photo courtesy Ute von Ludwiger
Are some destinations more ethical than others? Can travelers make a difference in the environmental and human rights policies of other countries?
Yes, according to Ethical Traveler, which recently released its 2010 report, “The Developing World’s Best Ethical Destinations.” The report identifies the countries that, according to Ethical Traveler’s research, are “most serious about preserving their natural assets, promoting mindful travel, and building an economy in which local communities reap the benefits of tourist revenue.”
The ten destinations selected for Ethical Traveler’s list offer not only scenic beauty and memorable experiences, but also set a positive example in the areas of environmental protection, social welfare, and human rights. The report is based on exhaustive research using data from such organizations as the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Amnesty International, Freedom House, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and UNICEF.
Four countries — Argentina, Chile, Namibia, and South Africa — are repeat “winners,” having been featured in Ethical Traveler’s 2008 report. All are known for their ecotourism and sustainable development efforts. South Africa and Namibia (pictured) are increasingly involved in efforts to address climate change, while Argentina has made a commitment to achieving zero net deforestation. Chile, a country once associated with dictatorships and disappearances, now receives the highest possible ratings for political rights and civil liberties.
The list also includes lesser-known destinations with a lot to offer. For example, the Republic of Seychelles has the highest percentage of protected land in the world — more than 50 percent. Suriname, a country often overshadowed by its larger, wealthier South American neighbors, boasts “unspoiled rainforest biodiversity and sincere efforts toward ecotourism and environmental preservation,” according to the report.
Ghana earned its spot on this year’s list due to “an impressive commitment to genuine democracy, as well as a growing culture of sustainability, environmental consciousness, and grassroots efforts toward responsibly improving Ghana for Ghanaians and tourists alike.” Among other initiatives, Ghana recently signed a voluntary agreement to export only legally and sustainably harvested timber to the European Union.
Not a single Asian country made the list, due to “irresponsible development, human rights abuses, and a lack of strong environmental policy.” And here’s a shocker: Costa Rica, a country that to many people is synonymous with ecotourism, didn’t make the cut either. The reason? Over the last few years, the country has developed a sex tourism problem, with child prostitution increasingly widespread.
Ethical Traveler notes that none of the countries on the list is perfect, and some have serious issues to combat. For example, South Africa suffers from high crime and a massive gap between rich and poor, even though the country’s strong commitment to sustainable development and community-based tourism earned it a spot on the list. Belize, Namibia, and Seychelles all still criminalize homosexuality but made the list anyway since these laws are seldom enforced.
The organization does not suggest that travelers should visit only the countries on its list, merely that travelers should consider what their money is supporting when selecting where and how to go. “Travelers are implicitly voting with their wallets when they choose to visit a place and spend their money there,” says Ethical Traveler’s Michael McColl.
By visiting countries that respect the environment and human rights and promote social welfare, travelers can support positive efforts and encourage other destinations to follow suit.
– Annika S. Hipple
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