Ethical Travelling in a Covid World

A beautiful view over the ruins of Machu Picchu

It is vital that tourism is given a clear path to recovery, particularly for developing nations. However, ethical travelling is equally as important – visitors must be sensitive to the new demands, pitfalls, and intricacies now present in the communities they travel to.

I recently took an online trip to the seven “New Wonders of the World”, triggered by a nostalgia for the travel I used to do prior to the advent of Covid. It struck me that all of the countries where these wonders are located have been significantly affected by the virus. Peru (Machu Picchu), Brazil (Christ the Redeemer), Italy (Colosseum), Mexico (Chichen Itza), and Jordan (Petra) all have seen death rates of over 1% of those infected in the population, according to Worldometers. Meanwhile, India (Taj Mahal) has also suffered hugely, and China (Great Wall) was the epicentre of the original outbreak.

Aside from the obvious direct human cost, the economic impact has been horrendous too (as will be knock-on health and social effects that will inevitably follow). For example, according to the Peruvian government tourist bureau in Cusco in January 2021, Covid has been devastating for the local population. An estimated 92% of those previously employed in the tourist industry having lost their jobs. These include families providing homestays, women’s collectives weaving ponchos and other textiles, and native guides. Prior to Covid-19, community-focused travel such as this, was on the rise, and we must, with the resumption of tourism, shine the spotlight on ethical travelling once again.

In Mexico, where 11 million people rely on tourism for their livelihoods, it is a similar story. The slump in visitor numbers combined with little or no government support has seen many slip into unemployment and poverty. Further afield, entrance ticket sales to international tourists to Angkor Wat fell 97% over the past year. An estimated 51,000 tourist jobs (and nearly 3,000 local businesses) have been lost during the pandemic, according to the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism.  

Ethical travelling requires sympathy to those who have suffer huge losses thanks to the pandemic.
The pandemic has had devastating effects on every level of tourism, such as this women’s collective, which weaves ponchos

Tourism’s Recovery – a sensitive balance

From an ethical perspective, what can and should an overseas traveller do to help people faced with such economic devastation in developing countries? As border restrictions are eased, and vaccine roll outs reach deeper into the population, this question has been puzzling me (in my case I live in the UK). Communities desperately short of tourist income may be very keen to welcome international visitors. For tourist enterprises on the brink of bankruptcy and families facing hardship, the opportunity to relaunch shuttered businesses may be welcome, allowing people to earn revenue once more.  

However, sensitivity is needed, since some communities may also be grieving Covid’s impact.  Although they might welcome economic support, compassion for their potential recent trauma is appropriate as well. Holidays are typically a time for joyful relaxation, but it would be worth tempering some behaviours to respect local sentiments. Furthermore, locals may be fearful of future outbreaks of the virus and the impact of these. Tourists fleeing various restrictions back home could endear themselves by ensuring they comply with those in place at their destination. There is a need for the tourist to take personal responsibility for their compliance to local rules, such as mask mandates and social distancing. Ethical travelling starts with the traveller.

SafeScore can help travellers make informed decisions about when are where to go, based on up-to-date, accurate Covid data.  However, tourists can also benefit from conversations with local travel agents and guides to understand what is “appropriate tourism” in this complex time.

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