This paper discusses the question of responsibility with reference to community-based tourism. Local communities are often presented by the tourist industry as an inherent value to recognize and protect. Tourists visiting distant places are thus frequently exhorted to ‘go local’ through having a ‘real’ experience with local people and communities; they are also invited to behave responsibly and to appreciate the value of responsible management. In this article, we reflect on the consequences of the ‘contact zone’ produced by these trends and, more in general, on the rapid changes that the label ‘responsible tourism’ is generating in the ways that many travelers approach the experience of local communities and their lifestyles. We do so, by analyzing an Elephant Camp in Thailand, where tourists spend periods being involved in life of the camp and the management of the elephants. The tourists at the Elephant camp indeed show how this approach to travel often becomes an imbroglio of detachment and involvement, of paternalistic protection and mutual exploitation, of generosity and hospitality, but also of corruption and self-interest. All in all, we present the Elephant Camp as a laboratory for reflecting on how questions of responsibility towards distant people and places, especially when actually enacted in place – which is what tourism does – often become a complicated affair, which is at the origin of new opportunities but also new tensions, of learning and but also misunderstandings, of neo-colonial practices but also of actual support to the local economy.
- Community-based tourism