AITO: The Association of Independent Tour Operators

AITO Sustainable Tourism Guidelines

How to Travel Sustainably and Responsibly

AITO members are committed to enjoying and preserving our fragile planet, by ensuring environmental and cultural demands are kept as low as possible. Here are some simple, but effective, tips designed to help you support our objectives:

Before you go

Global Warming

One of the biggest environmental costs when travelling is the carbon footprint created when you fly. For example, on a trip to India each passenger is responsible for releasing nearly two tonnes of the global-warming gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.

Many AITO operators support carbon-balancing initiatives, whereby the amount of CO2 generated on a flight is calculated and the traveller pays to offset these emissions by investing in projects which lower carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Examples include reforestation programmes, providing low-energy lightbulbs to poor households so they burn less wood, developing community-based hydro-electricity and backing the development of cleaner cooking fuels.

We encourage you to follow suit and fly 'climate neutral'. Ask your tour operator for details on their carbon-balancing scheme.


‘Hello’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘Goodbye’. Learn the lingo! Attempting to master a few words of the local language is a great way to bring down barriers. It also shows cultural respect greeting, thanking and saying goodbye to shopkeepers, waiters, drivers, clerks, etc, in their own language.

Local Customs

Religious beliefs, customs and traditions vary enormously around the world and play a large part in daily life. It is important to familiarise yourself with the local dress code, cultural etiquette and perhaps any pertinent political information too. The local concept of time may also be less hurried than your own. Remember: You are the visitor and by showing respect you will be respected and appreciated yourself.


Keep your packing to a minimum and avoid disposable goods. Waste-disposal facilities can be limited in some destinations and recycling is often non-existent in many parts of the world. Eco-friendly soap gets our thumbs-up!

Gifts and Presents

You may make special friendships and experience generous hospitality when abroad. Gifts that are evocative of your home country such as postcards and photographs make ideal presents. Check with your tour operator for any specific tips about the area you’re visiting.

On holiday

Eat with the Locals

Support local businesses and preserve traditional cuisine by dining in local restaurants, not just your hotel. It’s a great way to sample local specialities and local ingredients.

Souvenirs and Shopping

Wherever possible buy your souvenirs from local shops. Haggling is often customary and can be fun, but stop once you’ve been offered a reasonable price: a few pence won’t make a huge difference to you, but it can mean everything to traders trying to make a living. Avoid buying souvenirs that exploit wildlife or threaten endangered species. Finally, items from ancient civilisations may still be found or bought in countries such as Peru and Turkey. Leave them: a country should keep its historic artifacts.

Plants and Shells

One of the joys of travelling is the spectacular variety of wild plants and shells you will see. These should remain in their natural environment, so avoid picking or collecting any. It is also illegal to import some plant species.

Wildlife and Animal Welfare

Avoid disturbing wildlife and damaging their natural habitat. Take care not to touch coral reefs and do not feed animals or fish. Stay quiet when viewing animals on safari.


Don’t give out sweets or money, especially to children. Giving will only teach them that begging is rewarding and can undermine parental authority. It is far better to interact with children. Cat’s cradle, frisbees or simply exchanging drawings or photos can be more fulfilling and fun for both you and the children. Though begging is the sole source of income for many of the world’s poor, it’s far more constructive to give money to charities which often offer long-term help to a far greater number of people.


To state the obvious, the world is full of it – don’t add to it! It’s up to you to decide how strongly you feel about other people littering: many walkers, for example, are happy to pick up rubbish along the trail. It’s your call. Many countries do not have adequate litter collection or recycling, so the less you rubbish you leave behind, the better. Plastics, in particular, take a long time to decompose; consider taking a water bottle or filter and purifying your own water.

Photos: think before you click

People in colourful local dress always make good subjects for photographs, but ask before you snap. Many people, for whatever reason, do not like being photographed and you should always gain permission before taking photographs.

Water: pollution and usage

If it is necessary to wash in streams or rivers, do not use detergents or other chemicals – it may be someone’s drinking water further downstream. Use eco-friendly soaps instead and use water sparingly.

Back at home

Continuing support

You may have come across charitable projects, or been affected by humanitarian or conservation concerns on your holiday. Many tour operators support a wide variety of charitable initiatives, or can advise you where to direct your support, so you can ‘give something back’ to the destination of your choice.


If you have particular comments – positive or negative - about sustainable tourism issues on your tour, let your tour operator know! We are continually striving to improve performance and your comments are vital in helping us ensure we act on the issues and operate in a responsible fashion.

Animal Welfare Toolkit