'Responsible tourism' is a wonderful expression. It describes all of our obligations as tourists without really describing any. The ambiguity of the word 'responsible' is perfect. Picking up your rubbish and taking off your hat in church is, of course, responsible behavior; but so is speaking some of the local language and paying a fair price for things at the market. Responsible tourism means more than just obeying rules of social etiquette and being on your best behavior; you must be proactive as well as reactive. In a nutshell, try to give something back to the country you are visiting. Speaking a little Spanish - even just 'hello' and 'thank you' - is respectful and demonstrates a willingness to adapt to the local culture (which might in turn help you to make some friends!). Remember that the Dominican Republic is a developing country where life can be hard and very little is taken for granted. Think twice before haggling for an hour over the price of a mango or a bunch of bananas. Paying a tourist price is not necessarily a bad thing if it is for the benefit of the local economy - in other words, the street vendors and hawkers in the market who are normally the last to see the financial rewards of the all-inclusive, mass tourism so prevalent in the Dominican Republic. As an adventurous and independent traveler, you are in the privileged position of being able to give something back directly to the people because you are in constant contact with them. Our ultimate responsibility, then, is to make sure that this opportunity is not wasted.
Tourist, don't take my picture.
You don't understand my pose.
You don't understand a thing.
It's none of your business, I say.
Gimme five cents, tourist,
And then - be on your way.
Diacoute by Félix Morisseau-Leroy (Haiti)
A responsible tourist is a culturally aware tourist: one who is willing to adapt to and respect local customs and traditions. I have already mentioned learning a bit of the local language, which is an easy and enjoyable thing to do. The point about bargaining is as much about respecting the local way of life as not taking advantage of other people's poverty. In a similar vein, ask before you take photographs of people and be aware of the fact that your camera might cost more than your subject's yearly wage. I am not saying don't do it - just be humble about the way you do it.
A responsible tourist will also adhere to the concept of low-impact tourism. This is another term which can mean different things to different people - although much of it is really just common sense. It hardly needs saying that you should pick up your litter (or not throw it in the first place), refrain from uprooting plants, flowers and coral, and use energy resources such as water and electricity - so precious in the Dominican Republic - efficiently. Less obvious, but equally important aspects of low-impact tourism include: not washing in rivers and lakes (regardless of local practices), collecting shells, or getting too close to the wildlife, all of which act to the detriment of the natural world in some way or another.
Back at Home
Without laboring the point too much, your duties as a responsible tourist continue after you have returned home. Try to be an ambassador in your own country. Keep in touch with the people you have met on your travels and share your experiences with others back home. On the international stage, the Dominican Republic is synonymous with all-inclusive resorts and devastating hurricanes. Simply by talking about the many other positive and relatively unknown aspects of the country (such as the opportunities for adventure travel) will help to dispel preconceived - and often erroneous - stereotypes. You might also consider joining groups through which you can continue to contribute to the country you have just visited.