Tourism has the power to bring
jobs and economic development to popular destinations, but how should travellers
decide where to spend their money? Are some countries more deserving of visitors’
dollars than others?
That’s the idea behind the 10-destination list put
together by San Francisco-based non-profit Ethical Traveler, which, since 2006,
has published an annual guide to the World’s
Best Ethical Destinations in the developing
“Instead of punishing countries for doing bad things,”
said Jeff Greenwald, executive director of Ethical Traveler, “we’re trying to
offer a carrot, rewarding countries in the developing world that are really
trying to do the right thing.”
And travellers, who Greenwald describes as
“a vast and pretty much un-united political action group”, can also reward
ethical countries – or at least those improving and moving in the right
direction – by spending their time and money there.
So which countries are the most ethical? For
winners are Barbados, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Ghana, Latvia, Lithuania,
Mauritius, Palau, Samoa and Uruguay. Those 10 countries scored highest in three
main areas: social welfare (measured by indicators such as child mortality
rates, economic freedom and crime rates); environmental protection (measured by
an academic index and share of protected areas); and human rights (which includes
press and political freedoms, as well as gay rights).
Greenwald explained that countries must
have a good tourism infrastructure to make the list, but the non-profit also
uses the list to promote some under-visited places that can be a role model for
other countries in their region. For example, Latvia earned
high marks for improving
its environmental efforts and strong human rights record, and the country’s parks
and nature reserves make for a great off-the-beaten-path ecotourism trip. Gauja National Park,
with hiking, biking and canoeing, and the architecture-rich capital, Riga, are
a few of the Baltic country’s highlights.
In addition to just visiting these countries, travellers
should aim to spend their money in locally-owned businesses, Greenwald said, to
ensure their financial support stays in the country they’re visiting. However, that
requires a well-managed tourism infrastructure – something that countries with
poor track records in areas like child mortality and sanitation might not have.
While one could argue those places need the money even more, tourism can put a
strain on countries that face such challenges.
“They need help from other sources, and when tourism
is strong and can be an asset as opposed to a liability, then travellers can
visit,” Greenwald explained.
Erica Avrami, research and education
director at the World Monuments Fund
(WMF) agreed that countries need to be properly
equipped so the influx of travellers does not overwhelm local communities or
heritage sites. WMF works to preserve cultural heritage sites that run the risk
of being damaged
by poorly managed tourism.
But while Avrami said that a
list of ethical destinations is “a wonderful idea”, the idea of being ethical
goes both ways. “There’s also a certain responsibility on the part of the
traveller to make sure their own footprint is as minimal as possible,” she said.
Lori Robertson writes
the ethical traveller column for BBC Travel. You can send ethical dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org.