Tourism and human rights

Caitie Goddard
Jul 23, 2023

There is no denying the challenges that a year wrought with a pandemic has brought, and continues to bring to the world. While COVID-19 brought tourism to a near halt, it has also enabled some of the time and attention put on driving tourism numbers up to be redirected towards a new challenge: how might we rethink the industry and come back stronger and more sustainable?

One such area where much opportunity lies is considering the interconnectedness of tourism and human rights. We asked Anne-Marie Brook from the Human Rights Measurement Initiative to give us further insight on why it’s important for GOOD travellers to understand the connection between tourism and human rights, and how we can contribute to supporting human rights wherever we travel. Read on to discover what she told us.

What do human rights have to do with tourism?

Anne-Marie Brook, Human Rights Measurement Initiative Co-Founder

When we visit new countries we are stimulated by new sights and sounds and foods and we are open to expanding our understanding of the world. Looking at the world through a human rights lens means paying attention to how people are treated in the countries we visit (and in our home countries!). Do people in this country have enough to eat, and decent housing? If not, is this just because the country is very poor, or because there is a lot of corruption, or inequality, and the country’s resources are just not benefiting everyone? Do people in this country have the freedom to speak out against their government and propose improved ways of doing things? If not, how do we, as outsiders, respond, or support local people? How can we be givers and not just takers when we travel? Ultimately human rights are about enabling people to live their lives in dignity and fulfil their potential. We can care about those things – and make a difference – when we’re at home, and when we’re travelling.

Why should GOOD travellers take the time to learn about human rights in the destinations they are visiting?

The more travellers know about the countries they visit, the richer their experiences will be. Also, GOOD travellers have the opportunity to make a positive difference when they travel. In countries where the government is not doing a good job of respecting their people’s human rights, GOOD travellers can help ordinary people by, for example, supporting small local-run hotels and tour guides, rather than funneling tourist dollars through government agencies and government-owned hotels. The more we know about a country, the more we can choose to be a helpful presence there.

How can GOOD travellers learn about human rights issues in the destinations they are visiting?

There are lots of resources about human rights on the internet. You can find human rights news and commentary about most countries in the world on the websites of both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. If you’re interested in seeing simple scores on each country’s human rights performance, then the Human Rights Measurement Initiative is the place to go.

One of the useful features on our Rights Tracker is the ‘people at risk’ section – available for some countries. You can see which people are most vulnerable to human rights abuses in each place, and keep an eye out for ways to support them while you travel, for instance with your tourist dollars.

How can GOOD travellers support human rights in the destinations they are visiting?

It starts with being respectful of the people you meet. In some cases, this may mean respecting people’s unwillingness to speak openly about human rights violations in their countries.  Being ‘disloyal’ to the regime can sometimes lead to arrest or other forms of ill-treatment. It may be safer just to share stories about how things are in your country.

Whenever you can, try to support local businesses and organisations that are helping to improve the lives of indigenous people, women and girls, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and other groups who may be discriminated against. Travellers can find out ahead of time what labour conditions and wages are like for people in the countries we visit, and decide to, for instance, pay more than the absolute minimum for some goods and services, like rickshaw drivers, or food-stall holders.

Should GOOD travellers visit countries with severe human rights violations? Is it ever appropriate to boycott destinations?

If your tourist dollars are going to support a corrupt regime that is oppressing its people, then there may be a good case to boycott that travel experience. But it is also good to keep in mind that even in countries with severe human rights violations, the local people can often really appreciate the opportunity to talk to foreigners, and your tourist dollars can help to improve their lives. My advice is to do your research and try as much as possible to spend your money wisely.

Final Question! 2020 has offered an opportunity for industry stakeholders to look critically at how the tourism industry might be rebuilt post-pandemic. What are three key ways the industry can incorporate a human-rights lens into the process?

  • Provide information to travellers on the connectedness between tourism and human rights (e.g. such as the information provided in this article).
  • Conduct independent social and environmental impact assessments, as part of their corporate social responsibility to mitigate against human rights violations in supply chains.
  • Integrate a human rights lens into certification programs for tourism experiences (e.g. hotels, tours, etc) to make it easier for travellers to make informed decisions.

A big thank you to Anne-Marie for educating GOOD travellers further on the connection between human rights and tourism. You can learn more by visiting the Human Rights Measurement Initiative.

July 23, 2023
5 min read