Responsible Travel

Wherever we go in the World, we take a responsible attitude with us. That means travelling in a way which both respects and benefits local people, their culture and the environment. Please read on for more information on our Responsible Travel Policy and how you can be a responsible traveler for your entire journey. General Guidelines:

  • Responsible Travel Code of Conduct
  • Responsible Travel Guidelines for Travelers
  • Viettours Top 12 Responsible Travel Tips

Responsible Travel Code of Conduct

The following are Viettours’ key principles for operating ‘Responsible’ trips.

We aim to:

  • Use locally owned infrastructure on our tours where possible.
  • Spread the financial benefits amongst local people and operators.
  • Provide employment and leadership opportunities for local people.
  • Respect local customs and culture.
  • Provide safe trips for Viettours partners, staff and travelers.
  • Educate travelers and our partners about how and why we choose to travel this way.
  • Limit the negative impacts to daily lifestyles of local people not involved with Viettours groups.
  • Limit the physical impact of trips in all destination communities-particularly sensitive natural and cultural environments.
  • Provide support to organizations and local communities visited by Viettours groups.
  • Provide fun enjoyable trips to Viettours travelers.
  • Provide opportunities for travelers to interact with local people.
  • Actively ban partners, staff and passenger participation in or endorsement of commercial sexual activities or illegal drug use on Viettours trips.
  • Actively discourage the participation of Viettours groups in activities which exploit animals – wild or domestic.
  • Work to prevent the exploitation of children in tourism.
  • Support and encourage fair employment practices.
  • Give our travelers the best possible value.

Responsible Travel Guidelines for Travelers

The following guidelines are for your overall travel plans, not just for your time spent on a Viettours’s.

What Can the Traveler Do? Basically we ask all our travelers to respect local rules and values. This means different things in different countries so be as informed as possible about the country you visit before you arrive – try to learn some of the local language and read about the religion and culture. This will improve your travelling experience. With a little effort on your part you will find yourself coming away with a greater sense of understanding of other cultures and feeling pleased to have left a positive mark on the country you visited.

The following general guidelines are standards of behavior we expect from everyone on a Viettours trip and we also hope that travelers will apply these guidelines to their whole travel experience. By observing them you will gain the respect of the local people. Why do we have these guidelines? We are guests and are privileged to be able to visit these communities, homes and places of worship. As responsible travelers, we want our type of tourism to be sustainable for the areas we visit, so future travelers can enjoy similar wonderful experiences. Viettours’ partners, staff, guides and travelers have made many special friends around the world and we treasure the ongoing relationships we have with them.

Respecting Cultural Differences Things are done differently in the places we travel, which is why we love them! Please make sure in your dealings with local people you accept these differences and not try to change them for your own benefit or comfort. Remember that many places operate on different concepts of time – things happen when they happen! The traveler who wishes to have a happy and successful trip should keep as calm, cheerful and friendly as humanly possible. Demanding impatient tourists do not earn respect. Patience, courtesy and smiles are virtues that open many doors.

Friendships Making new friends will be one of the greatest joys of your travels. Don’t expect any special privileges though, as you may be only one of many travelers to the area. Accept and enjoy offers of hospitality when you can – “please come and drink tea”! By taking the time to chat with the locals you will learn about their daily lives, culture and attitude to life, plus have a very enjoyable time and a few laughs. This is a chance for them to learn about your culture too. Consider ways to reciprocate hospitality – e.g. post back photos. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. In less developed regions don’t flaunt your wealth – use discretion with jewelry, cash and techno-gadgetry!

Be prepared for lots of questions. Just walking in the street you may be asked: “What’s your name? Where are you from?, How old are you? Where are you going?” – perhaps questions you may consider personal. Don’t be affronted or consider it rude or an invasion of privacy. It’s usually genuine curiosity, friendliness or a desire to practice their English. Respond with patience and a cheery manner. Concepts of privacy in some countries can be very different to your home country.

Etiquette There are a few general codes of behavior that apply throughout the areas we operate.

  • In Asia crooking your finger to call somebody is considered impolite. People generally use a subtle downward waving motion to summon someone.
  • Also in Asia and Muslim countries, showing affection in public is considered quite offensive – definitely no kissing! Away from the major urban centers it is extremely rare to see couples holding hands. To the contrary in Asia it is quite common to see friends of the same sex holding hands.
  • When entering mosques in Egypt its essential that you take your shoes off and leave them at the entrance. Women are obliged to cover their heads with a headscarf and wear loose fitting, modest clothing. Men also must be sure to wear modest clothing. Long pants and long sleeve shirts are appropriate. Likewise in many European countries, especially Italy, you should keep knees and shoulders covered at all times.
  • In Turkey be sure not to blow your nose in the vicinity of locals as its deemed rude. Never blow your nose at the dinner table – people have been known to walk away from the meal.
  • In Europe it is impolite to enter a store or restaurant and NOT say hello in the local language. It is considered very rude!!
  • In Morocco make sure that when you visit Berber areas you don’t call the locals “Moroccans” as they consider themselves to be Berbers first. These Berbers are a proud group of people and are the original inhabitants of Morocco. Be sure to learn a few Berber words to increase your interaction with them. Again in Europe you should never call someone a Gypsy, please refer to them as a Roma.
  • In most countries it is inappropriate to express anger in a raised voice. Becoming angry is embarrassing to the local people with whom you are dealing – they will not be embarrassed for themselves, but for you making a fool of yourself. ‘Keeping face’, that subtle but important quality of personal dignity, is important! Personal candor in Asia is largely a matter of sensibility and face.

Dress Many countries visited by Viettours have conservative dress standards, particularly in Asia and Islamic regions like the Middle East. Loose, lightweight, long clothing is both respectful and cool in the predominantly hot Asian climate. Shorts should be knee-length. Singlets and tank tops are not suitable. Dress modestly at religious sites anywhere in the world. There are certain places where shoes and/or hats need be removed. In any Muslim area, knees and shoulders should be covered. Check what is acceptable swim wear with your group leader i.e. in a village river, covering with a sarong may be necessary for women. Nude bathing or sunbathing is not appropriate anywhere. When in doubt about dress, look to how the majority of locals are clothed.

Cameras and Video Cameras Be aware of the impact of photography. Sensitivity is the key. Please ensure that you ask permission before videoing or taking photographs of people and respect their wishes if they refuse. Minority groups in particular are often unhappy to have their photo taken. Travelers should avoid paying for the right to take a photo as this has been found to encourage a begging mentality in the locals. Instead if you do take photos, send back copies through your guide or direct to the people themselves. The locals gain a great buzz from seeing themselves in photos and it encourages a ‘sharing’ rather than ‘taking’ attitude towards photography. Our guides will make every effort to distribute them the next time they are in the area.

Environmental Responsibility Pollution and waste management is a huge problem throughout the world. In some countries, particularly in Asia, disposal systems are inadequate and recycling of plastics is limited. We suggest avoiding plastic packaging where possible and take along your own bag when shopping. Plastic bags will be offered for everything – don’t be shy in suggesting that it isn’t needed. Don’t be fooled by the rubbish bins on public transport as they may be emptied straight out the window! Collect and dispose of at the next town or hotel.

When trekking, many travelers take an extra plastic bag to pick up any rubbish that they see to improve the area and for their own rubbish. In many cultures it is not appropriate to put rubbish in the cooking fire. Rubbish may have to be carried until a suitable disposal opportunity in the next town.

Bottled water is for sale in most countries, but unfortunately there are few facilities for recycling of the bottles. Please try and minimize the waste of plastic water bottles. Consider packing a water filter, water purification tablets or iodine to purify drinking water. At some of our hotels there are large water ‘bubbler’ dispensers where you can refill your bottle with purified water for free or for a small fee.

The natural environment is also very important. If in the bush we need to make sure our human waste is buried away from waterways. Burying or carrying out used toilet paper is a must. Tampons and sanitary pads must also be taken out of the area and disposed of appropriately. Minimize use of soap or shampoos in rivers and lakes.

There is little education on environmental awareness in some countries, so many locals are unaware of the implications of littering. Our aim is to educate by example, rather than through lecturing. You will notice that our guides are generally very good on their environmental impact when in national parks and remote areas. Please join in if we have a beach, trail or reef clean-up.

Dining & Shopping Local culinary delights are part of the joy of travelling! Eat local food and drinks and your money supports the locals, rather than seeking out imported familiar snacks and drinks from home. Buy handicrafts and art directly from the makers in local villages when you can, rather than from fancy emporiums or department stores. This may help the maker to obtain a better price. We try to support community cooperatives and disabled handicraft centers.

We ask you not to purchase endangered flora and fauna products that may be offered for sale. In many cases wildlife products that are offered for sale in popular tourist locations cannot be taken through customs on your return home. Avoid contributing to illegal or detrimental trade in wildlife by not purchasing:

  • Sea turtle products
  • Coral
  • Snake skin
  • Shahtoosh garments (wool from the highly endangered Tibetan antelope)
  • Butterfly specimens
  • Sea shells- which may have been taken from the sea while still inhabited by living animals
  • Ivory – in Hong Kong and China many ivory products are available for sale
  • Wild animal meats on restaurant menus

The art of bargaining is something you can work on during your trip. Here’s a few pointers to help you on your way:

  • Start bargaining with some idea of what you consider a fair price for the item to be. This will usually involve sourcing the item in a number of different stores;
  • The correct price for an item is the price you agree to pay, that keeps both you and the seller happy. Therefore there’s no ‘right’ price;
  • Be polite, patient, but firm in your bargaining. No-one ever has received a cheaper price through being rude or insensitive;
  • Don’t appear too interested in an item. Walking out of a store is often a good way to get the price to drop;
  • Shop with a friend – buying in bulk will often reduce the price;
  • Learn the numbers in the local language. It will win respect from the seller, and will certainly make the process a lot more interesting;
  • Once a price you have offered is accepted it is not appropriate to back out of the deal;
  • Only say you’ll buy something later if you intend to buy later. The sellers usually have amazing memories, and will come hounding you on your promise!;
  • It is Viettours’ policy that guides do not receive commissions from vendors for their group’s purchases – there’s no need to incorporate commission into a price;
  • Most importantly, enjoy the experience, and remember you’re often only bargaining over only a couple of dollars – keep it in perspective.

Prostitution Viettours’ philosophy of travel is one of mutual respect towards everyone we deal with, and in particularly the local people who make the regions we travel to as special as they are. The exploitation of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy and we are strongly opposed to any of our travelers visiting prostitutes while travelling. Be aware that prostitution in most countries is a gross infringement of human rights, as women and children are sold into the industry by their families and are “imprisoned” in brothels. Many end up with drug problems and sexually transmittable diseases. We strongly condemn anyone who supports prostitution.

Drugs Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on any Viettours trip and the guide has the right to expel a member of the group if drugs are found in their possession. It must be understood that possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land, but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Smoking marijuana and opium is practiced in some parts of the world, but is not acceptable for Viettours travelers or staff.

Donations and Gifts Please do not give money, pens, or sweets to the local people in the communities you visit, as it can promote a ‘begging culture’. It can create unequal relationships between tourist and visitor, with tourists being seen as purely ‘givers’, and it can also strip self esteem away from people when they get money for simply being poor rather than having to solve their own issues of poverty through community action. With sweets – local people may not have access to dentists, nor be able to afford them.

If you wish to donate, your guide may be able to suggest local projects that Viettours is involved with or you may wish to donate via an aid agency. Some local villages can be supported by buying their craft work etc. Pens, note books and other items for children are usually best distributed via a school teacher or community leader. Your guide would be happy to help distribute these items.

In most of Viettours’ trip areas guides may collect clean usable clothing from travelers at the end of a trip, for distribution to needy communities. Please check with your guide.

It is considered proper to make a small donation at the end of a visit to a pagoda or temple – most have a contributions box for this purpose.

The Right to Develop We ask you to remain open minded about development and poverty in local areas, and respect that the local people may wish to develop economically and gain access to material possessions that we take for granted. While this undoubtedly changes villages and makes them less ‘unspoilt’ for travelers, it is something that we should respect. A role you can play is to share some of the realities of our western culture, which while may be materially rich is often lacking in spiritually and community awareness. You can help people understand the negative influences that come from increased material wealth on the family and the community. Assist people to achieve a balanced view of development.

Being a Responsible Traveler Doesn’t Finish When Your Trip Does… At Viettours, part of our travel philosophy is to develop tourism as a two-way means of communication. When you return home we’d like you to think about how you can give something back to the country you visited. You’ve just spent quite a bit of money on giving yourself a great time by experiencing another culture and meeting the people. Your spending has certainly helped the local economy, and now there are other things that can be done to help some other countries on an ongoing basis. After your trip, you will probably be more aware of the environmental, social, political and cultural problems that some local communities face. There are various agencies and groups trying to address these issues, aiming to assist developing countries maintain their cultural identity, develop sustainable resources and improve social justice situations. All of them require resources.

  • Money is not the only way you can assist, as simply providing your time and/or skills might be as valuable and useful. Things you could do:
  • Join a development agency or other group devoted to concerns in developing countries.
  • Become a volunteer and donate time to aid groups.
  • Buy your birthday or Christmas presents at shops run by various third world charitable groups.
  • Write letters for Amnesty International to assist political prisoners or to put pressure on governments to change some intolerable situations.
  • Become more aware of your own government’s policies and how they influence the ‘two-thirds world’.
  • Or just be a more environmentally friendly household and help to use the world’s resources more efficiently.

Viettours’ Top 12 Responsible Travel Tips

The following tips are for your overall travel plans, not just for your time spent on Viettours.

  1. Before leaving home learn as much as possible about the countries you are visiting – the religion and culture, the local rules and values.
  2. Learn some language and don’t be afraid to use it – simple pleasantries will help break the ice. Keep practicing.
  3. Learn what’s appropriate behavior and body language. Like the concept of “saving face” in Asia or giving the thumbs up in western or central Europe.
  4. Support locally owned businesses, hotels, restaurants and other services. Eat local food and drink local brands and brews. Use public transport, hire a bike or walk where convenient – you’ll meet local people and get to know the place.
  5. Think first. It’s best not to eat in restaurants, shop in stores or visit local shows, markets or zoos that promote cruelty or exploitation of endangered species.
  6. Shop from traditional artisans and for locally made products, helping keep traditional crafts alive and favor local products over imported items. Bargain if that is a local practice, but bear in mind that a small amount to you could be extremely important to the seller.
  7. Dress respectfully with an awareness of local standards. Dress modestly at religious sites and check what swim wear is suitable for pools and the beach.
  8. Always ask first before photographing or videoing people. Send them back copies of photos to help make it a two-way exchange.
  9. Be wary of giving gifts or money to beggars, children and people you have just met. Supporting the community through a local school, clinic or development project may be more constructive.
  10. Leave only footprints… take care of the environment as you would your own home. Take out all you take in, to areas away from the cities. Use alternatives to plastic and say ‘No’ to plastic bags. For cigarette butts, an empty film container makes a perfect portable container.
  11. After returning home think how you can support programs and organizations that are working to protect the welfare, culture and environment of where you’ve been lucky to visit.
  12. Smile – The traveler who wishes to have a happy and successful trip should keep as calm, cheerful and friendly as humanly possible. And have fun!