Ethical Travel

TripAdvisor’s recent announcement that it will no longer sell tickets to attractions that involve close contact with wild animals via it’s partner site Viator once again raises the issue of ethical travel and holidays. As a result we wanted to think about some of the questions we might consider when planning a holiday.


We all like to think that we are “travellers rather than tourists”, but deep down I think we know that we are doing is good old fashioned tourism. There is nothing wrong with that. Communities around the world can benefit from the money we bring to them and the exposure to different cultures they get from interacting with us.


Do you respect people’s culture when you travel? Is tourism sustaining local crafts or destroying people’s peace and way of life? Tourism can be a force for good. Tourism employs many people, thereby increasing prosperity. It can also sustain traditional crafts as tourists are often more interested in buying these than locals.

You can learn about different cultures and become more understanding of people with different background from yours. But it takes effort to respect people’s culture.

Luang Prabang, Laos, monks collecting alms

Do not take photos when it is inappropriate. Wouldn’t it be strange if strangers took photos of you going about your daily life? Do not disrupt religious and cultural ceremonies for the sake of getting closer to the action or getting that perfect shot.

You might even get into trouble with the law, like the students who were arrested after stripping naked for a selfie on Mount Kinabalu.


Do not give to beggars, especially not begging children. These may not be the poorest members of society and may be exploited by criminals.

Instead, stay in lodges and homestays that give employment to local people where employment options are scarce. Tip for good service. If appropriate, donate stationary and school aids to local schools.

The launch of the PEP Academy at Muzomuhle School in Umlazi, March 15, 2010. Picture by Rogan Ward
The launch of the PEP Academy at Muzomuhle School in Umlazi, March 15, 2010. Picture by Rogan Ward


Travelling to far flung places is not good for your carbon footprint. You might want to compensate a bit while you are there: rent a bicycle, eat locally grown food.

At the same time without long-haul flights, there would be no eco tourism. Local people would have no financial incentive not to destroy their natural environments, only logging and farming would pay.

As all the news around TripAdvisor taught us, avoid attractions that cause distress to animals. Also avoid attractions where wild animals’ behaviour patterns are manipulated in harmful ways, for example the feeding of whale sharks so they interrupt their migrations and hang around for tourists.

Instead, visit one of the many animal sanctuaries that help to rehabilitate orphaned or maltreated animals, like the Orangutan sanctuary in Sepilok, Malaysia or one of the elephant rescue centres in Northern Thailand.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, Borneo, Malaysia
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, Borneo, Malaysia