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Responsible Travel Guidelines

It has always been at the heart of Mercury Travel’ ethos to not exploit local communities’ culture and environment. We ensure our tours are of low impact on natural resources, respectful and observant of local customs and supportive of local economies. Our staff have led groups on medical treks in remote mountains and ethnic minority communities, and coordinated the building of schools, kindergartens, wells, toilets and bridges for disadvantaged regions.

Below are some guidelines on how you can contribute positively to the local economy, environment and society of the region you are visiting. You can also see this link for a copy of our Responsible Tourism Policy.

1. Cultural Issues

• Respect Cultural Differences
• Assist the Locals in their Understanding of Western Culture
• Dress conservatively, especially when entering religious sites
• Swimming & Sunbathing
• Etiquette – the all important ‘Saving Face’
• Photography –Still & Video
• Drugs & Alcohol
• Prescription Medicines

More formal dress codes apply for temples, mosques or any other religious sites you may visit, and to prevent the wrath of the gods as well as the locals these should be closely followed. In general, both men and women should have covered shoulders and legs, and shoes and hats should be removed.

Swimming & Sunbathing

There are no areas of Asia where nude sunbathing or swimming is acceptable, despite what other travellers might be doing. In some places Asian women will swim/bathe wearing all their clothes. If this is the case, then a good rule of thumb is to swim/bathe in a sarong or T-shirt where necessary.


There are a few general codes of behaviour that apply throughout the areas in which we operate.

Crooking your finger to call somebody is considered impolite. Asian people generally use a subtle downward waving motion to summon someone.

Showing affection in public is considered quite offensive - definitely no kissing! Away from the major urban centers it is extremely rare to see couples holding hands, though it is quite common to see friends of the same sex holding hands.

It is polite to remove your shoes before entering a house.

Criticism should only be used when put among praise.

It is inappropriate to express anger in a raised voice. Becoming angry is embarrassing to the local people with whom you are dealing - they will not be embarrassed for themselves, but for you. "Saving face" is a subtle but important standard of personal dignity. Personal candour in Asia is largely a matter of sensibility and face.

The ideal demeanour for the Asian traveller is friendly, open and ever ready to answer questions like where you are going? Are you married? How old are you? You will likely be asked questions like these that in a Western society may be considered personal. While you might find such a barrage of questions disconcerting, remain patient and remember to recognise that people are just being friendly and curious. Bear in mind that attitudes toward privacy differ greatly between the West and Asia. Asian people often have an interest in our books, writing or photographs, things that the Westerner considers to be ‘private property.’ Concepts of property, private ownership and privacy are very different for the rural Asian, who is accustomed to living and sharing in a close-knit community. Be prepared and understand that your local hosts are not being ‘nosey’ but politely interested.

Photography –Still & Video

Sensitivity is the key when it comes to photography. Always ask permission before taking photographs of people and respect their wishes if they refuse. Minority groups in particular are often unhappy to have their photo taken. They may think they do not look attractive (wearing their work clothes rather than festival clothes), while other groups believe that part of their spirit is taken away if they are photographed. There are occasions when you will meet a lot of porters carrying anything from bottles of beer to beds. Please respect that this is their job and that they may not like having their photo taken in these circumstances. Travellers should avoid paying for the right to take a photo as this has been found to encourage a begging mentality in the locals. Instead you can send back copies via your tour leader or directly to the people themselves. The locals gain a great buzz from seeing themselves in photos and it encourages a ‘sharing’ rather than ‘taking’ attitude towards photography. Also in many cases the locals could never afford to take photos themselves.

Drugs & Alcohol

Mercury Travel does not allow travellers to use illegal drugs while on a trip. The laws of most Asian countries carry harsh penalties for drug possession or usage, including the death penalty. Foreigners are not exempt from such penalties if convicted of such a crime. It is not acceptable to indulge in opium, marijuana or other illegal drugs whilst on trips. Your group leader has grounds for asking you to leave a trip if you are found to be using or carrying illegal drugs.

The use of alcohol also needs to be carefully considered, especially in smaller villages and tribal regions. In these areas our 'privileged' status brings with it a responsibility to promote the good in our cultures and not the excesses.

Prescription Medicines

Avoid giving Western medicines to our Asian hosts. They may not understand the medicine and the concept, say of taking tablets 3 times per day.If you are a medic, it may be better not to reveal your profession too readily, or you might find yourself with a queue of patients and be left in a dilemma.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule in the case of emergencies. If a local is seriously injured and in a potentially life threatening situation then they should be given the appropriate first aid treatment which may include medication. However, remain aware of the potential dangers of reactions to drugs and try to get them to medical help as soon as possible.

2. Social Issues

• Relationships with People in Visited Communities
• Prostitution
• Donations & Gift Giving
• Appropriate Donations
• Beggars
• Ways not to give!
• Shopping & Dining
• Supporting Local Communities

Relationships with People in Visited Communities

Be aware that it is taboo in some of the communities we visit to conduct an intimate relationship with a local person. If you find yourself in a situation where a relationship with a local could develop, seek the advice of your group leader who will find out, with the assistance of other locals, the correct courting process! Failure to do so could lead to compromising the credibility of future Buffalo trips, not to mention the heavy fines levied in some communities, while in others it can be punishable by serious injury. Homosexuality is not as accepted in Asia.


The prevalence of prostitution is an unfortunate element of Asia today and it is an aspect that Mercury Travel want to have no part of in running our trips. The use of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy and we are strongly opposed to any of our travellers visiting prostitutes while in Asia.

While there is a risk of contracting HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, there are other wider social implications. Unlike prostitutes in some developed countries, many Asian women are not prostitutes of their own free will but are in fact bonded labour. Child prostitution or sex tourism is an abhorrent and illegal act that we strongly condemn. Any incidences of this will be reported to the local and international authorities, who have links with Interpol and will ensure that the person involved will be questioned - and if appropriate - charged.

Donations & Gift Giving

This is a difficult issue for many travellers who want to assist the local communities but are unaware of the larger implications. There are many ways in which you can have a positive input into the communities that you visit:

Appropriate Donations

Mercury Travel supports a number of local projects and charities. Visit the Responsible Travel section of our website or ask your tour leader about making a donation. We collect clothing, first aid items, stationery and children’s books and ensure that they go directly to the requested charity or project.


Do not give to begging children as it reinforces that begging is an acceptable way to make a living for these children. It is best to follow the guidelines set by local people in how they treat beggars in their community e.g. in many places it is considered acceptable to give to the elderly and disabled since there is no social security or other way these people can earn money. Buddhists believe giving to beggars will earn them ‘merit’. Your tour leader can advise you further on this.

Ways not to give!

Giving money and goods away at random to individuals accentuates an unequal relationship between locals and visitors, with tourists being seen as purely ‘money givers’. It also strips self esteem away from people when they get money for simply being poor rather than having to solve their own issues of poverty through community action. We also need to be careful not to pay for acts of kindness in monetary terms. We do not want to encourage the development of a society that equates every human action as a potential money making scheme.

Supporting Local Communities

While there are human rights abuses all over Asia some places are far worse than others. Do what you can not to support the oppressors or perpetrators of the abuses. Learn as much as you can about what is happening in the country you will be visiting.

Mercury Travel supports Amnesty International for its work to prevent serious human rights violations. Amnesty International campaigns to free prisoners of conscience, achieve fair trials and lobby governments to change unfair laws and unjust attitudes. Amnesty International has helped to increase public awareness of political imprisonment, torture and the death penalty throughout the world and has helped improve mechanisms for human rights protection.

3. The Environment

Environmental Responsibility & Waste Minimisation

In Asia, the enormous economic growth of the region has been at the cost of the environment. Analysts are only now beginning to recognise the extent of the damage and the true cost to the environment and the welfare of its inhabitants. Debris-choked waterways, open sewers, excessive air pollution and plastic littering the streets are an obvious result of unrestrained economic growth. We don’t want our presence in Asia to add to this problem and need to minimise our impact on the places by practising waste minimisation initiatives whilst on holiday. We can also assist our Asian hosts in making informed decisions in developing social and environmental programs that will benefit future generations.


Try not to use plastic covered or wrapped foods when fresh options are available. The disposal of plastic and styrofoam is a major problem in Asia, and the more we can do to reduce its use the better. Buy in local markets where little packaging is used, the food is fresh and the money is benefiting the local producers. Take your own bags with you when shopping:“say no to plastic”.

Whenever we are away from towns or cities we must not leave any rubbish we take in with us. Tampons and sanitary pads should be taken out of the area and disposed of appropriately. Pick up any rubbish that you see left behind by other travelers. Organic waste such as food scraps should not be dispersed or buried in national parks and other protected areas. This practise may introduce exotic seeds and is not the natural diet of the native animals. Take it out with you. You guide will advise you in this regard.


Energy & Water Conservation

Be prudent with fuel and water. Pollution, greenhouse gases and other problems of fossil fuel use are escalating as developing countries strive towards having modern Western appliances, vehicles and production methods. Clean water supplies are diminishing. Some ways to cut energy consumption:

Air-con in hotel rooms: don’t use unnecessarily or leave on when out of the room. Turn down to ‘fan only’ or off overnight. This is better for avoiding sore throats and colds too!

Air-con vehicles: short journeys are easily managed with windows open

Avoid hot showers where the water is being heated with cut timber or other non-sustainable methods

An empty room does not need light. Many newer hotels have the key tag socket systems that prevent this

Walk, cycle or use human powered-rickshaws for sight seeing. Avoid taxis when there is a fuel-free or shared transport option like a public bus.

Environmental Degradation

On treks, use existing tracks and stay on them. This is especially important during the wet season because it is all too easy to create new tracks in order to get a better footing. If people don't adhere to this, the trail soon becomes a series of footpaths that turns into erosion gullies. This impacts on the vegetation as branches are reached for as handholds, broken off, and added to the topsoil that has been dislodged to silt up the waterways.

Snorkelling – remember that touching coral formations can hinder their growth. Coral cuts can easily become nasty infections too. Do not take any coral or shells, as even though they may be dead, it encourages locals to think that they are desirable souvenirs and that there’s a market in these items. Stick with the “Take only photos, leave only footprints” adage but add sensitivity into the equation!

Limestone caves – do not touch formations, as natural body oils from the fingers hinder the formations’ growth and will discolour the limestone.

Fires – reduce deforestation by avoiding unnecessary use of scarce firewood. Fuel stoves should be used for cooking on camping trips and we do our best to choose accommodation that uses kerosene, gas or fuel-efficient firewood stoves. Put on warmer clothes rather than stoking a wood fire for warmth.

Soap – On treks when you need to bathe in streams or lakes try to forget about soap for a few days and harmonise with nature! A soapless bathe will still remove sweat! A nail brush and flannel may help! Conventional body soap and shampoo are degradable but it takes time for them to break down and in the interim they may be contaminating water quality for people downstream.


When visiting national parks or reserves where you will be in contact with wildlife, please ensure that you follow the appropriate park regulations that ensure that wildlife is protected. Respect this even if you observe that other tourists don't. Don’t respond to local rangers offering to bend the rules for tourists. Sometimes local people will try and sell protected species to foreigners. While you wish to do this so that you can set the animal free, this actually can be a money making scam for locals and it is a better policy to refuse to pay money and encourage the local to release the animal. When they realise there is no demand for the animal then the practise may eventually stop.


In your feedback form at the end of your trip we request that you tell us how we performed with regard to Responsible Travel issues. It’s very important to us and bringing it to prominence in your mind is also a priority for us. Alternatively email us at