Responsible tourism in Southern Africa Part 2: People and Communities

Cultural diversity makes Southern Africa an incredibly appealing destination. It is a colourful place with various cultures, each with  its own traditions, art and music. To help preserve and enhance Southern Africa’s ecological and cultural gems, it’s important to travel responsibly. Responsible tourism is about travelling with a purpose. It is about respecting and contributing to the communities you visit. It is about buying local products, protecting wildlife, conserving the environment, and supporting local communities and local businesses. This post presents guidelines for community tourism for visitors to Southern Africa. 


1. Support local businesses

One of the most important ways of practicing responsible tourism is supporting local communities by taking part in the local economy.  You can do this by visiting local bars, cafés and restaurants rather than international chains. The local food, coffee and wine is perhaps the best in the world, so you won’t regret it. Participate in tours to local areas that are arranged by local companies to bring business to local communities. Buy crafts, clothes and food products that are made locally.



Community-based tourism is a type of tourism where local residents invite visitors into their communities, giving them insight into their culture and daily lives. It allows travellers to interact with the local community, and experience the diversity and customs of other cultures. This involves township visits, cooking and crafting together, storytelling, village tours and other activities. These types of activities spread knowledge about other cultures, including beliefs and social norms. 

However, there is some controversy regarding community based projects, so people are encouraged to do research before attending. Try to find out how involved the local community actually is in the project (who owns the company, who manages it,  who delivers the service) and what kind of benefits the community as a whole gets (economic, social, cultural or environmental). Alternatively, arrange community based tourist activities through a responsible travel company. 



Township tours can be controversial. The responsible traveler must avoid the  ‘drive-by shooting’ tours where you are hiding in a bus (sometimes referred to as zoo tourism).  For a genuine learning experience get out on foot or a bike. Go with a guide who still lives in the township. Visit projects, shops and restaurants run by local residents to support small businesses that also need the support of township tourism to grow. 

When visiting a township or other poor area, please avoid excessive displays of wealth (eg expensive jewellery, purses, cameras). Wear casual, modest and understated clothing. Leave your valuables (passport, credit card, mobile phone) at your hotel. It is recommended that you don’t go off route but stay close to the guide. Also, please be aware that the townships struggle with waste management, so please bring your litter with you when you leave. 

If you would like to go on a township visit, African Sensations  work closely with Uthando, which is a non-profit and Fair Trade in Tourism accredited organisation. They aim to raise funds for life changing community development projects in South Africa.



Southern Africa has lots of amazing scenery and rich cultures. Perhaps you encounter people in beautiful and interesting outfits that you really would like to take a photo of.  Here it is important to use common sense. Ask if it is OK that you photograph someone, and always confirm with them before posting on social media (especially if it is a portrait). Importantly, show respect and ask permission if you want to take photos of people that live in poverty or their houses. 



Southern  Africa has many acute social challenges. Millions of  people live in poverty and face daily struggles to survive. If you have leftovers from a restaurant visit or won’t finish that bag of apples you bought, don’t throw it away. There are lots of people that are hungry that you can give it to. Restaurants will normally be quite happy to provide boxes for food not eaten.



Unemployment and homelessness is a big problem in Southern Africa. While there are some people begging on the streets, many unemployed people have created their own informal jobs. These self-appointed jobs include car guarding (people in yellow vests watching parked cars on the street), collecting trash from cars along the roads for some change, or selling stuff on the street (like stickers, pens, art and home made cards).  While some of these jobs are subject to controversy, some of them are community projects to create jobs (such as the Secret Love project in Cape Town, with people selling heart stickers). Visitors are encouraged to research the place they are visiting and support community initiatives that help deal with unemployment. If you are not sure about giving money (for instance in fear of it being used for drugs or other crime) you can always give food instead. 

African Sensations do not advocate giving money in itself, unless a service or goods have been provided. 


This post is part of a 3 part series for travellers to Southern Africa that wish to explore what these beautiful and exciting countries have to offer in a way that positively impacts communities, is  more eco-friendly, and respectful towards wildlife. Part 1 looks at Wildlife, and part 3 looks at how you can protect the Environment while travelling.


 Written by: Kristin Hagan (PhD scholar in Environmental Ethics), working as a consultant for African Sensations.


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