Responsible Travel & Ethical Tourism

As a leading tour operator in Asia, we know that it’s our responsibility to make the most of our positive influence and minimize our negative impact on the social and physical environments of the destinations we work with - not to mention in our own workplace and communities.

To us, responsible tourism is not just a buzzword; it’s always been an essential part of how we travel. Reading some simple best-practice guidelines prior to departure can make a big difference while you're away. Keep reading to find out how you can make a difference before you go, while you’re away, and on your return. You can read Selective Asia’s Responsible Travel policy in full at the bottom of this page, read more about our Wildlife Policy here, and learn more about the charities we work with here.

1. What you can do before you depart


Take some time to research the destinations you are travelling to before you leave home. Find out about the specifics - these could be ecological, cultural or religious - and ensure you understand how best to respect the local sensibilities.

On the Departure Lounge section of the website, you'll find information about local customs & etiquette, and responsible travel tips (your password is provided when you make a booking).


When it comes to clothing, plan carefully and think about what may be considered offensive to others. When visiting temples and historical buildings it is essential that you cover your shoulders, sometimes your entire arm, and your knees. In all but the most touristy beach resorts it is never suitable to walk the streets or eat a meal in a bikini or just a pair of shorts. When packing try to avoid carrying products that are enclosed in disposable packaging - can you leave this packaging at home?

Further details on all of the above can be found in the Departure Lounge.

At home

Before you leave, these actions can make a surprising difference: 

  • Turn the fridge's temperature down
  • Cancel the newspapers
  • Turn off the hot water
  • Put lights on a timer rather than just leave on for security reasons
  • Unplug all unnecessary electrical items

2. During your Selective Asia Holiday


Always ask before taking a photo of anyone. Pointing at your camera with raised eyebrows will usually suffice. Respect your subject’s wishes if they decline your request - put yourself in their position and it doesn’t take long to work out why some may say no.

Having said that, many people are more than happy for you to take a snap, if only to be able to admire the picture you have just taken of them… the wonders of the digital camera! If you get the opportunity, make an extra print and you’ve got a friend for life. It is not good practise to offer any payment for taking someone’s photo. 


Try and learn a little, even just a basic greeting and thank you. You’ll find that people respond very well to this; the locals will appreciate the effort you are making and your attempts are often a great ice-breaker.  


In most instances, we strongly recommend you do not give money or other ‘gifts’ to beggars, no matter how hard it is to resist. Children miss out on a basic education because they are forced to beg by their parents. In the most extreme cases, they may even be deliberately maimed to increase their earning potential.
Your guide can point you in the direction of schools where you can make a more meaningful donation of pens or other equipment to. These donations actually reach the intended benefactors.

Monks receiving alms is not considered begging as the monasteries are supported by the local communities. Ask your guide or a local how to go about giving alms if you wish to. 

Caring for the environment

At your hotel:

  • Request that your towels are replaced less regularly. Most hotels have a system in place for this.
  • Switch off the lights and air-conditioning when you leave your room.
  • Unplug any devices that you are charging before you go to bed.
  • Try exploring the streets instead of a sweating it out on a running machine.


On the streets:

  • Take care to not litter; most developing countries do not have a refuse collection system.
  • Avoid buying items in disposable packaging. Do you really need a carrier bag for that t-shirt?
  • Show people that you are concerned. In the west we are often more informed on these matters than in Asia.


When bartering don’t try and squeeze every last penny out of the deal. You are expected to raise your initial offer at least once and in most cases several times. Make a game out of it and you’ll come to enjoy the experience. A tip is to think about the value of the item to you rather than the priceGive yourself a reality check every now and again and you’ll realise that you are probably sticking over 50p…very little to you and I but a vital profit margin for the seller. 

Water consumption

Reducing plastic waste, one bottle at a time...

Tap water in Asia is not always reliable, and bottled water is often a necessity. Although buying bottled water in Asia may not hurt your wallet, the environmental cost is huge. Inspired by our Destination Specialist Annie, Selective Asia launched an initiative called One Bottle at a Time. To reduce the plastic bottles waste our clients create, we're providing refillable aluminium drinking bottles and carrying canisters of drinking water in our vehicles. Working with our local partners, we've also introduced a scheme that allows our clients to refill their own reusable bottles from water stations at key partner hotels, as well as our portable water canisters. Find out more about One Bottle at a Time here, or ask your Destination Specialist.

Wilderness & Wildlife

We appreciate that making absolutely no negative impact on the environment when travelling to Asia is simply not possible, however, we strive to minimise it. We rely on you and ask that you use common sense and follow local and international wilderness guidelines. 

  • If you carry it in, carry it out – please don’t dispose of litter along the way. This includes cigarette butts and used matches, as well as paper, plastic, clothing and food scraps. Fruit leftovers may be biodegradable but they are unsightly and can take a while to decompose. Carry a plastic bag to collect your litter during the day and take it away with you. And if you're happy to set a good example; pick up litter left by other, less considerate individuals.
  • Don't feed wild animals - food scraps should not be considered ‘biodegradable’. Be aware that rabies and other diseases are prevalent in many countries. Wild animals should never be touched, and we also strongly advise you to refrain from touching domestic animals such as cats and dogs.
  • When trekking and mountain biking you should stick to marked paths at all times. This is for your own safety and also helps to prevent unnecessary erosion.
  • Try to buy any basic products from the local communities you visit rather than carry them in. This helps to support the local economy in a small way.
  • The protection of water resources is vital. Please do everything possible to avoid polluting vital water sources when trekking and using home-stays. Ask your guide and locals to show you which water to wash and bath in.
  • Only use biodegradable soaps and shampoos that do not contain phosphates. Please avoid using soap and shampoo directly in any fresh water sources such as waterfalls or lakes.
  • If bathing or swimming, consider local sensibilities, both in terms of what you wear and the fact you are in ‘their’ water. Bathe downstream from water collection points and villages, and if you’re using shampoos and soaps, lather up and rinse well away from the water’s edge.
  • To learn more about our position on elephant camps and wildlife sactuaries please click here

Sex Tourism

An unfortunate by-product of travel in some developing nations is sex tourism. Selective Asia wishes to advise all its guests to give anything of this kind a very wide berth. Enough said.  

People, Customs and Etiquette

Wow, a minefield… Asia is overflowing with customs and particular etiquettes. Please try and adhere to these where possible and practical. In truth it’s half the fun of travelling in Asia and not only will local people feel respected, they will respect you in return, allowing you to enjoy a fuller travel experience. You are in their back yard, remember. 

  • Don’t be surprised if local people, especially in more remote regions, treat you with a touch of curiosity, even suspicion at times. Keep an open mind and learn from each experience. One of the great benefits of a Selective Asia holiday is that you won’t be turning up with 15 other camera-wielding tourists and ‘taking over’ the village for half a day… as a private 'group' you’ll do a much better job of blending in!
  • You may find you are asked questions by locals that seem direct. We’ve been asked how many children we have, how old we are, if we’re married, what our salary is, and more on numerous occasions. Try to realize this is simply a way for many to practice their English and open a conversation with someone from a culture they don’t know. Also privacy can mean something very different in Asia and the norm is to be married and practice a religion. It’s up to you how or if you answer these questions – we recommend with good humour! 
  • Please respect local customs. Read up before you go and you can always ask your guide, or a local, once you are there. In all but the most remote areas, people understand that you come from a different culture and any errors you make will most likely be met with laughter.
  • Nudity, scanty or inappropriate dress often causes offence. Modest dress will help minimize the risk of sexual harassment, and will help to ensure both you and future visitors are treated with respect.
  • Formalities such as greetings can be quite different to what you are used to. It’s never a problem to offer your hand but it may be found very amusing – again, take your lead from the locals.
  • Please be aware that public displays of affection are taboo in many communities.
  • Try not to lose your temper in public, it is considered very rude by many Asian people and should be avoided at all costs. Save the argument for the hotel room.
  • Likewise, never turn bartering into argument - it will not benefit you. Throughout Asia a tradesperson will never be seen to lose face by buckling to the demands of an red-faced tourist.
  • Abide by all the laws of the country and community you’re visiting… they apply to everyone.
  • Children are not tourist attractions. We advocate the work of and are moving away from including visits to children’s centres, orphanages and schools. We wouldn’t accept tourists visiting these intuitions in our own countries and hope this way of thinking is the same for our clients in Asia.

Religious Sites

Visitors to religious and historic sites should pay particular attention to the following:

  • Be sure to dress appropriately and follow local guidelines
  • Be mindful of your manners and respect local etiquette
  • Never remove anything from religious or historical sites: this constitutes theft, not a souvenir.

3. Upon your return

It’s all down to sharing your knowledge with others at this stage. Any information, hints and tips that you can pass on ensures that those following in your footsteps will be better educated and more responsible.

You may also want to make donations to groups and charities that work in the region you have visited. For further details on a select number of organisations that we believe are truly making a difference to peoples lives and animal welfare, as well as helping to sustain communities, please click here. Your donations and help are always very much appreciated.

Selective Asia's Responsible Tourism Policy

  • Stay local. One of our core values is to collaborate with local, responsible companies and partners who share our focus, beliefs and passions. We work mainly with local guides, local operators and hotel partners, and will always offer independent, local accommodation options to clients. Our holidays are designed to enable our clients to immerse themselves in local places and experiences, and we make sure that, wherever possible, the income they bring to a destination goes directly back into the community. We have also developed a system that allows clients to donate any unused currency to local charities that are vetted and selected by our partners.
  • Reinvest our own profits, earnings & raised funds. We support local charities and NGOs, which we have directly observed working in a positive way within our destinations, by making corporate and personal donations, and through regular fundraising initiatives such as sponsored sports (we have a couple of marathon runners in the office!).
  • Protect children. We fully agree with the message of – ‘children are not tourist attractions’. We avoid and discourage any behaviour that treats them otherwise, and support social enterprises with a proven commitment to children’s wellbeing and personal development.
  • Absolutely against orphanage tourism. Visiting children centres, orphanages or schools is forbidden in Western countries, and research has shown that short-term visits can be harmful to a child’s development and emotional balance.
  • Against 'voluntourism'. Volunteering as a way to see the world tends to benefit the volunteer more than the host community. If you are interested in donating your time, we can make recommendations on how to do this in a way beneficial to all involved.
  • ...and against sex tourism. Obviously. If only there were no need to state this.
  • Respect humanity at large. All clients are given access to guidelines on local etiquette, language, and other social tips to think about whilst travelling in Asia. We offer added support for LGBT clients, whether that means making sure that honeymooners get the honeymoon suite, or advising on travel in areas where being gay is illegal or not socially acceptable.
  • Really wildlife-focused. We only work with wildlife projects and elephant sanctuaries that genuinely have animal welfare at the core of their operation, and we have created an approved list of elephant projects that we recommend to clients. We support wildlife charities dedicated to the preservation of wildlife in the destinations we operate in. We do not sell visits to tiger sanctuaries and only work with accredited wildlife conservation projects.
  • Minimize plastic usage. We launched our One Bottle At A Time initiative to replace disposable plastic water bottles with refillable canisters across our destinations. We also send our guests a wooden toothbrush to help avoid using hotels’ disposable plastic brushes and educate clients about the limited recycling facilities in Asia and best-practice regarding waste-reduction. Within our UK offices we operate strict recycling policies and make sure everyone in the office uses reusable crockery and cutlery.
  • Educate. It’s at the heart of our approach prior to a client’s departure. Within our website, apps and documentation, our clients can find information and ideas to let them travel in a responsible and low-impact manner.
  • Local Partners. We insist that any travel partners we work with also adhere to our responsible travel policy. Our local partners put responsible tourism at the heart of everything they do. We work collaboratively with them to ensure an ongoing exchange of information, so we can all continue to improve our work around responsible tourism. 
  • Social entreprises. There are a number of inspiring social enterprises across Asia that we’re able to include visits to in our itineraries. Some of the most interesting eateries we include in our trips are vocational training restaurants, which offer training to locals from disadvantaged backgrounds and arm them with skills for work in the hospitality industry.
  • Put our money where our mouths are. We have developed systems that allow us and our clients to donate any unused local currency to local charities. Each client receives an envelope in which they can leave any unused or wanted local notes or coins with their guide to be donated to a local charity. We fund a class at the Lone Buffalo Foundation in Laos and make an annual donation to MAG (Mines Advisory Group), in addition to other local charities and NGOs which have a directl postitive impact within the communities we operate in.
  • Go beyond carbon offsetting. We don't think the standard carbon offset programmes do enough, so we've collaborated with the World Land Trust to develop our own improved version, for our own trips as well as our clients. Read more here.
  • Behave at home as we do abroad. Within our office and workplaces, we work to continually improve our environmental processes. We are committed to office recycling and reduction of electricity usage in the office.
  • Never rest on our laurels. While RT has been a core part of our company values since day one, and we believe we have made great strides in the work we do in this area, we also know this is a huge topic to address, and one we can always improve in. We are all too aware of the term ‘greenwashing’, where companies create policies that simply pay lip service instead of making an actual positive impact, and we take great pains not to fall into this category. We believe there will always be further work to do, and we want to be genuine and credible in this work, which will be vital to the longevity of the regions, and everyone’s enjoyment of the travel we love.
Gemma, Asia product specialist

Responsible travel is the best way to make sure these destinations stay enticing and welcoming. Don't worry, it needn't mean tying yourself in knots, and we can help you get it right!

Gemma - Product Manager

Selective Asia Responsible Travel

Martin G, tailor-made Asia specialist

Try to remember, the western 'way' is not necessarily always the right way.

Martin G, tailor-made Asia specialist

Go beyond carbon offsetting: contribute to the Selective Earth Programme with the World Land Trust

World Land Trust

Why we don’t offer a standard carbon offset programme

We believe that for ‘carbon offsetting’ to be effective, it needs to be implemented as part of a broader set of responsible actions, otherwise it distracts from the real impact of flying on both the developing country, and the developed country. In order to truly contribute towards a healthier planet, we believe that putting our efforts into travelling responsibly, and donating towards conservation projects is a more responsible action than simply offsetting, which is why we’ve put together the Selective Earth Programme in conjunction with the World Land Trust.

Selective Earth Programme in conjunction with the World Land Trust

We offer all our clients the opportunity to not only reduce their carbon footprint when flying, but also contribute towards conservation projects in Asia. To do this, we have teamed up with World Land Trust (WLT) an international conservation charity who we believe offer a correctly priced and effective solution to reducing the carbon impact of your flight, through actively conserving rainforest whilst supporting local communities. We work closely with the trust to identify which projects are a priority for funding, to ensure our donations keep on making a difference. We are currently contributing towards the conservation of the Khe Nuoc Trong forest, in Vietnam, as well as planting fruit trees in the surrounding communities.

Find out more about the Selective Earth Programme

Heritage Friendly Campaign of Cambodia

We are very proud to have been awarded Silver Status by the Heritage Friendly Campaign of Cambodia. We believe that it is essential to care and respect the destinations we work in. This award reflects the efforts we have made within Cambodia.

The award certifies that, amongst other things, we:

  • Educate our clients on the importance of protecting Cambodia's heritage.
  • Ensure all the SA team are educated about heritage preservation.
  • Actively promote good tourism practice, imparting information to guests that is beneficial to the environment, heritage, arts and culture.
  • Support social development programs such as sports activities for the youth, education and literacy programs as well as other projects helping underprivileged Cambodians.
  • Are involved with community projects providing support for underprivileged Cambodians.
  • Promote new Cambodian destinations, helping to ensure income from tourism reaches the areas that need it most.
Responsible travel and ethical tourism is not just the right way to travel but the only way