We cannot single-handedly control local governments and economies that create environments that promote inequality, poverty, and economic injustice. However, our individual actions-- particularly how we use our tourism dollars-- can create positive impact.
Tourism and travel is a form of wealth redistribution. As people that have the privilege of moving freely, we have the power to take our hard earned money, and infuse it into local economies. We can literally use our cash to have enriching travel experiences facilitated by service providers and vendors that will then use that cash to fuel their survival, and create additional financial impact in their local economy.
Here are five tips that can help you do small things that will have large impacts on the lives of folks in the places that we visit.
1 - Choose vendors and service operators that represent and belong to the communities that you visit.
Ask yourself these simple questions:
Does this tour provider represent the local community?
Does the money that I pay them get funneled back into the places and people that add to my travel experience?
2 - Pay fairly. We often become enamored with being able to pay less for services and goods due to favorable exchange rates. Consult with locals about fair prices to exchange for services and goods, so that you are aligned with local standards and are compensating vendors for the value that they provide. You can still bargain and haggle, but be careful to respect the dignity of vendors and understand that their livelihood is at stake. 3 - Support small businesses. Brand recognition shouldn't be the only guidepost that we use to make key decisions about how we spend money. Shopping around and understanding the full variety of players in the field can help us redistribute our wealth to entrepreneurs and small businesses that do not
have the advantages or larger, more well known ones.
4 - Use cash. The problem of not having access to financial institutions is often one that runs along class lines and may be indicative of socio-economic disparity. Patronize cash-based businesses and vendors that only accept paper currency. In local economies around the world cash is the way that people fuel their lives. The cash that you infuse into their business is the same cash that they will use to survive. Many people are unbanked (they do not have access to a banks or electronic financial tools such as card readers and money transfer apps). If you only patronize vendors that accept credit cards, then you're only giving your business to vendors that already have an advantage. 5 - Understand local tipping customs. Before you engage with restaurant servers, street food vendors, and bar tenders, make an effort to understand local customs on tipping. In some places it is expected, and some places it is not. Because policies around wages differ from country to country, tips may be a server's main income source. And when in doubt, tip. Even if the service was not to the standard that you'd expect in your home country.
Tourism and travel is wealth redistribution, and the power is literally in your hands to direct wealth to deserving communities that will benefit from it most. And you can do it while enjoying an enriching travel experience.