How to be a responsible tourist
Travelling is a great way to enrich your life by experiencing other cultures. When you’re in another country it’s important to respect the locals by being a responsible tourist.
They say the only way to enrich your own culture is to lean over your borders and experience another. With people from a great number of different cultures and beliefs living together in Cape Town, the city offers a unique experience that will most certainly leave you enriched, and perhaps even enlightened. However, while exploring different cultures, it’s important to do so responsibly. After all, these people open the arms of their city to you like a guest in their homes.
Here are some ways in which you can be a responsible tourist:
Be mindful of animals
Animals are a big part of tourism in South Africa, and Cape Town is no exception – from the African penguins at Boulders Beach, dassies on Table Mountain, and baboons around Cape Point. It’s important to remember that these are wild animals, and both they and their environments should be respected. Pay attention to signage about these animals, especially concerning dangerous animals – for instance, a baboon might look timid on TV, but in real life they’re anything but.
Do a little reading
Taking some time to learn about the customs and traditions of the local people will go a long way in showing respect to your hosts. Learning a couple of phrases in the local language(s), even if you don’t pronounce it correctly, will undoubtedly make someone smile and is a great way to start a conversation.
Respect the environment
Cape Town is known for its natural beauty, especially the immense biodiversity of Table Mountain and its surrounds. It’s a very delicate eco-system so don’t just pick flowers or interesting plants while on a hike – it’s most often also illegal. Also, carry your litter with you until you find a suitable place to discard it.
Be water wise
South Africa has been experiencing one of the most severe droughts in recent history. The whole country is affected, and both locals and visitors are requested to use water sparingly. When you’re at your hotel, take a quick shower instead of a bath, don’t put towels in the laundry basket unless absolutely necessary, and be careful to close taps properly.
Take public transport
There are many different ways to get around Cape Town without a car – walking, metered taxis, minibus taxis, trains and the city’s myCiti bus service will not only help to ease the load on Mother Nature, but you’ll get the opportunity to interact with real Capetonians who often have interesting stories to share.
Don’t give money to beggars
There are many beggars and vagrants, many of them children, in Cape Town. It sounds harsh, but it’s best not to give in to their requests. If you really want to help, rather donate to one of the number of organisations in Cape Town that provide meals, shelter and other services to the poor and homeless. This way you’ll know where your contributions are going and that you are making a real difference.
Do your research on Voluntourism
It’s a growing trend among especially younger travellers to travel to mostly developing countries and volunteer in a community project of some sort. This is known as ‘voluntourism’, and while the debate around whether this practice actually does something positive for the community, there are a number of organisations that are profiting from these well-meaning volunteers, instead of the local communities. If you feel strongly about giving some of your time to a good cause, do some research of organisations in the area and contact them directly.
Ask before taking people’s pictures
This almost goes without saying – when you’re taking someone’s picture you are invading their personal space in a way, so it’s just respectful to ask someone’s permission before you take their picture.
Be careful what you buy
When you buy souvenirs to take home to show your friends and remind you about your great adventure, be mindful not to buy products made of endangered plants or animals.
Support local artists
Buying souvenirs aren’t only a great way to remind you of your journey when you get home, it also allows you to make a contribution to the local economy by supporting local artists. Whether it’s a wire-animal from a street vendor, or a piece of contemporary modern art from a gallery, Cape Town has something for everyone.
Streetsmart SA is a non-profit organization that helps children’s charities with the help of participating restaurants. If you eat at a restaurant involved with Streetsmart, a voluntary R5 donation can be added to the bill with 100% of the money distributed to local children’s charities. For more information: www.streetsmartsa.org.za
For more information on responsible tourism in Cape Town: www.responsiblecapetown.co.za