Do you want to learn how to be a responsible travel content creator or influencer? It’s a wild world out there with plenty of ethical dilemmas for creators to navigate, but here are ten simple tips to help you be more responsible in the way that you travel, create and share with your audience.
The tourism industry is finally starting to gain momentum after the chaos of COVID, and that includes travel influencers and content creators who are back to promoting destinations and suppliers all over the globe. How can we take what we’ve learnt over the past couple of years into our next adventures to ensure we’re making a positive impact on the places and people that we visit and promote?
It’s been a long two years for those of us who rely on travel and tourism to make a living, and I am beyond excited to get back on the road myself, but there’s no denying that the travel industry and its future has been impacted by everything that’s happened since 2020.
From the pandemic (obviously) to the global human rights movements to natural disasters and, as of the time of writing, an impending war between Russia and Ukraine, it sometimes feels as though we’re living in an alternate reality of constant political turmoil, bad news and an earth that is low key trying to kill us all.
But I like to think that there’s a silver lining of being amongst the generation of social media users who are a single click away from seeing the red ribbon of breaking news headlines; we are ultra aware of the bad stuff that’s happening in the world, so *hopefully* we want to counteract that with goodness. And for us as travel creators, that’s where responsible travel comes in.
What is responsible tourism?
Responsible tourism is travel that minimises negative impacts while maximising benefits to the places you visit, the communities that live there, yourself as the traveller, and the planet as a whole.
One common misconception is that responsible travel means being 100% eco-friendly, never flying and only eating vegan food, but that’s not the case. Being eco-friendly is part of responsible travel of course, but it also includes things like respecting cultural norms, spending your money with the right suppliers and reducing any health risks you might pose to locals.
Can influencers even be responsible travellers?
When you think of the term “travel influencer”, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you probably don’t think of someone who is actively/obviously participating in responsible tourism. You are more likely to think of someone who is running around world-class resorts looking like a dancing lady emoji, red dress flowing behind her, or maybe you picture a super hot #travelcouple looking perfectly Instagrammable despite lying on sticky black sand as the waves wash over them. Sorry but who looks that good literally covered in sand and salt water?!
There have been plenty of negative stories around travel influencers, from entitled attitudes to irresponsible behaviour to straight up illegal activity, but this is a small minority of creators who tend to devalue and embarrass the industry for the rest of us.
But here’s the truth: Just because your job relies on constant international travel, doesn’t mean you can’t travel responsibly. In fact, I’d argue that responsible travel is even more important for those of us who travel for work.
And on that note, let’s look at 10 ways travel content creators and influencers can travel more responsibly.
Disclaimer: No one is perfect, and holding content creators (or any public figure for that matter) to the highest standards can result in bullying which is absolutely not okay. This post isn’t meant to call out anyone in particular, but I will use examples of behaviour that might be viewed as irresponsible, so that we can look at how to avoid this behaviour and what to do instead.
How to be a responsible travel content creator
1. Be a respectful traveller
In order to be a responsible travel content creator, the bare minimum requirement is that we have to be respectful travellers.
Respectful travel includes:
- Obeying all local laws and regulations
- Dressing appropriately for the local culture or religion
- Respecting and appreciating local cultures
- Making an effort to learn at least the basics of the local language
- Treating all suppliers with respect (like hotel staff, servers, local guides)
- Not trespassing on private land
- Not participating in unsafe/illegal behaviour that puts you at risk and therefore could put rescue services at risk
If you don’t respect the people and places you visit while travelling, this will come across in your content and will encourage your audience to act in the same way.
2. Be aware of your privilege
“Privilege” is a word that we’ve all heard thrown around in the past couple of years, particularly in the context of “male privilege” and “white privilege”, where some people receive unfair advantages in life based on their gender or their race.
And while we should all be aware of the privileges we receive in life because of the way we were born, being a travel influencer and making money by exploring the world comes with a whole lot of other privileges. Some examples of common privileges we receive might be:
- Having a strong passport
- Speaking English as a first language
- Having time and money to travel
- Being treated differently as a tourist (compared to treatment that locals may endure)
- Having security and safety when travelling
- Being physically able to travel without any issues
Privilege isn’t something we can just give up, and if you experience privilege in any way, that’s absolutely not to say you aren’t dealing with other barriers. It just means that while you are dealing with whatever life is throwing at you, you probably aren’t also trying to overcome the hurdles that exist for some people purely based on their skin colour, sexuality, gender, country of origin and so on.
But why is it so important to be aware of our privilege? If we, as travel creators, truly want to inspire and help other people explore more of the world, understanding our own privilege means that we can use it to actually encourage social change, reduce the barriers others may face, and overall make travel more accessible to all.
Some specific examples of how travel influencers can be more aware of our privilege are:
- Acknowledging our experiences in different destinations may be based on our privilege. For example a group of white, straight males travelling together in a conservative country are potentially going to have an extremely different experience than a BIPOC, LGBTQ+ solo female traveller.
- Speaking out against privilege being abused when you see it in real life
- Not supporting governments who treat tourists/creators like royalty while engaging in oppression or human rights abuse of their own citizens
- Only working with brands whose values align with our own, and not being afraid to ask about these values to ensure we’re not supporting and promoting brands who do not align with us
And on that note…
3. Choose your partnerships wisely
One of the main ways travel influencers make money is by partnering with brands and organisations to showcase their products or services on our social media and digital channels, and when we partner with companies, we are helping that company make money from our audience.
They say with great power comes great responsibility, and I certainly feel that we as creators have a huge responsibility to work with companies and brands who we genuinely want to support and who we want to help succeed. Unfortunately, when big bucks are offered, this responsibility is sometimes set aside, and this can be damaging both from a wider societal perspective as well as our audience losing trust in us as creators.
Here some examples of partnership opportunities that could come up in your inbox, but that perhaps might not align with the values of a responsible travel content creator:
- Any sort of experience involving captive animals
- A government-run tourism board where the government doesn’t respect free speech of journalists
- A fast fashion brand who uses slave labour in developing countries
- Companies with a huge carbon footprint who are doing nothing to minimise or offset it
- Brands who are not committed to diversity and inclusivity in their workplaces as well as the creators they work with
- A voluntourism project who encourages tourism-focused volunteering with more of a focus on the customer rather than the recipients of the volunteer work (check out my internet friend Tara’s deep dive into ethical volunteering on her blog Silly Little Kiwi)
We all need money to survive and I acknowledge that being in a position to pick and choose your partnerships is a privilege that many newer creators don’t have, however these are just some ideas of the types of partnerships you might be offered that are worth considering carefully.
A quick note on this one: As with any small business, it’s unlikely that every single business decision we make is going to completely align with our values, whether that’s because of financial, accessibility or technical issues.
For example, one of the main ways I make income from this blog is by recommending products using affiliate links, like my Lumix G9 camera. Lumix doesn’t have a global online store, and my blog readers are from all over the world, so the best way for me to recommend the camera is by linking to the product on Amazon, which automatically redirects the website to your local Amazon site to give you the most accurate price and best shipping option. Amazon as a business absolutely does not align with my personal values, however the only other alternative options would be:
- To research purchasing options in the UK, USA, New Zealand, Australia, Europe and Canada and provide all these different links for all Lumix products I recommend, then join the affiliate programmes and keep the links up to date (would take way too long and require constant upkeep)
- To link to just one USA website that doesn’t ship to readers in any other countries (doesn’t align with my values of increasing accessibility of travel)
- To use a non-affiliate link from an alternative supplier (means I can’t monetise my travel photography content, and as a small business that’s not an option)
In this instance, providing an Amazon affiliate link isn’t ideal from a values perspective but it does mean I am paid for the work I put into this blog, it’s accessible to most readers around the world, and it doesn’t take ridiculous time and effort to set up and keep running.
If you consider yourself an influencer, or if there’s an aspect of “influencing” in your job as a content creator, having an audience that trusts what you say is central to your success in being able to influence anyone. And to build that trust, we must ensure that the content we share is genuine, honest and authentic.
For travel creators specifically this could mean:
- Giving honest reviews of places we visit and products we use
- Providing alternative options to help your audience avoid unsustainable or irresponsible suppliers
- Sharing photo and video content that isn’t overedited to hide the reality of a place
- Posting actionable tips and tricks rather than purely unattainable content
- Talking about real life and things that go wrong rather than only sharing the good bits
If we aren’t honest in the content we share, and then someone makes a purchase decision based on what we say and finds out we’ve lied to make a sale, we’re going to lose their trust, probably will lose them as a follower, and might end up on the Daily Mail or a Netflix doco exposing the ugliness of the influencer industry, like Fyre Festival 2.0. No thanks!
5. Be responsible with your photography
We live in a world where one travel photo posted on social media has the potential to go viral and reach millions of people around the world in a matter of hours, so responsible travel photography has never been more important.
As with all ethical issues, everyone draws the line somewhere different with what they consider “responsible travel photography”, but some examples are:
- Editing photos and videos to truly represent the destination rather than overediting or altering the image to hide the reality (unless it’s clearly a composite image). If you Photoshop the Northern Lights into a destination where you’d never see the Northern Lights and then try pass that off as a genuine photo, some poor traveller might book a trip to that destination with the hope of getting that experience which will never happen.
- Always, always, always asking the subject before taking a photo
- To go a little further (and this is probably an unpopular opinion amongst traditional travel photographers), I believe we have a responsibility to get consent for how we will use the photo rather than just consent to take one. A local saying yes to a photo that’s probably going to end up in a tourist’s photo album is very different to saying yes to a photo that might end up on a magazine cover or on an influencer’s social media account with over two million followers.
- Only taking photos of children with explicit consent from their parents or caregivers, and being extremely careful of the way you use these photos. I have photos of kids from my travels but I would never post these on social media unless they were unidentifiable or unless I had had a conversation with the kids and their parents and they were okay with me posting on my channels.
- Obeying all local laws and regulations around photography, like respecting no-photo zones (often religious landmarks) and not trespassing on private property or crossing safety barriers to get the shot
- Ensuring you meet all drone rules and only fly where you’re allowed to. In New Zealand I see far too many content creators flying in no-fly zones, which can be massively dangerous for aircraft, disrupt flight paths and breeding areas for our native birds, and pose a fire risk if you crashed and it sparked a fire on dry grass. Use local sites like AirShare for New Zealand or UAV Coach globally to keep on top of drone regulations wherever you are visiting.
From a business perspective, it’s also important to keep in mind that any travel photos that are taken illegally or without the correct consent generally cannot be used commercially, meaning you can’t license them to other companies, can’t enter them in competitions, and can’t use them in branded partnerships.
6. Minimise and offset your carbon footprint
Unless you’re cycling around the world on a pushbike, we can assume that being a travel content creator will mean that you’re probably having some level of negative impact on the environment with your travels. While our planet itself might benefit from all of us giving up on travel forever, the past two years have showed us that tourism-reliant and more remote destinations can go through economic devastation when tourists stop visiting.
So what’s the answer?
To be a responsible travel content creator, we should be aware of our carbon footprint, try to minimise it where possible, and offset whatever we can’t minimise. Here are some suggestions on ways we can reduce our footprint:
- Try to avoid unnecessary back-and-forth flights, e.g. if you have a press trip in the Maldives one week and then a collab with a Thailand hotel three weeks later, try and find something nearby to cover you in between rather than flying all the way home and then all the way back to the same part of the world a couple of weeks later
- Use trains or buses for transport where possible
- Offset your flights and other transport using an online tool like co2nsensus.com, where you can calculate your emissions and then offset them by donating to a specific carbon offset project
- Avoid single use plastic and ALWAYS travel with a drink bottle that you can refill
- Eat more plant-based meals =
- Travel slower and stay in destinations for longer
- Travel in the off season to reduce your impact on busy destinations
- Use public transport or explore by foot rather than using Ubers or taxis*
*As a solo female traveller I tend to use private transport at night in most destinations. Never feel bad about putting your safety ahead of being a sustainable traveller, you can always offset your footprint from an additional taxi ride once you get home safe!
7. Spend money locally
When you’re visiting a destination either for work or for fun, spending money with local companies ensures that your tourist dollars stay in the community and are far more likely to have a positive outcome.
Locally-owned restaurants are more likely to use local, seasonal ingredients that have less of a footprint, and as an added bonus you’ll probably get a far more authentic experience. Booking guesthouses or small locally-owned accommodation means that your money is going straight to locals with no economic leakage to an international hotel chain.
In some super touristy destinations it can be tough to only spend money with local companies because the vast majority of hotels, restaurants and activity suppliers might be international chains or owned by foreign companies. In these situations, here’s what we can do to help more of our money stay in the community:
- Choose suppliers who employ local staff and pay them a fair wage
- Choose suppliers who actively support community-led projects and who work to protect the environment around them
- Tip generously to local guides, waitstaff and hotel employees
- Seek out ways to engage in the local community, ask hotel staff where they would suggest for a local meal, or if they know of a local guide who could take you around the area
8. Minimise health risks to locals
When travelling during a pandemic, it’s imperative that we travel creators understand our responsibility to minimise the risk we pose to the communities we visit.
While in many countries the pandemic may be viewed as “old news” and restrictions are being dropped, some other countries might still be dealing with huge outbreaks, overloaded healthcare systems and lack of access to vaccines.
To ensure we’re being as responsible as possible from a health perspective, travel content creators should:
- Be aware of the situation in the place they’re visiting. Are there serious restrictions you’ll need to adhere to, and if so, is it still worth going there now? Is the healthcare system doing alright or will you put additional pressure on a failing system if you had a car accident or a burst appendix?
- Take out travel insurance that will cover any potential pandemic-related issues so that you aren’t a financial burden on the local community
- Obey all legal requirements like testing, isolating, mask wearing, showing vaccine passes etc.
- Over and above legal requirements, consider taking additional precautions like staying in your accommodation if you are symptomatic, wearing a mask inside or in crowds even if it’s not mandated, and staying up to date with your booster to maximise your immunity and reduce the risk of passing anything on
- If you are planning on being around vulnerable communities like children, the elderly, in a hospital for whatever reason, or visiting unvaccinated communities like remote villages, consider taking even further precautions, like isolating and testing before you go and wearing a mask while in contact with the community
- Keep an eye on any variants of concern. At the time of typing this (9 March 2022) we seem to be hitting the Omicron peak in New Zealand, but if another variant starts spreading then we need to be aware that travel once again could be disrupted.
We all know that pandemic travel is expensive, frustrating and uncomfortable, but remember that having the means to travel right now is an immense privilege that so many people around the world do not have.
9. Act and post responsibly during times of crisis
Yikes, this is a big one and there’s no set of instructions we can follow to post the right thing when there’s a pandemic, natural disasters or a war impacting millions (or billions!) of people around the globe.
What we can do though is think carefully and critically around why we want to post and what we want to post, to ensure that anything we share or anything we do results in a positive impact rather than a negative impact.
Before posting about a world crisis or global event, ask yourself:
- Why do you want to post? Is it to help build awareness or encourage donations, or is it because you don’t want people to think you don’t care?
- Are you taking up important space from someone who might be better to talk about this issue? Can you use your channel to direct your audience to someone else instead?
- Does posting about this crisis align with your behaviour and vice versa? If not, why not?
- Why are you talking about this specific crisis and not the many others happening around the world at the moment?
- Have you fact-checked what you’re sharing?
- Are you using the correct terminology?
It’s super important to remember that just because we creators have a platform, that doesn’t mean we have the resources and time to be fully-fledged journalists. We cannot be expected to cover every global crisis that happens, and the pressure to do so can result in posting the wrong thing at the wrong time and doing more harm than good.
To navigate this tricky situation and to find the balance between wanting to help but also not wanting to misstep, I’ve put together a guide on things influencers should consider before posting about a world crisis.
10. Put together your own CSR policy
A CSR policy is a Corporate Social Responsibility policy, and it’s something many companies have to set ethical and moral standards in order to hold themselves accountable in the way they conduct business.
As creators, if we have our own CSR policy we can then use this to help us make conscious and considered decisions when tossing up potential collaborations, how we want to spend our money, causes we want to support and so on.
To come up with your CSR framework, you could ask yourself questions like:
- What type of brands do I want to work with or not want to work with?
- What causes are really important to me? (If brands do not support these causes that can be an easy way of knowing you should turn down the partnership)
- In what ways can I positively impact the world?
- What is my responsibility (if any) to my audience?
- How would you feel if someone who follows you started doing exactly what you’re doing? Would this be a good thing with a positive impact, or would it be dangerous, bad for the environment, get them into trouble, etc.?
Your social responsibility framework might look like this:
- I want to work with brands who are helping young people discover the world while also having a positive impact on the people and places they operate
- The causes that are the most important to me are female empowerment, responsible travel and diversity and I will not work with companies who do not share these values
- I can impact the world by encouraging other people to travel responsibly and safely, and to give back to the communities they visit
- I have a responsibility to my audience to be honest in what I share, to not encourage dangerous or unsafe behaviour, and to only promote brands I truly trust and support
Everyone’s CSR policy will look totally different as everyone has their own personal and brand values, their own beliefs round personal responsibility, and their own preferences in terms of how they deal with their audience, but creating your own framework will help you be more confident in your decisions down the line.
Do you have any other responsible travel tips for influencers and content creators? Let me know in the comments!
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