Respect the Tourism Environment
After sharing Backyard Tourism, how we should go back to basics and explore tourism within our communities it’s important to share important tips for travel to make trips more enriching and more importantly highlight how one can be a better tourist. The question is how mindful are we of our surroundings when we travel?
Often when we move into new surroundings, there’s an element of anonymity which gets us excited. The saying “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” started on the backdrop of this. It brings with it freedom that is often reckless. As a younger traveller, I remember visiting the Spanish steps in Rome, Italy. I was not travelling with my parents, and I decided not only to cut my braids shorter but also to get different coloured braids. I’m talking of red, pink and yellow braids. Something I would never have done, or would have been able to do if I was with them. It was so exciting, because I felt like I was out of sight. I could do whatever I wanted. All until I landed at Robert Gabriel International Airport and as I walked down the stairs out of the plane I started thinking of different reasons to give my parents explaining why my hair was now shorter and had different colours, who had done it, where, how and why.
The oblivion I had when I travelled to Italy is the same many travellers have when they travel away from home. As travellers, we often forget that the environments we are moving in were in existence before us. We need to have respect for the environments we enter. Sometimes we feel like we are the greatest thing that has come into that environment and end up doing more damage with our visit than good.
Respect for the environment
Over the past years, the Environmental Agency of Zimbabwe along with the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality have sought various ways to keep the environment free from pollution. From signs, fines to clean ups but still we have not mastered that litter goes into the bin. If there are no bins around, please carry your litter with you until you find a bin. And please, please do not throw things out of the window. Tour operators carrying groups must make sure that they have bins in their vehicles and educate their customers on the importance of throwing their litter into the bin. Animals or water life can be seriously damaged by eating some of the litter thrown away carelessly. Over that past couple of weeks, it has been interesting to read the positive effects that lack of pollution have had on the environment globally.
Pollution can also come in the form of noise. There’s no harm in having a bit of fun dancing and celebrating whilst on a road trip but blasting of radios and music has time and place. Particularly when travelling as a group. As much as you are having fun and enjoying yourself, there are people in and around the community you are in just trying to go about their daily lives. Italy has got some of the most beautiful cathedrals, and though they are open to the public, there are people worshipping in those places. So imagine how disruptive a noisy visit could be. Bringing it closer to home, the Heroes Acre is an incredible historical site and it’s also a graveyard. It’s very possible that you could bump into a family paying their respects whilst visiting. Respect the people mourning or grieving and respect that they have boundaries too and they may not want to talk to you or be seen or recognized and that is okay.
Don’t take anything from the environment or add things that take away the sentiment of the environment for the next person. Imagine the effect travellers would have on Great Zimbabwe, if each visitor felt they were entitled to carry a stone back home with them from the monument as a souvenir. In Victoria Falls, people have been forced to respect the environment; they have had to put a fence around the big tree because of the amount of graffiti on the tree. As the old cliché goes, take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints.
Respect for culture!
It’s particularly important to respect local people and their beliefs. Take time to find out the culture of the people before you go. When you visit Kariba, you will be told the story of the Nyami-nyami river god. The Nyami-nyami is a snake believed to be living in the Kariba waters by the Tonga people. Its actual name was Nyama Nyama. The myth behind it was that the Tonga people used to ask this river god through prayers and rituals for help in times of drought or famine and the snake would reveal part of itself and the people would cut the nyama (meat) and eat and the community would live off that. With the building of the dam wall it is said that the Nyami Nyami’s partner got stuck on the other side of the lake. So once in a while Nyami nyami tries to get to the other side and when it hits the wall it causes tremors. That is the folklore. Tremors are quite common in Kariba. The scientific explanation is that the weight of the water causes seismic activity which causes the tremors. Regardless of your beliefs, these are the beliefs of the people and they should be respected. Certain places will command respect and as tourists we give it out of fear, for example places in the Eastern highlands, Chinhoyi caves to name but a few.
Respect for people!
One of Zimbabwe’s Wonders are the people. We are known to be very resilient, friendly and hard working. Buy from the locals and support local businesses. As travellers, we sometimes swoop in with a superiority complex and shake up existing communities. As an individual traveller how are you behaving towards people, particularly those serving you? People at times can get careless with their speech or stereotype people because they feel the person does not know them, or they simply do not care. But you do not know them, and you do not know why they are there! Tourists can hurt people with their conduct unknowingly. Naturally, there’s some excitement when visiting a place. But check your behaviour. This flash of excitement can also have a negative impact on the younger children within that community particularly when they emulate the negative behaviour they see and then try and imitate at the expense of their cultural values and norms. Take time to find out what people have, what their culture is, why they do what they do. Let’s have respect for one another. There is so much more to gain.
Lockdown bans are lifting and plans are underway to travel to various local destinations. As a traveller, think of ways of leaving the destination better. Maybe through respecting the locals and respecting the environment. It can be through tips, or being friendly and courteous; having a good attitude or simply leaving it cleaner than it was. So next time you travel, locally or internationally. Be aware of the environment socially and culturally. Seek to make a positive impact always. So much is expected from the travel service provider, be it a tourism organisation or destination to give to the traveller. But, what can you as the traveller give back to the destination or organisation? Travel Responsibly.