Discovering More Through GeotourismWe did a previous post on destination stewardship, in which we touched briefly on ecotourism, voluntourism and, geotourism. While the first two of these are dependent upon measures put into places by external sources, such as governments or businesses, geotourism is a practice anybody can partake in no matter where they’re visiting.
Geotourism was originally developed by National Geographic. It is defined as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” The goal of geotourism is to constrain the process of cultural erasure of an area to help communities retain their unique cultural identities, customs, and environments. From the vibrant festivals of Brazil to the intricate architectures of Thailand, the diversity of culture around the world offers various experiences and builds the foundation for basic human understanding. While voluntary sharing of cultures has been practiced since humans have created a culture to begin with, forcing a lifestyle upon a group of people should always be prevented. While it seems that this would be easily avoided, there are small, mindful things we should keep in mind when visiting a culture different from our own, whether it’s halfway across the world or halfway across our own country.
Research before you travel
This seems like a no-brainer; most people like to look at their destination to see what activities and experiences are available. National Geographic suggests taking your research further. Try to discover local places that are outside of major tourist areas. Research what crafts and food are local to that area and make it a point to visit small businesses or resident-owned cafes. See if any locations have local volunteer opportunities that you can contribute to. It is also suggested to travel off-season, as the chances of connecting with the locals are much better.
Is your destination known for its festivals, such as Brazil or New Orleans? Perhaps you’re visiting Germany during the famed Christmas market season? Find out what cultural events are going on near you and make it a point to observe and join. Often, as National Geographic points out, the money spent at these events stay right there within the community. Economic sustainability is a great example of something that can be easily overlooked but makes a huge impact on a local community. Using your money at community events helps ensure that the community benefits from your visit while also introducing you to the cultural heritage of the destination.
Part of the important research you will do before traveling is on the cultural norms and expectations of the destination. You will want to learn basic phrases in the local language, as well as consider downloading translation apps that will help you with any surprises. Be mindful of sites that you visit. Archaeological sites can be very fragile, and even the oils in your fingers can destroy thousands-of-years-old art. Religious sites will have specific rules to follow in order to visit, sometimes including restricted photography and recording. Some places may have strict expectations on the type of clothing worn, especially regarding length and fit. Always remember that you are a visitor that is being welcomed to experience the culture and sites of the host country. While customs and norms may be different than what you’re used to, they are essential in maintaining the local customs and traditions.