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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 5, 2006

A code of ethics for tourists

By Irene Croft Jr.

All of us who love to travel have had to contend with the old stereotype of "The Ugly American," that boorish lout who treads thoughtlessly on the pride and dignity and environment of denizens of other lands.

The counterpoint to this is the responsible traveler who adopts and projects appropriate conduct and attitudes when visiting foreign soil.

We are not talking of odious "PC" (politically correct) postures but of embracing a code of ethics that will further the conservation of our world's precious natural and cultural resources and that will promote a traveler's sensitivity toward peoples of other lands.

Top international tourism officials have proposed that travelers and host countries adopt a bill of reciprocal rights known as an "Eco-tourism Manifesto." In this, the traveler would pledge to respect local customs and observe local rules of etiquette, behavior and dress. He would be mindful of the land and water and refrain from damaging or littering these resources. When in a habitat, he would wear appropriate colors, speak in low tones and remain at discreet distances so as not to disturb the wildlife.

A responsible traveler would keep an open attitude toward local mores, sharing and exchanging cross-cultural ideas. He would make an effort to contribute to the well-being of the host country by donating to its established institutions promoting conservation. And he would continue to express his concern upon returning home by not supporting industries that willfully harm ecological systems, decimate wildlife and disrupt human populations.

In a reciprocal pledge under the Eco-tourism Manifesto, the government and tourism authorities of the host country would pledge to provide the necessary infrastructure and trained personnel to make the best destinations within the country easily accessible, understandable and enjoyable. They would establish the machinery for protecting the country's ecology, natural resources and wildlife. They would prevent tourist concessions from overtaking and ruining natural attractions and developed sites. They would set rigid standards and codes of quality for tourist services and accommodations and institute procedures for monitoring and enforcement. They would work with transportation companies to make travel safe, comfortable and convenient. And, they would ease the red tape and complications of secure entry into and departure from the country.

Personal guidelines for responsible tourism, particularly in Third World countries, were formulated by the Center for Responsible Tourism (www .icrtourism.org).


1. Travel in a spirit of humility and with a genuine desire to learn more about the people of your host country. Be sensitive to the feelings of other people, thus preventing what might be offensive behavior on your part. This applies very much to photography.

2. Cultivate the habit of listening and observing, rather than merely hearing and seeing.

3. Realize that often the people in the country you visit have time concepts and thought patterns different from your own. This does not make them inferior, only different.

4. Instead of looking for that beach paradise, discover the enrichment of seeing a different way of life through other eyes.

5. Acquaint yourself with local customs. What is courteous in one country may be quite the reverse in another. People will be happy to help you.

6. Instead of the western practice of knowing all the answers, cultivate the habit of asking questions.

7. Remember that you are only one of thousands of tourists visiting this country and do not expect special privileges.

8. If you really want your experience to be a home away from home, it is foolish to waste money on traveling.

9. When you are shopping, remember that bargain you obtained was possible only because of the low wages paid to the maker.

10. Do not make promises to people in your host country unless you can fulfill them.

11. Spend time reflecting on your daily experience in an attempt to deepen your understanding.

These guidelines were expanded into the formal Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2001. The Global Code comprises a "comprehensive set of principles whose purpose is to guide stakeholders in tourism development: central and local governments, local communities, the tourism industry and its professionals, as well as visitors, both international and domestic."

Irene Croft Jr. of Kailua, Kona, is a travel writer and 40-year globetrotter. Her column is published in this section every other week.

Reach Irene Croft Jr. at (unknown address).