Responsible ethnic tourism or ethnotourism

by Ale Werner

Ethnic tourism or ethnotourism is something that has been developed enormously in recent years. The curiosity and interest to see people so different from some of us have made many destinations start to exploit these cultures in exchange for money. We are not going to lie, they also agree to receive money in exchange for being view or visited, but it is still our responsibility as travelers to practice responsible ethnic tourism or ethnotourism.

Many travel agencies in the world earn a huge amount of money with ethnic tourism or ethnotourism while you visit the most traditional ethnic groups in the area. This happens mostly in Southeast Asia and Africa, where there are real zoos of people. Do you know what human rights are? For these apply to everyone; Be a responsible tourist and do not forget it!

A clear example is the Karen tribes; present in Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia. You may know them as “Long Neck” women, who use several rings on their bodies to lengthen limbs.


ethnotourism - Women of the Karen Tribe on Myanmar - Inle Lake

Mujer de la tribu Karen / Inle Lake – Myanmar

We do not want to tell you not to visit them, because much of the income of these people also come from the objects and crafts they produce and offer to tourists. However, it is your responsibility to do it with respect.

What are human rights?

Well, the UN presents a list of 30 rights that all human beings must have and that must be respected also by other human beings. The fact that another person looks different to you, or thinks differently and believes in different things does not make them less “human”.

If you are interested in this topic, here is a summary of the 30 rights that must be respected by all, and for all.

How to do ethical and responsible ethnotourism?

  • Ask people kindly if you can take pictures of them before doing so. If you do not speak their language it does not matter, just smile and point your camera. I do not think you would like to be harassed with a camera just to see you differently. This is important especially with the kids.
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ethnotourism - Women of the Maasai Tribe on Kenya

Women of the Maasai Tribe on Kenya


  • Buy their objects and crafts. If you already paid the tour value to get there, you can spend a few dollars more and really help the tribe.


ethnotourism - Women selling crafts, Maasai tribe in Kenya

Mujer vendiendo artesanías – Masai Mara – Kenya


  • Find out about cultures first, and treat people with respect. If your belief is not to show your legs, wear a long skirt or pants. Be respectful. In Thailand, for example, there are several rules about how to behave in temples and interact with monks and/or local people.


What to do and not in Thailand

Reglas en Tailandia para ser respetuoso.


  • Bring gifts to children. Did your hotel have free toothbrushes that you will not use? Soap? A bottle of water? Coloring pencils? … You will be gifted with more than one smile and it will make your day, believe me.


Niños reciben cepillos de dientes en Bagán, Myanmar

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