Responsible Travel Article
Why Responsible Tourism Matters in Africa
by Alan Murphy
Responsible tourism, giving-back from your travels, eco this and eco that, all tend to be buzz words in the safari industry in Africa. But does any of it really make a difference? Is it worth planning a trip with these things in mind? The website of the Game Ranger’s Association of Africa answers this question eloquently:
“May the Roar of the African Lion be heard by the Children of our Children’s Children Forever”
Why Responsible Tourism is Important on Safari
Everyone visiting Africa (especially guidebook writers like myself making repeat visits) has a responsibility to behave conscientiously while on safari. It really does matter and it really makes a difference. Africa is a precious natural resource with its landscapes, habitats and wildlife under ever-increasing pressure from human activities every year. Pollution, over-grazing, erosion, logging, dams changing and obliterating natural water courses, poaching…the list goes on. And the way we travel while we are here can have a significant impact on all of these things.
Not being concerned with the welfare of local communities, the wildlife and the environment makes us a party to its destruction or disappearance. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. And worse, not respecting the place you’re travelling in, potentially robs future generations of an irreplaceable resource.
How Can I make a Difference?
The starting point for visitors is to ensure they don’t have a negative impact while they travel in Africa. Choosing a responsible safari operator for example goes a long way towards covering this base. Not all operators are the same – there are differences in their knowledge, practices, professionalism and concern for the environment. Do your homework and choose wisely.
If you are travelling around independently – a great way to experience Africa, especially if you have the confidence and experience to drive yourself – then make sure you are aware of eco and environmentally friendly practices, particularly when wildlife-watching. Talk to the guides and rangers in the parks and protected areas you visit, so you know the rules and best practices when watching wildlife. And choose accommodation carefully, lots of places call themselves eco-friendly…if unsure, question their practices. A great book for independent travellers is Africa’s Finest by David Bristow and Colin Bell, which lists in detail the lodges and camps that are practising environmentally friendly and sustainable tourism methods while providing world-class safari and nature experiences.
You can also try to ensure your visit has a positive impact. And this is where tourism can really make a difference. If you connect with a particular issue while you are here, find an organisation that is dedicated to resolving it and donate some time or money. It is a great way to have a positive impact. If you are really interested then there may be opportunities for volunteer work too. A good example of a current issue is rhino poaching. Both southern white and black rhinos are disappearing at the hands of the poachers. The rhino population in Kruger National Park (a former rhino stronghold) is being decimated. In northern Africa there is one northern white rhino left…when he dies the species will be extinct.
If wildlife welfare is your interest, one of the best ways to learn about current issues is to talk to the rangers in the parks. There are also organisations dotted around southern and eastern Africa with a mandate to protect the welfare of animals. And of course there is plenty of info on the internet.
Giving Back to Local Communities
Another great way to give back is through helping local communities. This just makes sense. While you are in Africa you will be the beneficiary of local hospitality – giving something back shows respect to local peoples and culture. Communities here are often mired in poverty and a small gesture can go a long way. Here are a few tips:
• look for proactive policies from tour operators that ensure the benefits of tourism reach local communities
• try to purchase items such as food, arts & crafts, souvenirs and guide services from local sellers and organisations, so the money goes back into local communities
• donate time or money to a local not-for profit organisation that works in an area that interests you
Educating yourself on the places you are visiting and exploring ways you can have a positive impact is a good start. At the very least you should always pick a responsible safari operator. Quiz them in detail about their practices and when you’re out there, make sure they are demonstrating high standards of care for the environment, the wildlife and local communities.
Being aware of issues around conservation, wildlife, the environment and local communities is critical for a well-rounded African adventure. It will help you connect with local guides and park rangers, who are usually deeply caring about these issues. If you really want to complete your journey to Africa, you should always give back.
Imagine if you could see the faces of your grandchildren, or their children when they hear the roar of an African lion…
Alan Murphy is a Lonely Planet author and an expert on Southern Africa and its wildlife – he is also the founder of RoundTrip Foundation.