Responsible travel is often associated with less comfortable holidays and low-service level (e.g. backpackers) travelling. From environmental point of view, on a very high level, it is more or less the case: the simplest way you travel (and live) the least effect you have on the (natural) environment. But responsible travel is about much more than solely considering the environmental effects. As tourism in general have a multidimensional impact, the concept of responsible tourism takes – at the same time – several aspects into account as well. The most important ones – i.e. environmental, social and economical effects (the same as for sustainability) – are regarded as the pillars of responsible tourism, and these pillars should be reflected in all responsible tourism acts and initiatives.
As such, travelling responsibly does not only mean to take care of the environment when you are on road, but to “respect the host’s natural, built and cultural environments and the interests of all parties concerned” [1].

According to the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism [2] the most important characteristics and guiding principles of responsible tourism concept – with regard to the three pillars of sustainability – are as follows:

Environmental responsibility:

  • ensures that negative impacts are reduced to the minimum and positive ones are maximised (based on life-cycle assessment of environmental impacts);
  • uses resources sustainably as well as reduces waste and over-consumption;
  • manages natural diversity sustainably and where appropriate helps to restore it;
  • considers the volume and type of tourism that the environment can support;
  • respects the integrity of vulnerable ecosystems and protected areas;
  • promotes education and awareness for sustainable development – for all stakeholders involved;
    ensures that best practices are followed.

Social responsibility:

  • actively involves the local community in planning and decision-making;
  • minimises negative impacts and maximises positive ones (based on life-cycle assessment of social impacts);
  • endeavours to make tourism an inclusive social experience and to ensure that there is access for all, in particular vulnerable and disadvantaged communities and individuals (e.g. physically challenged people);
  • combats the sexual exploitation of human beings, particularly the exploitation of children;
  • is sensitive to the host culture, maintaining and encouraging social and cultural diversity;
  • endeavours to ensure that tourism contributes to improvements in health and education.

Economical responsibility:

  • ensures that local communities benefit from development and investments and negative impacts of those are minimised on local livelihoods (for example through loss of access to resources);
  • maximises local economic benefits by ensuring that communities are involved in and benefit from tourism, and wherever possible tourism should be used to assist in poverty reduction;
  • provides offers that include quality products that reflect, complement and enhance the destination;
  • markets travelling in ways which reflect the natural, cultural and social integrity of the destination and which encourage appropriate forms of tourism;
  • adopts equitable and fair business practices, i.e. pays and charges fair prices, builds partnerships in which risks are minimised and shared, recruits and employs staff recognising international labour standards;
  • provides appropriate and sufficient support to small, medium and micro enterprises to ensure that tourism-related enterprises thrive and are sustainable.


[1] Smith

[2] Declared by the participants of the Cape Town Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations that was organised as a side event preceding the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.