Climb and travel responsibly: 6 tips for a low-impact climbing holiday

May 25, 2021

Climbing tourism can bring significant benefits to an area, but if not done responsibly can have an equally negative effect. Here are a few tips to help you be a more responsible tourist on your next climbing holiday.

How to Be a Responsible Climbing Tourist

Words by Dani Dobrot and Tyler Algeo

Tourism is a rapidly expanding industry with an estimated 1.46 billion tourists in 2019. Adventure tourism, which includes activities such as hiking, caving, rafting, and rock climbing, is one of the fastest-growing sectors. In 2018, the global market for these forms of tourism was valued at US $586.3 billion, and was projected to increase to US $1,626.7 billion by 2026. However, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, international global tourism arrivals in 2020 were down 74% from the year before. As we gradually move back towards a world where safe international travel is possible, let’s take a closer look at how we can plan our climbing holidays to have a positive impact. 


Nicki Simon, Senior Editor & Storyteller at The Climbing Initiative, enjoys some air under her feet while climbing in La Mojarra, Colombia © Matt Paulsen

What is a responsible tourist?

But first, what is a responsible tourist? At present, there is no common definition; however, any attempt to define this phrase should include ethical and respectful behavior towards residents’ needs and interests economically, socioculturally, and environmentally as they seek to meet their sustainability goals.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility to listen to the community we’re visiting to understand what responsible tourism looks like in that context. Tourists should engage in every new location and community with humility, giving respect to the local culture, environment, and norms. Here are some key ideas that will help you practice ethical and respectful behavior, ensuring that climbers continue to be welcomed to these destinations for generations.  

Climbing in "Buddha Cave", Cat Ba, Vietnam. © Ben Wilman 


1. Research the location ahead of time

While tourism brings significant benefits—such as economic growth—it is important to also recognize its potential negative effects. These can include environmental degradation, social tensions, and accidentally overwhelming an area. It is therefore important for local communities and authorities to work towards sustainable ways of caring for the environment, community, and tourists.

A responsible climbing tourist seeks to understand and respect the laws and policies in place in the area they are travelling to. Do your research ahead of time. With the internet, social media, and companies like Mapo Tapo and The Climbing Initiative, there are many resources that can help a climbing tourist understand an international climbing destination.

Also, beware of overcrowding popular locations. Choose to visit off-the-beaten-track climbing areas instead, so you can create a greater positive impact on the lives of locals. 


2. Learn about and respect the local culture

As a part of your pre-travel research, it is important to understand the local culture. Start with some internet research, and continue this curiosity and openness to learning at every step of your trip. Remember to question your own assumptions and biases as you experience new ideas and customs, especially when they clash with your own.

While on vacation, be conscious of your impact even in everyday moments. When visiting culturally significant locations, do not climb on structures or walk away from the designated areas. This can communicate disrespect and result in damage to the location or potential fines to the traveler. Be aware of dressing in a respectful way for each location and situation.

Finally, be conscious of what you photograph. It can be tempting to take photos of everything to share with family, friends, and social media circles. Make sure you only photograph those who have given their permission and that all photos communicate respect and dignity for the individuals and culture. Although these practices are not a full list of all the things climbing tourists should be aware of, they are a great place to start practicing cultural awareness and respect. 


3. Connect with local climbers ahead of time

Another great way to practice responsible tourism is to connect with local climbers. No amount of internet research is a substitute for having a local community member help you navigate the policies, culture and landscape in a new location.

Traveling for climbing, especially outside of one's home country, offers an incredible opportunity to experience not only different types of climbs but other cultures. Most climbers are excited to share their crag with visitors, and by connecting with locals you will have a much richer experience. You can connect with local climbers by contacting local climbing organizations and gyms on social media. It is a lot easier than you think!

More pads, more spotters, more fun: this is just part of what you can get if you are willing to interact with the locals on a climbing trip
© Roberto Mor


4. Learn and respect the local climbing etiquette

A local climber or organization can also help you be aware of the local climbing etiquette. Climbing etiquette is not universal, and there are local customs that, if not respected, could be offensive or dangerous. Pets, music, smoking, campfires, and other behaviors may be acceptable at one location, but may be a direct threat to access at another.

Before heading to the climbing crag, make it a priority to learn about environmental protection and policies there. For example, check for closures at certain times of the year for the protection of an animal species. It is also important to know how best to climb and clean a route in a specific location. Some areas require sport routes cleaned on rappel, while others prefer the climber lowered by a belayer.

Some areas do not allow the use of metal gear and require using only knotted cord and slings. Find out the local customs and act accordingly.

The Czech Republic is home to some very unique climbing areas such as Český ráj. Here you can only protect yourself with knots and slings, and chalk is often forbidden as the sandstone is very delicate © Jan Zahula


5. Support local businesses

As a responsible tourist, you should aim to have a positive economic impact in the destination of your choosing. This is especially true for climbing tourists. Climbing areas are often found in more rural locations with nearby small towns that may benefit greatly from tourism.  Spending money on local businesses can be an expression of an ethical and respectful tourist: stay at local hostels, buy from local restaurants, and rent taxis, motorbikes, or bicycles.

Some more developed climbing areas may have guiding services that can be employed to help you navigate this new place. The best part of participating in the local economy is that this paints a positive picture of climbing tourists. Some tourist destinations are new, and community members may be wary of climbing or not fully understand the positive impact this sport could potentially have for them. The more benefit local non-climbers experience from climbing, the better the climbing community is able to receive support for their activity.  

Support local businesses when traveling: no hotels can offer this view. © Massimo Cappuccio of B&B Polvere di Stelle in Sicily (Italy).


6. Donate to support the climbing area

Finally, a responsible tourist should support the environmental protection and safety of the local community they are visiting. For climbers, this means reinvesting in the climbing area they are enjoying. Climbing areas exist because of an enormous amount of labor put into developing and maintaining these special locations. Beyond the hundreds of hours of (typically volunteer) labor that goes into maintaining climbing areas, there are significant costs, such as maintaining trails and fixed hardware like bolts and anchors. If you are traveling to a climbing area, please consider making a financial contribution. 


Now head out and enjoy your climbing holiday responsibly...

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, these key ideas will help you practice becoming a responsible climbing tourist. The most important takeaway is to act ethically and respectfully. If you make a mistake, apologize and learn from it. For the most part, people are very excited to share their community, culture, and crag with others, and climbing in new locations is a wonderful way to expand your awareness of this sport while having new experiences, stories, and friends. Go climb and travel ethically and responsibly! 


The article "How to be a responsible climbing tourist" will be featured in The Climbing Travel Guide, shipping soon. If you didn't already support our successful crowdfunding campaign, you can grab your copy now. Visit our online shop on mapotapo.com.

Cover photo: Nicki Simon climbing "The Face" in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Richard Weltz




About The Climbing Initiative

The Climbing Initiative is a nonprofit supporting climbing communities worldwide. Climbing is in an extraordinary stage of growth, demonstrating incredible potential as a catalyst for economic growth, environmental conservation, and social change. TCI conducts research on the impacts of climbing worldwide, engages with local communities, and partners with organizations around the world using this sport as a force for positive change. Their work is driven by the belief that rock climbing can empower individuals, create new sources of livelihood, and foster the development of a more sustainable and equitable world. Learn more at climbinginitiative.org or follow them @theclimbinginitiative on Instagram.

Bibliography & sources:

- UNWTO, “International Tourism and covid-19 | UNWTO,” 2021, [online] Available at: https://www.unwto.org/international-tourism-and-covid-19 [Accessed 7 February 2021].

- “Rock Climbing: the next Big Trend in Fitness Travel,” Globetrender, May 2, 2017, https://globetrender.com/2017/05/02/rock-climbing-next-trend-fitness-travel/.

- Allied Market Research, “Adventure Tourism Market to Reach $1,626.7 Bn, Globally, by 2026 at 13.3% CAGR: Allied Market Research,” Cision PR Newswire, May 5, 2020.

- UNWTO, “International Tourism and covid-19 | UNWTO,” 2021, [online] Available at: https://www.unwto.org/international-tourism-and-covid-19 [Accessed 7 February 2021]. 

- Jian Gong, Pornpen Detchkhajornjaroensri, and David Knight, “Responsible Tourism in Bangkok, Thailand: Resident Perceptions of Chinese Tourist Behavior,” Int Journal of Tourism Research 21, (2019): 223.



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