What Responsible Travel doesn’t promote & why

At Responsible Travel, there are some types of vacations that we do not offer based on our environment or social beliefs – please see below. We also screen every vacation against our criteria for responsible travel.

There are some attractions – such as captive dolphin shows – that we have never promoted, and others that we have removed from our site following discussions with our members and NGOs. Other activities – such as elephant trekking – were real ethical minefields, but again, we spoke with local experts, animal welfare charities and travel companies to help us decide on our stance.

Large group sizes & mass tourism
We typically do not promote group tours with more than 25 people. We believe small group sizes are not only more enjoyable for the traveler, but kinder to local communities and nature.

We do not promote tour operators that leave as little money in the destination as possible. This can include large cruise ships, where all drinks, meals, entertainment and transport are provided through the cruise company, as well as all-inclusive resorts which do not encourage guests to spend money in local restaurants or cafés, hire local guides or pay for taxis or public transport.

This creates a one-way system where tourists are taking from the destination without giving anything back, which does nothing for local livelihoods or environmental protection. In addition, it does nothing for the image of tourists overseas, and does not encourage people to learn anything about the destination they are visiting. This is the opposite of responsible tourism.

Carbon offsetting
We were one of the first travel companies to adopt a carbon offsetting scheme back in 2002. In 2009, we became the first to part ways with it, recognising it was becoming a dangerous distraction to behaviour change.

Over 10 years on, reports have shown that even the top carbon offset schemes have not worked, yet they are still being widely used. We would like to get people talking about carbon reduction rather than offsetting and we therefore do not promote carbon offset schemes anywhere on our site.

Large cruise ships (250+ passengers)
Plenty of laws exist around the world controlling air and water pollution, how waste is disposed of, and how employees are treated. Unfortunately, many of these laws do not exist once you travel far enough away from the shore, which leaves many cruise ships to sail off into a regulation-free sunset.

There are many reasons why we do not promote large cruise ships. For example, a 3,000-passenger cruise ship generates 150,000 gallons of sewage per week, which can be dumped in the ocean untreated if more than three nautical miles from shore. And the lack of applicable employment laws mean that some workers can be forced to work long days on low salaries. Add to this the coral reefs dredged up by anchors, the mangroves destroyed to build immense ports, congestion and overtourism, and the lack of money put back into the destinations, and it all starts to look rather unethical.

Read more here.

Snow cannons
The peak times for ski resorts are during the Christmas and Easter breaks. However, these fall at either end of the snow season in many resorts, especially those at lower altitudes.

With climate change kicking in, the snow season is shorter than ever. Many resorts now use snow cannons to guarantee powder throughout the vacations, but this is environmentally very damaging, particularly due to the vast quantities of water used. Consequently, we only promote resorts that have snow cannons if they can offer other activities in the absence of natural snow.

We prefer to sell tours at a time of year when snowfall is most likely, and to focus on activities such as snow shoeing and cross country skiing that take place in natural environments, with real snow and minimal environmental impact.

Read more here.

Orphanage tourism
Quite simply, we don’t believe that children should ever be treated as tourist attractions – and especially not in the case of vulnerable children, such as orphans.

There are many issues with allowing tourists into orphanages. Most people, when at home, would not dream of taking a photo of an unknown child, and certainly not posting it online – this happens all the time in overseas orphanages. Tourists are not CRB checked, but there may be opportunities for them to be alone with children. These vulnerable children are encouraged to form attachments to people and are then abandoned repeatedly.

And finally, the money from tourism – whether volunteers or day visitors – means children have become a lucrative commodity in some parts of the world (Siem Reap, a town of 100,000 people, has 35 orphanages). Consequently, many of the children are not orphans; rather, their parents have been coerced into giving them up for a “better life”.

Our decision not to promote orphanage tourism came following discussions with volunteering organisations, child protection charities and tour operators. Please see our volunteering with children guidelines.

Note: Some vacation itineraries include a day/short visit to an orphanage/children’s home/community or family setting/youth or drop-in center. We will only promote these if the children are NOT present or involved in the visit, due to the reasons above.

Animal welfare & wildlife tourism
Wildlife is the highlight of many vacations, and we place huge importance on animal welfare where any wildlife is concerned. We continuously conduct research and update our policies and recommendations accordingly. You can access more information on all wildlife issues, together with our up-to-date policies here, and read more below.

Captive animal facilities
In 2017, we drew up new guidelines on captive wildlife facilities, which have been endorsed by the Born Free Foundation. We do not promote zoos or animal parks where the main function is as a tourist attraction, even for volunteer placements which have the aim of improving the welfare animal in these facilities.

We don’t promote anywhere which breeds non-endangered species, which captures animals from the wild, or which buys/trades animals from other zoos, and we don’t promote anywhere which offers animal performances or rides (with the exception of domesticated animals). This also includes places in which visitors can cuddle or take photos with the animals – with the exception of very few sanctuaries where human contact is required as part of the creatures’ on-going care.

We continue to promote genuine wildlife sanctuaries, rescue centers and rehab/release facilities, and places which breed species classified as endangered, even if these are not able to be released. Our trips may also visit aquariums which do not contain large species such as sea turtles, penguins, sea lions, sharks and cetaceans.

For more information and advice on what we do and don't promote where captive animal facilities are concerned, please see here.

Elephant riding, performances & some sanctuaries
In 2014, we removed elephant rides from our site after learning about the brutal “breaking in” process required to subdue the elephants, as well as the fact that the wild capture of Asian elephants to be used in tourism means they are now classified as endangered throughout their range. We also do not promote any sanctuaries or camps where elephants are made to perform.

Read more about which elephant sanctuaries we do and don’t support here.

Captive orcas & dolphins
This is another issue which has hit the limelight, largely following the release of the film Blackfish and the worldwide campaigns that followed, including our own, to shut down captive orca and dolphin facilities.

SeaWorld has since promised to stop breeding orcas and its share value has fallen dramatically as a result of the negative publicity. It is only a matter of time before smaller venues follow suit. One way to speed this process up is for tour operators and travel agents to stop selling tickets to dolphinariums and orca shows – something which we believe will soon be viewed as tasteless as animal performances in circuses.

Walking with lions & interacting with lion or tiger cubs
Another activity sought out by well-meaning volunteers, feeding, cuddling and playing with lion and tiger cubs which have supposedly been rescued is usually a ploy of the canned hunting industry.

Habituated lions are unlikely ever to be released – instead they are sold to canned hunting facilities where they can be shot by trophy hunters for a high fee. Worse, the volunteers have virtually cuddled their fear of humans out of them, making them an even easier target. And tiger cubs in Africa should ring alarm bells regardless: they are not native to any African country.

Sea turtle hatcheries with tanks
Sea turtle hatcheries can play an important role in the conservation of sea turtles, of which six out of the seven species are vulnerable or endangered. However, we do not promote any sea turtle hatcheries which use tanks.

Some hatcheries put the hatchlings in these for a couple of days – or considerably longer – as they claim it makes them stronger before they reach the sea. We have not found any evidence to support this and have in fact discovered that it can weaken the hatchlings, encouraging the spread of diseases and bacteria, and is more often used as a way to draw paying tourists to the site, as they can handle and take photos with the turtles.

Other activities that we do not promote
Ostrich riding
Rodeos & stampedes

Activities that we promote under certain circumstances
Golf, if the course has been GEO Certified™ with the Golf Environment Organization
Downhill skiing

Read more on our views about other tourism issues here.