Responsible Tourism Necessary for Tibet’s Future

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Explore Tibet, a Lhasa-based Tibetan-owned travel agency has published guidelines for promoting responsible tourism. They hope to influence other local agencies to follow their example and instill in visitors the importance of preserving Tibetan cultural heritage and the unique plateau landscape.

Explore Tibet, a Lhasa-based Tibetan-owned Tibet travel agency has published guidelines for promoting responsible tourism. They hope to influence other local agencies to follow their example and instill in visitors the importance of preserving Tibetan cultural heritage and the unique plateau landscape.

As tourism in Tibet grows, infrastructure and waste disposal are still lacking due to the remote, high-altitude location and harsh climate of most Tibetan cities. Even populated cities lack amenities and conveniences that most westerners are accustomed to, and the lifestyle of many Tibetans has not changed for centuries. In order to avoid cultural misunderstandings, Explore Tibet has created a list of dos and don’ts for visitors.
Travelers should:

  •     Buy Locally: Use a Tibet travel company that employs native guides and staff. Eat in local restaurants and buy handicrafts that are authentic and regionally-made. Ask vendors about the source of the products purchase.
  •     Be culturally sensitive. Wear conservative clothing, no bare shoulders, short skirts or shorts. Point with an open palm and not an index finger. Avoid patting or touching children on the top of their heads.
  •     Ask permission before photographing local people and don’t take photos of charnel grounds or monasteries where photos are not allowed. Many monasteries request a fee for photography and it’s always polite and appropriate to make a donation.
  •     Minimize waste: Carry reusable cups, plates, cutlery or chopsticks. Try to purchase produce that is not wrapped in plastic. Avoid using disposable plastic shopping bags.
  •     Dispose of waste appropriately: Most local villages don’t have environmentally sound trash management systems. Pack garbage out to the larger towns or cities where it can be disposed of appropriately. If there is no toilet, dig a hole at least 25cm deep and bury human waste. Burn or bury toilet paper.
  •     Make the effort to learn some local language. Learning even a few words will break down cultural barriers and demonstrate an interest in Tibetan language and culture.

Travelers shouldn’t:

  •     Buy products made from endangered wildlife or endangered plants.
  •     Intrude upon local people’s homes, tents, lands or private activities (such as sky burials).
  •     Kiss or touch intimately in public. Remove hats and shoes in temples unless instructed otherwise and don’t step over people or people’s legs. In Tibetan culture, feet are considered dirty, so they shouldn’t be placed on tables or chairs.
  •     Swim in holy lakes, sit on holy objects such as mani stones or walk on or step over prayer flags.
  •     Give out medicines without detailed and proper explanation of the usage. It is better to encourage the use of local medical care if it is available.
  •     Engage in political discussions or activities. This may get travelers and locals in trouble, regardless of the intention.
  •     Break local laws and regulations. Travel agencies, Tibet tour guides and hosts are held accountable for the behavior of their clients. They could be fined or lose their license.

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Sonam Jamphel