The importance of a positive local impact

Lizet Wesselman - 14/07/2023

The importance of a positive local impact

Lizet Wesselman - 14/07/2023

Travelling is a great way to discover new cultures, explore breathtaking landscapes and have unforgettable experiences. But I think you can imagine that not everyone is happy with a backyard full of tourists because another “hidden gem” has been discovered. Especially not when hordes of tour buses pass by and all those tourists just get out for a photo, maybe even throw some junk on the ground, and then trudge away again. In some cases, locals suffer more from tourists than they benefit from it. Fortunately, though, there are plenty of ways to ensure that you do make a positive local impact, and they do welcome you as a traveller.

What is local impact?

Local impact is the impact you make on your travel destination. That basically includes everything you do during your trip. It can be divided into a number of impact groups.

Local impact on nature

For example, by wild camping wild where it isn’t allowed or touching coral during your snorkelling trip (coral dies from touching because it affects the mucus layer). But also by visiting organisations that exploit animals. No form of contact is normal for animals and no matter how ethical these organisations claim to be, the animals are used for the entertainment of tourists. Think bathing with elephants, having your picture taken with a snake or tiger or swimming with dolphins.

An example of a positive local impact would then be cleaning up other people’s rubbish if you come across it during your hike, or calling people out on not treating nature properly.

Local impact on the people

For example, by walking noisily past local homes at night, speaking rudely to local staff and disregarding the living environment of local residents. For example, by just walking into their gardens. But going one step further, local impact also involves where you choose to spend your money. Especially in locations where tourism is growing very fast, locals face stiff competition from large international chains. These can be chain hotels as well as the well-known fast food restaurants, international clothing brands and even souvenir shops with bulk orders from China.

So if you still buy new clothes at your old familiar shops while travelling, then order a coffee at the well-known chain and plop down on your bed at your chain hotel in the evening, your trip contributes nothing at all to the local population. So your “local impact” is minimal or even negative. So even if you do consider your surroundings, they will probably still benefit little from your visit.

One way to turn this into a positive local impact is to be aware of local people and where they can be found. Which shop has been in the family for 3 generations and which shop donates part of their profits to a wealthy founder somewhere in another country?

Local impact on culture

Huh, you can impact local culture? Yup. This is actually a direct consequence of your impact on the locals. For example, when small businesses go out of business due to the emerging competition from those big international chains. It’s precisely these businesses that often provide a platform for cultural exhibitions. Think of the local pub on the corner that organises an open mic night on Friday nights, where local talent can perform. Or that family-owned restaurant where an entire wall is made available for local artists, so people can buy someone’s artwork there.

When these kinds of local venues have to make way for the well-known competition, those local artists lose their platform. Sometimes resulting in these people moving away from the smaller villages. And since someone has to man those chains, people from outside are actually lured into that location, resulting in expats as staff. This is happening in Amsterdam but also in Venice, for example. The government has been making efforts to bring Italians back to the city for years, as most have left due to the crowds. As beautiful as Venice is, you won’t find much authenticity there anymore. Even Venetian masks are often made in China..

How to make a positive local impact?

Support local businesses: Buy produce from local (flea) markets, dine at local restaurants, and stay in small-scale accommodations that are locally owned. Or stay in a homestay, for example. This contributes to the economic development of local people. And book your tours with local organisations, rather than a pre-booking with a tour operator from home.

Respect the culture: Adapt to local norms and values. Learn and respect customs, language and dress codes.

Minimise your carbon footprint: Choose sustainable means of transport, reduce your water and energy consumption and minimise waste.

Be a conscious consumer: Think about the products you buy and avoid activities that harm animals or nature. This also applies to the restaurants you choose. Go for restaurants that mainly cook with local and seasonal ingredients rather than imported ones.

Do volunteer work: Do you have more time during your trip, for example during a world trip or a gap year? Then consider volunteering. There are several platforms, such as WorkAway or Worldpackers, where you can sign up to volunteer in exchange for accommodation and meals. Saves you money too! There is often a minimum stay of a week, sometimes longer. And the work varies from helping with the grape harvest on vineyards in Italy to teaching in schools in China, looks good on your resume as well!