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Reading for the environment: ETHICAL TOURISM

July 16, 2021 by Maria Cleary

 Welcome to the seventh post in our ‘Reading for the environment’ series. Throughout the year we'll be posting monthly articles complete with lesson plans and reading tips to help you focus on different aspects of the environment and raise environmental awareness in your English classes. Our Readers Blog primarily promotes the importance of reading in language education, but we also embrace the idea of caring for our environment. We also think that literacy and language development and environmental studies mutually support each other. To put it simply: the better your students’ literacy and language skills become, the more they will be able to learn about the environment and understand the urgent need to live in a sustainable fashion. 

This month we focus on ETHICAL TOURISM, following the themes of WINTER, SEEDS, RAIN, RIVERS, POLLUTION and FOOD. Ethical tourism has become increasingly important in recent years. How can we become responsible travellers who care for the environment and respect the lifestyle of the local population? In this post we talk about different aspects of ethical or responsible tourism through some activities and projects for teen and adult learners. 

What is ethical tourism?

Before we discuss ethical tourism with our students, it’s important that they are aware of the problems generated by mass tourism, and tourism in general. Start by sharing the following definition: 

“Ethical tourism is a form of tourism that has been specifically designed to encourage both the tourism industry and tourists to consider the ethical implications of their actions and avoid participation in activities which contribute to ethical abuses in tourism destinations.”

(Source: Key Concepts in Tourist Studies

Talk about how ethical tourism is linked to sustainable tourism or ecotourism, and discuss how it is everyone’s responsibility to support such forms of travel. Introduce the following topics in connection with tourism, making sure your students know what they mean. Then discuss how they impact the local environment and the lifestyle of the local population.

  • Infrastructure
  • Accommodation
  • Traditional culture
  • Local shops
  • City life
  • Ecosystem
  • Waste management
  • Water supplies

5 situations to discuss in class

Talk about the following five situations in class to bring the topic of ethical tourism closer to your students.

Situation 1: Travel 

Before travel bans due to COVID-19, easy and cheap travel solutions had made mass tourism possible. Most people want to get to their destinations quickly, but it also means that they miss out on the fun in the journey itself. You need to make a decision about how you travel to your destination. You can drive a car, take the train or fly. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these means of transport? Consider the following aspects of your travel choice.

  • How does it impact the environment?
  • How much time does it take from door to door? Calculate waiting at airports.
  • How much of the world do you get to see?
  • How safe is it for your health?
Situation 2: Accommodation

You are planning your holidays and need to choose a place to stay. You can choose from apartments rented by locals, a room in a hotel or chain of hotels, or a small bed and breakfast. Reflect on these different options by discussing these questions:

  • Who owns the apartments?
  • How do holiday rentals affect house prices for locals?
  • How do hotels transform cityscapes and coastlines?
  • What are good bed and breakfasts like?
Situation 3: Local life

We often hear locals complain about and praise tourism at the same time. What are the pros and cons of tourism from the locals’ perspective? An important question is also respecting local cultures and traditions. Why do you think it is important? Discuss the following themes to have more perspectives on local life and tourism.

  • How does it affect housing prices?
  • How does it influence city development?
  • How does it impact infrastructure?
  • How does it change employment opportunities?
Situation 4: Controversial places 

You may decide to visit a country that has controversial political, economical and ecological issues. For example, most of its people might live in poverty, it might rely on cheap (and even child) labour, and it might not protect its ecosystems. How would you feel about visiting such a place?

And even if you visit a place which does not present such issues, you might find yourself facing other questions. Here are some questions to discuss.

  • How do you feel about visiting zoos and animal parks? Do you find out how they treat the animals?
  • Would you visit a slum?
  • Would you visit natural areas which need to be protected?
  • Would you visit popular destinations which are under threat because of mass tourism, for example, Venice or the Himalayas?
Situation 5: Buying souvenirs and eating out

Finally, you are facing dilemmas if you need to make decisions about eating out and buying gifts to take home. On the one hand, you might want to splash out on souvenirs for all your friends and family. On the other hand, it is important to consider who is actually making the gifts you buy. When you plan your daily meals and evenings out, it is also important to consider what sort of restaurants you visit. Popular restaurant chains might give us the comfort of the familiar, but they also make us miss out on local flavours. Think about the following questions.

  • How can you make sure that the souvenirs you buy actually support the local economy?
  • What makes a good souvenir?
  • How do restaurant chains change our experience of a new place?
  • Where would you rather eat: a small local bistro or a chain you are already familiar with?
Possible solutions: What would you do? 

Once you have discussed these issues, ask students to write a short list of their own solutions for making tourism more responsible. 

  • With intermediate and higher level students, you can use these situations to practise talking about hypothetical situations.
  • With lower level students, you can simply talk in the present simple tense and practise using modals such as: can, could, should and expressions like ‘It’s a good idea to …’. 
  • They can also write a list of tips for others to become ethical and responsible tourists.

Activity idea

Get your students to check out our On the Read series of posts which will be running for all of July on both our Facebook and Instagram pages.

Ethical tourism in India
  • Ask them to choose 1 (or more) destinations they would like to go to.
  • Then ask them to find out about tourism in that area. They should investigate what type of tourism is offered, where the tourists typically stay, how they move around, etc. plus where the majority of tourists come from and how they travel to and from the destination.
  • Now ask them to think of possible problems tourism may cause in the area.
  • Finally, ask them to come up with a list of suggestions for tourists in the area to help them make their stay more ethical and responsible.
  • Share the lists in class and send them to us. We'd love to see your ideas!


Is it possible to become an ethical, almost invisible tourist? How can you reduce your negative impact on your destinations and help locals benefit from your visit too?