From Hi-de-Hi to the Hindu Kush

August 12, 2005

Our holiday habits have changed and a beach is no longer the first port of call. You may be an adventurer or a 'dark tourist' but you still need to chill out wherever you end up this summer, says Harriet Swain

The book's finished, the term's over, the students have gone, the sun's shining and you've promised your partner you'll take time off. What do you do now?

"Academics tend to get bored quickly," says Adrian Bull, associate professor of tourism at Lincoln University. He adds that they tend to want learning or activity-based holidays, which is fortunate because the travel industry is increasingly offering this type of vacation. "There is a move away from beach tourism," he says.

According to Bull, adventure is one trend. Another is dark tourism - visiting the sites of battlefields, cemeteries and massacres. Following Britain's successful Olympic bid, he predicts a growing interest in sport.

Mike Robinson, director of the Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change, says it does not really matter where you go, or what you do, the important thing is getting away from e-mail and the telephone.

And once you make the break from your home contacts, he strongly advises getting to know the locals in your new environment. There will be cases in which you need to keep your distance because of cultural sensitivities but, in most places, people appreciate interaction, he says.

Harold Goodwin, director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Greenwich University, says if you are dithering about where to go, choose The Gambia because opportunities to interact with local people are good and it is more culturally diverse than its sun, sea and sand reputation suggests. He says it is important to trade directly with local craftspeople rather than going to craft shops where much of your money will go to middlemen.

Rosaleen Duffy, director of research at the department of politics and international relations at Lancaster University, says it is difficult to have a holiday that is ethical, environmentally sustainable and benefits local communities but there are ways of tinkering at the edges to make it more responsible.

When booking you can ask your hotel about where cleaning staff come from and whether they are protected under labour-rights legislation, and you can make sure any tip added to your bill at the end of the holiday is shared out among backroom staff.

She says you should always be polite to hawkers, who may rely on selling goods on the beach for their livelihood. But also remember that souvenirs such as corals, woods and plant species can damage the environment and may be confiscated on return to the UK. Finally, she suggests finding out whether your hotel and tour operator is locally owned.

Bull recommends "doing things the local way". He advises taking local rather than tour buses, for example, which are cheaper and, in countries such as Egypt, pose less of a terrorist threat. He says you should always take Foreign Office advice about countries that are unsafe to visit but otherwise just use common sense and do not become obsessed by security.

Ron Behrens, senior lecturer in tropical disease at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also stresses the importance of common sense. "People often change on holiday," he says. "When they are out of their normal environment, they take risks they normally wouldn't take." For example, they may be more likely to drink and drive, or ride motorcycles without wearing a helmet.

In addition, behaviour that may be reasonably low risk at home can be much more dangerous abroad. Unprotected sex with a stranger is much riskier in South Africa than it is in the UK, for example. The chance of dying on the road in India is about 100 times higher than it is in Europe.

When it comes to health, medication and vaccines are important but disease avoidance is better still, Behrens says. "Most diseases that you are going to catch cannot be prevented by medicine," he warns. This means keeping insects away where possible, using antiseptic creams to stop cuts becoming infected, being aware of what diseases may be around in the area you are visiting and learning how to avoid them.

It is always important to have proper medical insurance. Don't forget to declare any underlying medical problems, advises Behrens. And don't accept any such problems being excluded from the policy.

One way in which tourists make themselves feel safer, says Robinson, is by using props such as cameras and guidebooks, following a kind of tourist script. This helps them both to reduce the level of perceived risk and to get to know where they are. "It gives a sense of security and a sense of participation," he says.

While some advocate leaving the guidebooks behind, he says we should acknowledge how much our impressions of other places are informed by the reading we have done since childhood. "It is about reading widely and not getting too hung up about what you read because the reality is very different," he says.

Jim Butcher, senior lecturer at the department of geography and tourism at Canterbury Christ Church University, says you should not get hung up about anything. He argues that you cannot worry about solving the problems of the world when you are supposed to be taking a break.

"You need to recharge your batteries so that when you come back home you can change the world," he says. "The traditional association of holidays, which is being free of cares, is precisely what a holiday is about."

Further information

Jim Butcher's The Moralisation of Tourism: Sun, Sand... and Saving the World? Routledge
www.responsible-travel.org  provides information on ethical and environmental impacts of travel
Foreign and Commonwealth Office: www.fco.gov.uk

TOP TIPS

Keep away from e-mail and the telephone

Interact with locals, be polite to hawkers and support local craftspeople when you can

Read widely but sceptically. The reality is often very different from the guidebook

Be sensible about health and safety and don't take risks you would not take at home

Relax . If you don't recharge your batteries, you cannot go home and change the world

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