While South Africans are by no means in the same league as other international tourists, we can all do our part in creating a more sustainable tourism culture that not only benefits the economy, but the environment too.
South Africa is a must for tourists. We have the sea, the mountains, the winelands, the desert; we have an abundance of unique plant life and we have the Big Five. We have it all and for many of us, it’s right in our back yard. However, with so many places to choose from, we often forget our responsibility and the important role we play as tourists and ‘freelance’ tourist guides for overseas visitors in creating a healthy tourism culture.
How you can be a responsible tourist:
- Do your research
Support establishments that are registered with accredited organisations such as PAAZA (Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria) and SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute). These organisations work hard to ensure best practices, the humane treatment of animals and conservation.
- Take a mental picture
A photo is worth a thousand words and many establishments encourage visitors to take photos, but these only serve as reminders. If you do have the opportunity to interact with wild animals, take a moment and mindfully just observe instead of rushing to take a photo. While we’re sure your Instagram community will double tap that selfie, it’s important to remember that you are the guest and not the main attraction.
- Pay attention to rules and use sound judgement
Remember that cameras are unfamiliar objects to wild animals, so be careful of how up close and personal you get and pay attention to the instructions of guides when entering interaction facilities, camps and parks. A bit of common sense here will serve you well. Never get out of your car and keep the windows closed at all times when entering camps. It also goes without saying that you never, ever uproot plants from national parks or carve your name into a tree or stone!
- Pay your dues
This is always a tricky one. Tourists don’t want to get ripped off, but there has to be some compromise. For instance, entrance to the Lion & Safari Park is completely free and visitors only have to pay for their activities, such as the safaris and animal interactions. Earnings are used to care for animals, pay staff and keep the facilities in the best possible condition. Look out for discounted rates for seasons, small children and seniors wherever you go.
- Be curious
You pay good money to be there, so make the most of it and ask tour operators and guides as many questions as you can. It’s always better than just making your own assumptions and you might even walk away learning something new and squashing a few misconceptions.
The Internet is an amazing tool that gives tourists the opportunity to share their experiences and voice their concerns, should they have any. Facebook and Tripadvisor are two fantastic platforms that allow tourists to discover and review tourist destinations.
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Source and image: Lion & Safari Park.