Ethical tourism

When we leave home, we are a foreigner. Whether we go on holiday or move in another part of our own country or in another country/continent in this world, we have left home. We are a foreigner.
People will always see us as a foreigner. Think about the last time you went on holiday “at home” (within your country or in a neighbouring country). You were the one from somewhere else (another country, another region).

When travelling in developing country, there is another dimension to being a foreigner: we are also “Mzungu” (European/white, by extension, foreigner from developped country). And “Mzungu” has become associated with money.

Throughout my years of travelling in Africa, I have seen the changes in some regions. A few years ago, in parts that did not see tourists, people were nice, welcoming. They were intrigued by the fact that you were a traveller, from another country, speaking another language. But people still looked at you as a person (albeit, sometimes, you might look like an alien for them…).

And then tourism expanded to those regions…

Now, you have horde of children running after you, shouting “sweet, sweet” or “money, money”. Same goes for teens/adults, not running after you but waving and then making a “give me” or “money” sign.

Tourism has created this sort of “begging” culture… Which people don’t even realise: neither the tourist nor the local population.
And just from people reaction, I know if this is a wide tourist area or still a preserved area.

And this is a shame because tourism can bring wealth to those countries. It is an industry that can help the local economy. But we need to make sure that we do it ethically.

Help others, develop the tourism economy through ethical tourism and sustainable support.
Here are some do and don’t, based on my experience and perception. You might not agree with everything, but still, think about how you travel and help. Check the websites at the end before leaving.


Do not give sweets to children (or adults…). In many of these countries, kids dont have a toothbrush, dentists are something totally unknown to them. Often, their teeth are already in very bad conditions due to poor diet.
Think about home… We do say that sweets are bad for kids. We control when and how many they get. We tell them “no, you will have caries…”. Yet, we give to kids that will definitively have caries and no prospect of treating them.
One main reason for giving is a guilt feeling: “poor kids, a sweet will make them happy…” But it only makes them beg the next foreigner for more. It creates expectation that this is what we are here for.

Do not give money to children or adults when travelling. Those countries are less developped than your home country. Everything is cheaper. And this coin that we spare is worth nothing in your currency. Yet, it does have a value here. Again, we do create the perception that foreigners are a money bag. Just ask and they will give you money as if it grows on trees. Thus fuelling the begging culture.

Do not give anything (really…) to children or adults. This includes food, pen, clothes… I mean really anything. Again,whatever we give creates an attitude of begging, of expectations, of dependency on the foreigner.
While I was staying in a village, I felt really sad after a comment from the kids. We were having a good time, playing games, doing activities, reading stories in the evening. Then one day, a kid ask me: “Give me”. “Give you what?”. “Something”. “But what?”. “Anything”. “Why?”. “Because white people always gives us something”… This breaks my heart. We can volunteering somewhere. Give time and passion. Give love and attention. All of which they are craving for and grateful for. But at the end of the day, we have not given them “something” and that’s what they expect. And if you give to one, you have to give to the other 100 behind… Unfortunately, this will not help them to have an education, to eat properly or to develop as an active adult. Think about what our attitude is teaching them…

Do not buy wildlife items. This fuels the poaching industry: as long as there are clients, there will be poaching. And many tourists do not think that they can be a cause for poaching. Many years ago, ivory trade was banned as this lead to many elephants being killed for their tusks. It is now illegal to buy ivory, yet it still happens. But at least this one we know about. But we do not know about the porcupines being killed for their quills, birds for their feathers or rhinos for their teeth. Inquire about what is legal. Look out for community run projects that generate income as a substitute to income from poaching.

Do not pay bribes or give anything to law enforcement officers. At boarders, or on the road, always follow the law. This sounds normal, but many times, we think that we can get away with it because it is a developping country. As long as you are within the remit of the law and you have everything according to the book, you should not have any problems. Do not give into paying something or giving something to get out of a police check or faster through border. Corruption is fuelled by continuous payment. Be strong. If you have nothing to pay, dont pay it. If you receive a fine, be sure that this is legit (i.e. you were truly at fault) and insist on a receipt before handing the money. If you are not at fault and/or do not get a receipt, refuse to pay and ask for a court order. While this sounds scary, this is only an intimidate technique from the officers. As they will generally be given a tip, they do continue to try.

Now, that’s sounds harsh. Do not give. So how can I help? How can I feel better to share my wealth? How can I give something to the people in those developping countries that will help them?


Do buy local food, from local sellers. If you can, try to do most of your shopping in markets or small stalls along the road, instead of the shopping malls or big shops. Spread your shopping to different sellers. The money you will spend there will go directly to the families. Try to eat local food instead of imported food. This will help the local economy to develop. You can find a lot of food that it the same than the one you have at home: bread (OK, not French bread, but hey, still bread), tomatoes, eggs, potatoes, rice… So even when shopping at the mall, try to buy locally produced food (local rice versus imported rice for example). If you are there for a short holiday, you will still be able to get your favorite things when you go back home. If you are on long term travel, you can still have a treat from time to time 🙂

Do buy craft items as souvenirs/gifts. Go to small artists, craftmen, either in craftmarkets (check with the place you stay at where is the best one) or along the road. If you can’t avoid it and have to buy from a souvenir shop, ensure that it is linked to a community that will benefit from the sale. A lot of places sale craft from local communities. Look for them as you are travelling. Bargain the price, according to the country. But remain fair. Do not overpay because it is cheaper than at home, but still allow the local community to benefit from the sale.

Do stay in community run places instead of commercial lodges. While lodges do provide employment for local communities, they are also profitable business. Local communities are setting up more and more places for tourists to stay. It is still often basic, but the benefits of your stay will help them develop the tourism business and improve community life. There are also more and more places who works with communities. Try to find those.
For example, one community is using the benefit of tourism to buy fuel so that the village can have running water (the fuel is for the water pump…)

Do look up at what and where you can give. If you want to help, you can still give money, clothes, pens, paper, toys,… BUT, go through a central person, such as the headmaster of the school, the community center, the backpacker where you are staying, a local organisation… The best way to help the community is to provide what is needed. Our perception of needs is often different to the reality of a particular community. So check around you, where you are staying. If you want to help a specific project, take the details and find how you can help it, even once you are back at home.
For example, many countries start to warn against giving to street children. Giving to those children in the street only keep them in the street… Find out places that provide them food and/or shelter and give your help to those.

Do check the internet before you go, see what you can do for the places you will visit. Some websites that are useful include:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.