Responsible tourism in Sri Lanka is not a new concept. Since at least fifteen years, many grassroots organisations and small local tour operators have been involved in creating meaningful experiences for international travellers that can also benefit the local communities.
But what is exactly Responsible and Sustainable Tourism?
According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Responsible and Sustainable Tourism is
The World Tourism Organisation also reminds that, when travelling to another country, you have to take into consideration three very important things:
- Make optimal use of environmental resources, as they constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
- Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.
- Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.
Are you a real Responsible Traveller in Sri Lanka?
Below we give you some tips on how to be a better ethical and more responsible traveller:
1. RESPECT SRI LANKA'S AMAZING BIODIVERSITY
Remember that Sri Lanka is a country with one of the highest biodiversities in the world. Therefore, items made of ivory, turtle, local coral based products, antique items and other bio-diversity associated produce should not be bought or sold. Moreover, Sri Lankans do not hunt or kill animals as game. Since first ever wildlife sanctuary was declared by the Sri Lankan king Dewanampiyathissa at Mihintale, in the 3rd century B.C, Sri Lankans have been sensitized to the need to preserve wildlife and nature.
2. CHOOSE A RESPONSIBLE SAFARI OPERATOR
Visiting wildlife parks must be done according to guidelines provided by the wildlife conservation authorities. When inside the parks extreme care must be exercised to protect the wildlife, the environment and yourself. Do not litter inside the parks, throw anything that may cause forest fires or make loud noises that will disturb the animals and natural environment.
3. HELPING LOCAL PEOPLE IN NEED IS GOOD, BUT USE ALSO COMMON SENSE
It is ok to give donations to religious or social organisations that serve communities. Before you do that, please check the credentials of the organisation or place you are donating to with the relevant authorities or ask us for advice. We have a list of serious organisations that work in different topics and issues in Sri Lanka.
Please AVOID giving money or other materials (such as pens, chocolate, sweets etc. to the children) to the families or individuals, as it is not a sustainable practice (charity vs. development) and it is not people's pride. We work closely with local and international non-profit organisations that know how to manage donations through the community development strategy and benefit the communities and families who are really in need.
4. BE AWARE OF CULTURAL DIFFERENCES, ESPECIALLY IN SMALL VILLAGES
Remember that you are here to enjoy your holiday, but you are also a guest in this country. Keep in mind your dress code, especially in small isolated villages far from tourist resorts. In these cases, women in remoted villages should always wear ¾ trekking trousers and t-shirts with sleeves that don’t show their shoulders. Smoking is not well seen among village people, especially for women. Please try to avoid smoking in public areas of the village. Nudism and topless is not an accepted practice. Nude bathing or topless sunbathing in public places is a NO rule. Rural Sri Lankan men wear a loin cloth or a sarong when bathing, while the women also wear a sarong or a cloth covering the body from chest to knees.
5. WHENEVER IS POSSIBLE, PREFER LOCAL ORGANIC FOOD
When at facility, ask if the vegetables and fruits used to prepare the food are grown organically and if the water they serve is boiled. It is good to encourage them to have these practices and show them the merits. In Sri Lanka, not only small guest houses, but also some luxury hotel chains are taking this matter very seriously and sourcing their food from smallholder farmers, in order to encourage local production and chemical-free produce.
6. UNDERSTAND SRI LANKA’S AMAZING RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY
Sri Lanka has many different ethnic groups (Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Burghers, native Veddhas), as well as an amazing religious diversity (Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians) that makes this country unique and rich. Try to know this beautiful diversity by visiting different religious places and mixed regions. Remember though that visits to temples and other religious places must be done with much care and respect. You are expected to remove your shoes and hats when entering places of worship and be dressed in long dresses that cover most of your body. White is the widely used colour in Buddhist Temples. Other not so bright tones of colour dresses are ok too. The best is to observe the behaviour of the local people or get a briefing from your interpreter/guide on what the best practices are. Some places of religious importance and/or cultural sites do not allow photography or videography. Best is to ask or refer the signage before deciding to take pictures at these places. Remember NEVER to take a picture of yourself by giving your back to a sacred statue (Buddha or other divinity in a Temple).
7. TRAVEL AS A LOCAL
Even if you are on a guided tour, ask your local guide and driver to make you enjoy a local village experience, a lunch with a family, a drive on a tuktuk or a journey on a local train. The experience will be much more meaningful and you will be able to better understand the life of local people, even if it is only for a very short vacation.
8. TRY TO ENCOURAGE LOCAL BUSINESSES INSTEAD OF DONATING MONEY
Whenever is possible, avoid giving money or donations to people: rather buy their products, as this practice strengthens local economies and small businesses.
Get out from your hotel and resort, try local restaurants and shops, buy spices and fruits from small farmers and handicrafts from local artists. These kinds of practices have a much longer impact on people’s lives than a cash donation.
We hope that these practical tips will be helpful to better understand this beautiful country.
If you have any doubts, ask us and we will be happy to help craft a great Responsible holiday!