GROUND Asia’s New Responsible Traveler Training Turns Tourism into a Force for Good

Student travelers in a market. Image courtesy of GROUND Asia.

Tourism can be hard on local communities, as is obvious to anyone who’s been to Southeast Asia’s most visited places.

This is a situation where the biggest problem can also be the solution: tourists produce the greatest stress on the places they visit, but they can also help solve the problems they bring with them.

Student travel company GROUND Asia kicked off its responsible traveller training program to help direct tourism towards beneficial ends—training young tourists in the basics of responsible travel, helping them handle sensitive issues like etiquette and minimizing waste.

The easy-to-use modules provided by GROUND Asia are now publicly available for download in downloadable PDF and Powerpoint/Google Presentation form, which you can access here.

Tourists giving alms in Laos. Image courtesy of GROUND Asia.

Responsible tourism and plastic waste: In their module on plastic waste, GROUND Asia shares a series of tips that focus on minimizing one’s impact on an already severely stressed environment. The usual “solutions”, the module tells us, may not be actual solutions at all.

We may think using paper cups is a solution, but they usually contain plastic too,” the module says. Which is to say nothing about single-use water bottles and plastic straws, the bane of Southeast Asia’s waterways.

“Solution: Using bamboo/ rice/ grass / reusable straws,” the module tells us. (Bamboo straws are a big thing now in Mekong tourist circles, as we discussed last year.) “Bring your own reusable bottles to refill. We will always have gallons of water on our trips to help with this. Use bags made out of natural materials and keep reusing.”

Silk factory near Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia
Soieries du Mekong silk factory near Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

Responsible photography. In their module on dos and don’ts of responsible photography, GROUND Asia would like photographers to do unto others as they’d want to be done unto them. That means not pointing your camera willy-nilly.

“Ask permission from the parents or responsible adults if you would like to take pictures of the local children,” the module advises us. “But remember, if you wouldn’t have taken that photo in that situation at home, you shouldn’t do that during your travels either.”

Ecobrick making. Image courtesy of GROUND Asia.

The responsible training modules follow from GROUND Asia’s comprehensive responsible training workshop for its staff in Mai Chau, Vietnam. Certain challenges kep cropping up during student trips to Asia, which the staff found they needed to address systematically.

“Following the workshop, best practices from four years of leading student groups in Asia were distilled into new practical guidelines, policies and procedures for all GROUND Asia trips,” explains Lauren Groves, GROUND Asia general manager. “The aim is to provide thoughtful, practical and responsible guidelines that benefit everyone in travel, education and related fields.”

With the module in place, GROUND Asia is in a better place to align its field operations with the values and aims of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Tourists helping in construction project. Image courtesy of GROUND Asia.

The guidelines are being made available to everyone – students, teachers, faculty, host communities, education sector suppliers and tour operators. Even GROUND Asia’s competitors are welcome to use them to train their own staff, guides and host communities.

The training is “concise, factual and informative,” says Lauren Groves. “We want to lead the conversation about issues, rather than simply dictate behaviour.”

It’s GROUND Asia’s hope that such responsible traveller values learned at an early age will help young travelers and their companions learn the skills and perspectives to help them be responsible travellers for life.

Since their founding in 2015, GROUND Asia has partnered with communities across Asia to assist in their sustainable development. Their projects are designed to empower communities through mutually beneficial programs to ensure their needs come first. For more information, visit their site: GROUNDAsia.com.

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