The Ethical Tourist

In 2012 the World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO) revealed that the number of international tourists had exceeded one billion and it expects that number to reach 1.8 billion by 2030. According to the Global Sustainability Dashboard, nearly half of the economic benefits derived from tourism comes from only 10 destinations. This is putting pressure on the natural resources of these prized travel locations, while others are seeking out solutions that will land them that valuable piece of the traveller pie. Both are looking to ethical and responsible tourism as a way of not just managing local resources and mitigating the tourism footprint, but of attracting the next generation of tourist that demands ethics and responsible care in their travel destinations.

A study undertaken by Intrepid Travel and OnePoll found that 76% of travellers under the age of 30 considered the ethical impact of their trip, and 90% considered the company’s commitment to ethical travel as important before booking a trip. So, what are the considerations for ethical or sustainable travel? What does it actually mean? Is it as simple as sticking a paper straw into that single-use plastic cup, or does it mean something more for the tourism industry?

“Ethical tourism is about leaving behind as much as you take with you,” says Marco van Embden, chief executive of Timeless African Safaris. “It is about creating itineraries that support like-minded accommodation partners and include activities that have meaningful engagement with local communities such as building a school, planting trees or contributing to learning.”

Ethical itineraries should find new ways to go beyond the expected and to look for opportunities to give back. Timeless Africa Safaris ensures that guests stay in ethical, ecologically-minded lodges that provide employment as well as protection of species and their habitats. Guests can also become involved in giving back through community programmes or wildlife initiatives.

“Safari lodges and operators are expected to adhere to strict conservation principles and offer extraordinary immersive ethical wildlife activities. For instance, guests can now take part in live conservation programmes such as collaring elephant and lion, or horn-notching to help save the endangered rhino,” adds van Embden. “Simply by being here, guests have a positive impact on the people and places they visit.”


Ethical travel is about travelling with a purpose. Mindless travel that leaves behind more than what was brought in, is completely out. Yes, it is about paper straws, avoiding the use of single-use cups, taking advantage of sustainable transportation solutions and cutting out on flagrant waste. In South Africa, it is about protecting the wildlife, supporting philanthropic efforts in areas of need, conserving the environment and supporting local communities.

“South Africa is a safari superpower with unparalleled natural environments and epic wildlife waiting to be discovered,” says Lisa Nel, general manager of Jumbari Family Safaris. “As one of our biggest selling points, it is pivotal for us to empower local communities and to work together to preserve our delicate ecosystems. World explorers have the choice to travel with a conscience and to book their trips with knowledgeable professionals who advocate for ethical tourism.”

Building an ethical itinerary is no easy feat. It requires thorough research to ensure that every part of the travel experience abides by the principles of ethical tourism and social responsibility. Jumbari Family Safaris work with sustainable properties that use eco-friendly products, grey water systems, solar power energy and that support recycling efforts. Timeless Africa Safaris creates itineraries that help visitors to give back and are also gifted with artworks created by at-risk children while a percentage of all itineraries booked through the company is donated to StopRhinoPoaching. Lodges such as Groothos Private Nature Reserve, Samara Private Game Reserve and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park all subscribe to excellent eco-tourism practices.

“Local and international travellers with an ethical stance are basing their travel destination choices on everything from human rights and equality to improved working conditions and environment issues,” says Dawn Jorgensen, editor of The Incidental Tourist. “Travellers don’t want to be seen supporting controversial countries and feel that social issues are of real importance when choosing where to go.”

Jorgensen predicts that ethical travellers will look for sustainable experiences in their destination choices in the future while accommodation providers will look to reducing their plastic usage and increasing their sustainable credentials. It is a thought process echoed across local and international reports and statistics — travellers want to feel as if they have lived something worthwhile and not just left behind a dark mark that will take centuries to erase. This has led to more than one top 10 list of ethical destinations, all selected for their ability to benefit people and the environment — and South Africa isn’t on any of them.

“If you’re turning a blind eye to exploited communities, leave the air-conditioner on when you leave the room, aren’t carrying a reusable water bottle and think that interacting with wild animals is acceptable, you’re not an ethical or conscious traveller,” concludes Jorgensen. 

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Tamsin Oxford
Tamsin Oxford
I am a professional editor, journalist, blogger, wordsmith, social junkie and writer with over 19 years of experience in both magazine publishing and Public Relations.

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