Global warming, environmental degradation because of mass or badly managed tourism, and displacement of local communities might not be the first things you think about when you plan your holiday, but soon they will be hot topics you cannot sidestep (global warming already is). But you can help, in your own small way.
Now there are tour operators who can plan a responsible tour for you. There are hundreds of tour operators across the globe today who are working towards offering trips which, in the true sense, are responsible and often eco-friendly as well.
Check out Responsibletravel.com. Their trips leave the lightest footprint possible, out of over 160 specialist tour operators who meet the website's required environmental, social and economic criteria. You could book a seven-day Masai Mara safari in Kenya for $1,395 (excluding flights) which will take you not just to the wildlife park but also to discover the contrasting scenery, wildlife environment and cultures of the Masai savanna, Kikuyu Lake area and Great Rift Valley.
"As well as superb wildlife viewing opportunities we include insights into the way of life and cultures of local communities. This way you get a much more rewarding and richer safari experience and the local people get a more direct share of the benefits that foreign visitors can bring," says the website.
Within India, too, there seems to be a growing consciousness among many tour operators about responsible tours. For the ultimate in understated luxury, in a very responsible way, check out some of CGH Earth's properties in south India.
At their Spice Village in Thekkady, Kerala, the accommodation is luxurious but, to accentuate the heady spice scents, there is no air-conditioning. This is how the villagers live. Here, the guests can pluck cardamom and other spices along with villagers who stay close by.
Ibex Expeditions organises some trips based on a humanitarian impulse. "We are organising a trip to Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu where visitors will help in a medical checkup of women weavers who weave the sarees that are famous from this region. We have identified that eye trouble is one of their major concerns, so visitors plan to donate eye glasses to these women," explains Mandip Singh Soin, managing director, Ibex Expeditions.
The most interesting, by far, is the tour he organises in Nagaland, where the community at large benefits. "There were pheasant hunters in Khonoma village near Kohima. We employed them as guides. The tour sometimes also includes home stays and then a guided walking tour to view exotic birds. The hunters now have an incentive to protect those pheasants," he says.
The Indian government's rural tourism project across 36 villages too is a good example of responsible travel, where the idea is to help the village communities. Villages have been selected on the basis of their involvement in either a specific art or craft, or for their cultural and natural environment.
Tourism can be both good and bad for the environment and local people. Responsible travel increases the good and reduces the bad. Incentive to take that responsible holiday.