What Is Responsible Tourism?

The responsible tourism concept was formulated by Claus-Dieter Hetzer in 1965 and focused on the seven principles that were later defined by the Declaration of Cape Town, 2002:

  • minimize negative economic, environmental, and social impacts;
  • generate greater economic benefits for local people and enhance the well-being of host communities, improve working conditions and access to the industry;
  • involve local people in decisions that affect their lives and opportunities for development;
  • make positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;
  • provide more enjoyable experiences for visitors through more meaningful connections with the host community, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
  • provide access for physically challenged people;
  • be culturally sensitive, engender respect between visitors and the host community, and builds local pride and confidence (Goodwin 1).

In other words responsible tourism is about fostering sustainable growth through tourism, and improving the social and economic conditions of a specific place both for visitors and the host community. Many countries are adopting this concept into their national policy, South Africa being the first to do so in 1996. The mid-nineties campaign has been growing rapidly, leading to the Cape Town Declaration, as well as the World Travel Market’s official adoption of this definition.

What are the positive and negative impacts of tourism?

Tourism has both negative and positive impacts on a destination, but traveling responsibly is a question of how to mitigate negative impacts and take advantage of the opportunities tourism can provide.

Economic impact has been at the forefront of the discussion of tourism for many years, given that it is the easiest to quantify and measure, and has shed an optimistic light on tourism. However, the economic benefits of tourism, inherently attracted to “unique and fragile environments and societies”, may be offset by the adverse environmental and social costs (Archer, 2005: 79).

Economic impact

“International tourism is an invisible export in that it creates a flow of foreign currency into the economy of a destination country, thereby contributing directly to the current account of the balance of payments” (82). The flow doesn’t stop here but instead the money received directly by the business establishments, individuals, and government agencies is respent. Oftentimes this second indirect impact can be considerably more important than the initial direct effects of spending.

Tourism is a very effective means by which to generate employment and income in less developed, often peripheral destinations, especially where alternatives for development are limited (82). In many of these places local people are subsistence farmers or fisherman whose income can be substantially supplemented when they become involved in tourism. Tourism can also monetarily encourage the growth of local crafts and local food products. Development of these markets, as well as infrastructure to support tourism influxes, is beneficial for visitors and the local population.

Given these aspects, the economic impacts of tourism have an optimistic spin, but this is where “carrying capacity” comes in. As tourism grows, so does demand. When resources become scarce (land in particular), prices rise, and local business owners, farmers, etc. are forced to sell. Market forces do not ensure that development keeps pace with demand, and there is a need for realistic planning and preemptive protection. When local businesses can no longer keep up with the competition, larger international companies buy in. Tourism leakage is the phenomenon that occurs when money spent by tourists bypasses the local economy and ends up in another country's economy. While countries that are more highly developed such as Italy tend to experience this phenomenon to a lesser extent, it is important everywhere we visit that we stay small and stay local, to prevent leakage period. 

Political Impact

The increasing popularity of tourism between developed and developing countries is bringing together in direct contact people from widely different backgrounds, lifestyle, and income (85). While this can have a very positive impact on international relationships and cultural understanding, it can also lead to political stresses, misunderstandings, and even distrust. In extreme cases, international tourism has encouraged a form of “neo-colonial” development on developing nations (85). What is neo-colonialism? It is when power is taken from local and regional levels and assumed by multinational companies who negotiate at a national level. At this upper-level, positions are often occupied by non-local people, creating an obvious division that fosters resentment in international relationships, sometimes caused by explicit or implicit discrimination.

Socio=cultural Impact

“When the cultural distinctions between the residents and tourists from more prosperous countries and regions are strongly marked, local culture and customs may be exploited to satisfy the visitor, sometimes at the expense of local pride and dignity” (88).

It’s important to note that many tourists easily recognize this exploitation and thus look for more “authentic” experiences, putting the preservation of cultures at risk and potentially intensifying hostility between host and guest when cultural norms are disregarded or misunderstood. Again, carrying capacity plays a large role in how tourism is received - there is a strong correlation between tourism density and the growth of local resentment toward tourism, most obviously seen in overcrowding (90). Overcrowding reduces the value of an experience for the visitor, creating additional strain on the resident population. For example, nearly half of the Mediterranean coastline has been acquired by resorts with restricted use to their visitors, thus denying local public access.

What is carrying capacity? Carrying capacity plays an inextricable role in the relationship between visitor and resource. It is “the point beyond which further levels of visitation or development would lead to an unacceptable deterioration in the physical environment and of the visitor’s experience” (81).

Environmental & Ecological impact

The carrying capacity of a destination defines how many people can enjoy that place (resident and guest) without destruction and depletion of natural resources, spatially and temporally. But environmental and ecological impacts of tourism also include development, environmental planning, and management practices adopted after development has occurred. Natural landscapes have been changed to meet the needs perceived by the visitors, such as diverting water for golf courses, depleting forests for ski slopes, and draining marshlands to create tourist marinas, to name a few (92).

What we can do

The solution is by no means simple, but the emergence of sustainable and responsible practices should give the avid traveler hope. More and more, policymakers and planners are realizing the longer-term social, economic and environmental consequences of mass tourism, and are integrating three important questions into their planning:

  • How many visitors does the resident population wish to attract?
  • What is the physical, social, and environmental carrying capacity of the destination?
  • How can visitors enhance the well-being of the residents? (98)

Moreover, businesses have the capacity to affect this conversation, in good and bad ways, but it is the customer who ultimately holds the reins. Oftentimes, your dollar is your voice, which is why PYMWYMI aims to be as transparent as possible and open to constructive criticism. At PYMWYMI, we do our best to follow the responsible tourism principles, by enacting the following:

  • Invest in local and young businesses in the Southern Italian region
  • Encourage the participation of local people at the forefront of decision making
  • Seek out environmentally sustainable businesses
  • Limit our tours to groups of 10 to 15 people
  • Conduct thorough research to gain insight on how to give our customers a meaningful connection to the land, people, and culture of the destinations

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, concerns, or comments. We welcome conversations that make us more responsible visitors to host communities everywhere! You can find our contact information here.



Archer, B. "The Positive and Negative Impacts of Tourism." Global Tourism(2005): 79-102. Web.