19 Jul 2022

Responsible tourism

Tales of aberrant social behaviour amongst tourists abroad seem to be multiplying – from the American visitors who threw an e-scooter down the Spanish Steps in Rome, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage, to the everyday tales of rowdiness and drunkenness, skinny dipping and wearing swimwear in restaurants.

The difficulties seem to be most acute when it comes to flying. We’re all aware of the chaos and cancellations that have benighted the summer tourist season all over Europe, so it is quite probable that travellers are already feeling frazzled and over-emotional when they board the plane and these feelings are compounded by a liberal intake of alcohol from the drinks trolley. Mask mandates on airlines are becoming increasingly hard to enforce, and there have been scenes of violent disorder and disturbance on some aeroplanes where hotheaded holidaymakers have taken objection to the airlines’ policy and have had no compunction about protesting and disrupting the flight. All this before they even arrive at their holiday destinations…

Clearly people see holidays as a chance to let their hair down and behave with uninhibited abandon, ignoring cultural expectations and local rules and regulations. This tendency has become more acute since the pandemic – many of us haven’t had a holiday for more than two years, and we have spent much of that time in a strangely reduced world, where our social contacts and obligations have been forcibly curtailed. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that we have forgotten how to behave in tourist hotspots, and are easily swept along by a dizzy sense of excitement and newfound freedom. The anonymity of being in a foreign land, well away from the restraining influence of home where our behaviour is monitored by friends, family and neighbours, can lead us to behave in ways that are entirely out of character.

Because, for many of us, the last two years have been fraught with difficulties, stress and heartache, we feel that we are now fully entitled to have a really good time, whatever the cost. This dubious sense of entitlement is problematic, as it blinds us to the fact that we may well be transgressing social norms in our holiday destinations, and causing offence to our hosts.

It is surely not too much to ask that we respect our hosts, moderate our behaviour and do our best not to treat foreign destinations as inviting playgrounds where nothing is off-limits. Nobody wants to end their long-awaited holiday being treated as a social pariah, or even being forced to pay fines for unruly behaviour or criminal damage. To avoid this unpleasant fate, follow our simple steps to becoming a responsible tourist:

How to Be a Responsible Tourist

• Check local laws and customs before you travel, to ensure that you do not unwittingly transgress local norms. Remember these may cover a wide range, from appropriate dress to table manners and behaviour in places of worship. (Find out more here)

• Demonstrate your willingness to respect local life and culture by learning a few phrases in the local language – you should certainly learn basics like “Good morning”, “please” and “thank you”. Do not assume everybody can speak English, and always politely ask locals if they speak English before you address them in your own language.

• Embrace the host culture by trying local food and drinks. Approach everything with an open-minded and positive spirit, ask for recommendations, and always show your gratitude and appreciation.

• If you are enjoying a beach holiday, always remember that there are many local people who live and work in the vicinity of your tourist resort. They may well be offended if you turn up in beachwear, or bare-chested and barefoot, in places such as banks, local supermarkets or non-seaside bars and restaurants.

• Visiting a foreign country is always an eye-opening experience and it is great fun to explore, especially if you venture beyond the well-worn tourist attractions. But don’t let your sense of curiosity lead you into unwittingly trespassing on private property. Be reticent about venturing into places that are not obviously open to the public, and always ask a local first.

• One of the great attractions of foreign holidays is the rich legacy of ancient sites and historic architecture that is on offer. Always treat antiquities with respect: follow instructions from custodians, don’t stray into roped-off areas, obey signs about photography and picnicking, never leave litter.

• There are some places you can visit where your hosts will encourage pure hedonism, ply you with ridiculously strong drinks, invite you to all-night parties, applaud your drunken antics and even tend your hangover the following morning. That is their choice. But in the vast majority of destinations, rowdiness and drunkenness are at best grudgingly tolerated. So think carefully before you book, and choose a resort that is well-aligned with your holiday aspirations. That way, neither you or your hosts will be disappointed.

• Keep a sense of perspective, and try and be as flexible and accommodating as possible. Things will inevitably go wrong – there will be cancellations or transport delays, mix-ups over hotel rooms or arguments over car hire. Do your best to maintain a calm and friendly demeanour – you’re a guest in a foreign country, so make sure you’re a good one.

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