Compassion Tourism

These freely roaming elephant mother and baby are from Udawa Lawa sanctuary in Sri Lanka

Is it Ethical?

How Compassion Rewrites Tourism


By T. Rutter

Back in the day (not going to say how far back, but let’s say Duran Duran was really big at the time), my friends and I backpacked around the planet. Our thoughts were consumed by which sites to see, which activities to enjoy and how to make our tiny amount of cash last until we got home.


Never once did we consider the impact of our actions on the planet, the people or the animals.


While it’s easy to chalk this up to the carelessness of youth, it speaks to a larger issue that has been a big, if unmentioned, problem since before Napoleon’s troops carved their names into Egypt’s landmarks or Lord Elgin chopped his souvenirs out of temples in Greece.


Tourism is a double-edged sword, capable of lifting communities out of poverty, creating empathy for other cultures and species but equally capable of gross exploitation, vandalism and animal cruelty.

Today’s tourists are asking, “Is what I am doing ethical? Does the money I pay go to support the local community? Are animals harmed by my actions? Is my hotel sustainable?”


Many former “bucket list” items like elephant riding or animal shows are being replaced by ethical sanctuary visits and volunteering with community projects.


This new trend towards humane travel isn’t just for the youth and backpackers. High-end and luxury travelers are demanding accountability from their providers.


Every player from multi-national hotel corporations to airlines and bus companies are being asked tough questions. How much do you pay your local staff? Why do you use so much plastic? Does this project benefit or harm the indigenous populations?

Despite every “tourist behaving badly” Youtube video there are a growing number of travelers choosing kindness. Who wants to see a chained animal (even for a selfie) or sip cocktails delivered by people being paid barely enough to buy shoes?


People feel better when they know their hard earned tourist funds are supporting ethical sanctuaries and providing opportunities for local people to earn a decent wage.


Travel, when done thoughtfully can offer great hope to mankind, grappling with the challenges of the modern age. It breaks down barriers, increases cultural understanding and acceptance, and it can open our eyes and ears to different peoples and places.


The optimist in me sees these as all wonderful steps towards crafting a kinder, gentler world.


Thyra Rutter is an Artist & Founder of Arte for Elephants, an art and retreat business that generates funds for animal charities and supports sponsorships for tribal women in Kenya and Thailand.