach even more women.

It’s a fine line. Rosa has worked with many frequenting volunteers who help provide medical services through areas such as Charikot and Sindhupalchowk – still recovering from the aftermath of the earthquake in 2015 – but has also encountered people who just want to pay for a culture shock which has been marketed and sold in a pretty package.

On that note she said: “Travel with a respectful travel agent with years of giving back and years of empowering the local people.

“We never do something just once – we always go back and build a relationship.”

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