Educating Travel Clients on Social Responsibility
Your clients no doubt have a wide range of travel and cultural sophistication. Some clients are new to travel, new to the destinations and cultures they visit. Others are more seasoned veterans, well traveled and informed. In both instances, however, you are the professional in the relationship, an opportunity to provide information vital to the sustainability of travel and tourism.
Exploitation of a culture or the environment whether intentionally or through ignorance is an avoidable mistake. Educating your clients on issues important to the regions they visit is an invaluable service enhancing the travel experience and providing the client with greater insight into their journeys. A proper education protects the client against a mistake which may cost them dearly. A few moments of research on almost any destination will turn up all of the information you and your clients may need to avoid trespassing on sensitive cultural and environmental territory.
Below are examples of the types of issues where travel and tourism intersect directly with a professional responsibility to inform. If you have others you feel important, leave a comment with some indication of how it might have arisen in your practice.
Antiquities -Throughout the centuries, travelers and tourists have brought back from their journeys souvenirs and reminders of their visits to other cultures. As any visitor to the British Museum knows, however, the line between souvenir hunting and looting a culture can be a fine one. In some instances, the “trinket” can turn out to be an illegally bought and sold antiquity. In many parts of the world, there are laws prohibiting certain items from leaving the country. Often such laws are not intuitive. Peru prevents illegal export of fossils. In Turkey is is illegal to buy, sell or export antiquities such as certain carpets, coins, icons and ceramics. Similar laws pertain in Egypt and throughout the Middle East and into Asia. Penalties often involve fines and a prison sentence.
Sex Trade – I will leave it to you to do whatever research on this topic you care to do. However, Asia is not the only geography where child prostitution is a growing problem. Throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean, poverty and tourism collide to bring thousands of underage children into harm’s way. Sex tourists are in pursuit of easy targets and opportunity in the third world abounds. Obviously this is not a topic easy to discuss with clients. However, your awareness of the issue and willingness to walk away from some overt client relationships is one small step in the fight against a horrid cultural pathology.
Environmental Destruction – Clients headed scuba diving? Make sure they understand how fragile the planet’s reef systems are. Going hiking in Peru? Please make sure to pack out the trash and respect the trail. We leave unavoidable footprints wherever we travel. Endeavoring to make those traces as light as possible speaks to an awareness of global citizenship.
Tipping and fair trade – The middle class of the developed world is by any historical measure wealthy. The servers at tables on cruise ships, the porters on trails, the merchants in open air markets are struggling to make their own living. Assist your clients in understanding the appropriate way to bargain with merchants and the importance of tipping service personnel. The world will be a better place for the small effort you put into this exercise.
Animal and plant trade – Like that back scratcher made out of a monkey claw? How about the lovely ivory broach? Is that stool really an elephant foot? Illegal (and legal but reprehensible) trade in wide life artifacts, ornaments and medicines is rampant. Educate yourself and pass the information along to your clients. They can avoid some jail time and won’t be contributing the the destruction of endangered species
I know it’s a lot to think about, but building a sustainable industry is a big part of professional responsibility. I’m eager to hear your thoughts.