Can responsible tourism change our attitude to strangers for the better?
Justin Francis - Responsible Travel CEO & co-founder
Mark Twain wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Whatever your views on the referendum, since the Brexit vote there has been an increased climate of fear in the UK. It seems that when faced with strangers – be these EU politicians, immigrants, or voters with opposing views – the UK is getting very fearful. It leads me to ask – is our attitude to strangers changing in a healthy way?
What we see now is a debate between those of us who see an EU politician, immigrant, local person, tourist or someone different to us in a positive, tolerant way, versus those who react with more fear of the unknown. This looks set to continue for some time, both here in the UK and around the world.
For those of us working in travel our business is in bringing strangers together, and with the summer vacations upon us and Brexit-based discussions on intolerance ringing in our ears, now seems like a good time to re-evaluate our attitude to strangers at home and abroad.
For some people meeting strangers, often with different languages and ways of life is very exciting, and the essence of travel, for others it’s quite naturally a little scary. How we choose to manage this - whether you are an experienced traveler, like me, heading to Kenya to be hosted by the Maasai on safari, or a young family on your way to Spain for the first time – is more important than how much cash we have or what type of vacation we book.
What excites me about responsible tourism is that no matter what type of vacation we choose it brings people together in a fair and respectful way. Through responsible tourism we have the power to create positive, optimistic opportunities to counter a growing climate of mistrust around the world.
Regardless of the type of vacation we choose or can afford, as Westerners we often have the habit of thinking we know best, that our ways of doing things and our focus on being on time are universal. We learn little traveling this way. Travelers who instead develop the habit of asking questions, being open minded, curious and respectful find it’s reciprocated and their vacation is enriched.
So we've re-launched our site, and have renewed our efforts to popularise responsible tourism. We recognise the role tourism can play in fostering understanding between people of different cultures and backgrounds. We are upping our game and so too must everyone who believes in a tolerant world when every stranger is a potential friend and ally.