Responsible Tourism and Social Responsibility

Respect for local culture and support for social development are integral to responsible tourism practice, considering the impacts tourism can have on local communities.

While tourism can improve local living standards, uncontrolled development can destabilise whole communities. Negative impacts can range from increased tension as a result of unequal benefits to crime, prostitution, begging, alcohol and drug abuse. Tourism operators should be sensitive to potential impacts, such as loss of privacy, prevention of access to culturally significant places, invasion of sacred sites or the demeaning of cultural ceremonies, which can result from tourism.

By setting up genuine cooperative structures with staff and local people and involving them in planning and decision making, trust and mutual cooperation can be built. Providing support with education and health care and contributing to social infrastructure also promotes goodwill and helps to improve local quality of life, ultimately leading to mutual benefits.

Establish Cooperative Structures
Cooperative structures take into account the structure of the community, cultural protocols and existing chains of command.
• Identify what issues should be covered e.g. safety and security, rights to harvest natural resources, access to culturally significant sites, managing donations, maintaining cultural integrity, respecting religious practices and the use of indigenous knowledge.
• Choose a method of cooperation – either an informal arrangement or a formal structure with legal standing.

  1. You can set up a management board if you wish to involve local stakeholders in the planning and management of your enterprise.
  2. You can set up a trust if you want to create a structure to manage the flow of benefits to the community.
  3. You can set up a forum for agreements if you need to tackle issues of joint concern.

• Ensure that you jointly determine venues, publicise local meetings and report on decisions taken.

Promote a Local Tourism Culture
• Offer to provide tourism lectures at local schools.
• Invite local school children to visit your tourism operation.
• Work with other tourism initiatives to promote a tourism culture in your region.

Support Local Development and Education
• Ask local staff and community representatives about their immediate development needs.
• Jointly identify community projects for improvements, e.g. a local school, clinic or sports team. You may wish to ‘adopt a school’, provide bursaries to local school children, or support promising young sports stars. Record how many projects you support and where the funds come from.
• Address health education for staff and local people, e.g. how to combat HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.
• Facilitate literacy and other education programmes for staff and local people.
• Link staff and local people with support agencies that will assist them with community development programmes.

Respect Local Culture
• Negotiate with host communities the notice required for tourist visits, what activities are acceptable and what size groups are suitable. Ask whether it is appropriate for tourists to visit people’s homes.
• Treat cultural heritage with dignity and respect. Inform guests about local customs and traditions and appropriate behaviour. Ensure that tourists ask permission to take photographs or to videotape people.
• Ensure that clients do not damage or remove religious or cultural artefacts.

This is one of a series of short blogs on Responsible Tourism that will deal with everything from ‘Evaluating your commitment’ to ‘Motivating Guests to be Responsible’ and from ‘Economic responsibility’ to ‘Environmental responsibility’. Come back soon!

With acknowledgement to South Africa’s 2002 Responsible Tourism Manual and Responsible Tourism Handbook.


  1. Tourism is a key to success and it reinforces the economy of communities

  2. A very comprehensive and thoughtful look at the situation of responsible travel/tourism. Your concepts blur the lines between tour operators and NGO projects. I like it!
    Wishing you happy and safe travels.

  3. Interesting read and no doubt respecting local culture is most certainly an integral component of responsible tourism.


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