Travelers tend to be disconnected from those foundational building blocks that drew them to a certain destination in the first place.
By definition, travelers arrive in a destination and then depart it. They are not members of a community, nor are they invested in the infrastructure and amenities that local people want and need, such as schools and health clinics. Travelers aren’t necessarily concerned about long-term municipal issues like property taxes or environmental challenges like waste management, and they aren’t directly impacted by how a specific place evolves over time.
Simply put, travelers tend to be disconnected from those foundational building blocks that drew them to a certain destination in the first place.
This isn’t travelers’ fault; this is just the way travel is. People come, and people go.
More people seem to be waking up to the consequences of this transient movement. The result has been a push toward “slow” travel, kicking the bucket list, making travelers aware of their particular impacts on destinations, and placing more intentionality behind the activities travelers participate in and the way these activities are communicated.
What It Means to “Give Back”
Among the many ways that the tourism industry is attempting to change course from its extractive and exploitative model is by offering ways for travelers to “give back” to the places they visit.
Of course, there’s no easy solution for any challenge. This is the case with “giving back” in the tourism context. “Giving back” is increasingly common terminology used in the tourism industry, but, like many concepts, it’s worth peeling back the layers of what that means and why that matters.
- The lack of a clear and shared definition makes the concept of “giving back” challenging. That challenge is compounded when the definition differs among every tour company and the travelers they serve.
Like authenticity, “giving back” can be defined in a lot of different ways. It might include aspects of voluntourism, which can be deeply problematic. It might encompass economic, environmental, and/or social benefits for the local community. It might look like a hands-on activity or it might mean that a tour company makes a monetary donation on behalf of each traveler.
- Lack of clarity about what it means to “give back” means that no one is held accountable for it. There is no way to measure that which is not clearly defined, whether that impact is positive or negative.
Specificity about who benefits and how provides far more clarity than simply noting that tourists can “give back” when traveling. It also forces service providers to do the hard work of holding themselves accountable for how they impact the places in which they operate.
- “Giving back” implicitly makes people feel good. Who doesn’t like the idea that, when they travel, they can leave a trail of good deeds in their wake? But this kind of messaging centers travelers as saviors of the places they visit: A destination is better because they made it better.
Lack of a clear definition obscures whether local communities have been involved in defining what “giving back” in the tourism context looks like.
This is an excerpt from an article by JoAnna Haugen originally published by Rooted Storytelling.