In modern society, there is a tendency to not ask questions. Not much consideration is placed on some aspects of life and, as a result, a common disregard for consequences and effects is present. Travel, in recent years, has been commodified, in that people flock to countries in far off lands for the bragging rights, experiencing unique sights and activities that many friends cannot compete with. In doing this, travel has become increasingly unethical as the Western world chase Instagram likes. A tunnel vision mentality is adopted; a photo opportunity is presented and most would not think before snapping away, but was it acceptable to take that photo? This thought needs to happen before an action, not afterwards, herein demonstrating the lack of ethics within travel.
An article written for The Ethical Travel Guide titled ‘Should I ride an elephant?’ increased my awareness for ethical travel. Elephants are not domestic animals and on average die younger in captivity than they would in the wild, a fact that astounded me as someone who previously had an elephant ride on their bucket list. The article also points out that their size is misleading, their massive backs falsely fostering the assumption that their spines are equally as strong and enduring. Permanent spinal injuries can be acquired from years in the tourism industry, and that is something that I personally want no part in. I was unaware of the extent of this problem until reading this article, which highlights the fact that the insider secrets of the travel industry that we all love to heavily exploit are not as public as they ought to be.
What The Ethical Travel Guide should also be commended for is their directory of ethical tour operators. The companies listed all commit to ensuring that there is as little environmental impact as possible and actively promote conservation through activities and their daily operation on tour. Cultural exchange between tourists and locals is set up in a manner that is mutually respectful for both parties, and the benefits of the host communities is focused on. For instance, five ethical tourism operations work out of the United Kingdom including Fresh Eyes – People to People Travel, an operation that hones in on trips to rural areas in order to enhance interaction between peoples, and Choose a Challenge, an operation aimed at students. This stresses that ethics can be implemented into travel without subsequently reducing variety, a fact that most travellers could do with knowing.
Companies that focus on ethical travel as part of their ethos and unique selling point will naturally do a much better job of fulfilling this effectively and to a high standard, because companies that place other objectives as a priority will, of course, focus on these at the subconscious expense of ethics, a reality that can be attributed to many companies and groups.
Being aware of ethics while travelling does not have to be a hindrance on experience, as most would believe (I certainly did). Granted, certain activities may be thrown into question when addressed from an ethical perspective, but by not partaking you are doing good. No one is denying that it is very tempting to get sucked into travel and forget about the consequences, but awareness will not hurt anyone, literally. Enjoyment and enriching experiences can still be found, and if ethical values can be upheld whilst travelling, it’s a win win.