5 Tips For Responsible Travel In Africa

12 June 2019

You’ve decided to visit Africa, but you’re concerned about how to do it responsibly. Follow these tips to minimise your footprint, be a thoughtful guest, and contribute positively to your amazing destination.

Keep it local

Once you’ve arrived in Africa, look for ways to support on-the-ground businesses in order to keep valuable tourism income in local hands. Local restaurants should be on your to-do list, for example, however good your hotel’s in-house food offerings. Ask the manager for tips or recommendations – what to eat and where the best place to find it is – and don’t be afraid to ask your waiter about their house specialty. Depending on where you are, you may find yourself faced with a gourmet feast or tucking into more rustic local dishes.

When you’re souvenir-shopping, try to buy direct from artists and craftspeople. Most hotels will be able to connect you to an arts-and-crafts tour if you want to see where your trinkets and treasures are made; otherwise, head to the marketplace, and don’t be afraid to do a little (friendly) bargaining.

Shop with traditional multicolored Masai blankets on a roadside in Tanzania. Photo: Getty Images

Choose ethical animal experiences

Doing your homework – on your own, and with the help of your Flight Centre travel expert – will pay dividends when it comes to choosing a safari. The operators Flight Centre work with are  genuinely concerned with the wellbeing of animals, and with conservation more generally, so if you are unsure talk to them first. Be aware that animal “encounters,” where tourists are given the opportunity to spend time one-on-one with animals, are often exhausting for the animals involved. Virtually all direct encounters with leopards or lions, including petting cubs or walking with adults, are not ethical and may involve the animals being sedated.

But it’s not all bleak. Many safari companies do promote responsible travel and are committed to conservation. Tourist income can make a valuable contribution if it’s spent supporting the right missions. Look out in particular for safari experiences on conservancies – areas of land where local people are practicing environmental conservation and responsible tourism. Conservancies were first pioneered in Namibia and have since spread to South Africa and many other southern African nations.

Safari goers watching elephants on the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania. Photo: Getty Images

While on safari, consider opting for companies with a stated interest in African lion conservation. There are only about 20,000 of these amazing animals left in the wild, with half the world’s population wiped out in the past 25 years. While on safari, don’t use flash photography, never ask your guide to chase wildlife or leave the trail, and follow all rules to the letter. They’re almost always for your own safety.

A male lion in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, at sunset. Photo: Getty Images

Put the environment first

Water is a scant and valuable commodity in many African nations. Take quick showers, reuse your hotel towels, and do what you can to avoid wasting it. If you’re camping or washing outdoors, bring biodegradable toiletries, and make sure to take any litter away with you. Normal chemicals may contaminate local water supplies or poison sensitive wildlife. As you travel around the continent, choose land travel over air wherever possible to minimise your carbon footprint. In Morocco, for instance, trains are fast, convenient, and air-conditioned – and much easier on the planet.

When talking to your Flight Centre travel expert, ask them about options with a commitment to recycling and supporting the environment. Some examples might include using solar power, giving waste wood to local craftspeople to sculpt, or installing water filtration systems that make wastewater safe for surrounding animals to drink. Though many hotels and businesses may tout their “eco-tourist” credentials, take a sceptical eye and look for proven results over flashy copywriting.

African women like these Masai women in Kenya often walk long distances to bring back containers of water. Some safari operations help by allowing local people to use their water. Photo: Getty Images

Support tribal rights

If you’re interested in learning more about Africa’s tribes, talk to Flight Centre about safari companies that work with indigenous people. In Kenya, for instance, certain companies lease Masai land and employ its people as guides, who may be able to provide more profound insight into their land and its history. Remember that these tribespeople are not simply attractions to gawp at or photograph, but people who may be just as interested in you as you are in them. Introduce yourself and ask permission if you’d like to take someone’s picture.

Seek out experiences that give tribespeople a say over how best to celebrate their culture and put education at the forefront, rather than simple snap-and-go excursions into tribal lands. Living culture museums are often one of the best ways for tourists to learn about indigenous culture and history in a non-exploitative way. These experiences may also be a fantastic opportunity to bring home souvenirs while supporting local artists and craftspeople.

Young women in Borana, Ethiopia. The Borana Oromo are a pastoral tribe living in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. Photo: Getty Images

Be considerate and sensitive

You’re on holiday – but you’re also in someone else’s home. Familiarise yourself with appropriate manners and customs, particularly around dress, to avoid causing offense. While some countries, like South Africa, are more progressive, others are much more conservative and expect women to cover their shoulders, legs, and midriffs. If you’re visiting religious sites, bring a shawl to cover your head, and be prepared to remove your shoes if asked.

Remember to thank your guides, drivers, cooks and hotel staff, and bring cash tips to show your appreciation (tour operators can usually give you a sense of how much is appropriate to give). Even small contributions may make a big difference to people living in the world’s poorest nations. Finally, respond to the hospitality you receive with gratitude and grace, even if it doesn’t always go exactly according to plan. Don’t expect everything to be as it is at home – and try to be the most considerate version of yourself if it isn’t. A smile and thanks can go a long way to being a responsible, pleasant guest.

A woman traveling in Ethiopia greets local villagers with a culturally correct handshake, in which one's left hand rests on the inside of the elbow during the handshake. Photo: Getty Images

Natasha Frost

Natasha Frost is a British Kiwi writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She's eaten her way around the world, from crickets in Cambodia to pastries in Paris, but saves a special place in her heart for a mince and cheese pie.