Responsible Tourism in Oppressive Regimes

A Guide for Tour Operators to Put People First

Thank you for opening this document: This is the first and perhaps most crucial step when offering travels in a politically challenging context - to deal with it. Offering travel in oppressive countries requires extra care and heightened due diligence. This guideline provides a general approach for tour operators, specifically for product managers. It can help ask relevant questions to key issues and gives concrete guidance on action steps – always under the premisses of putting people first. The world is not divided into good and evil, democracies and dictatorships. The Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism argues the thesis: Much more than where to go, it is about how to travel and offer travel – and you, as a tour operator, can make a significant difference!


The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) form the foundation of this publication and the work of the Roundtable and define, among others, the following: "The responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate. It exists independently of States' abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations, and does not diminish those obligations" and "The responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights applies to all enterprises regardless of their size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure."


This guideline is intended as an entry point to this complex topic. The approach is to go "beyond boycott". This document does not claim to be comprehensive or to provide a complete analysis. It cannot cover the complexity of individual country contexts. In addition, it explicitly singles out issues where tour operators have the most significant potential for influence. Other due diligence obligations are intentionally not mentioned. We chose the term "oppressive" not as a defamation of individual countries or states but to point out a decisive characteristic: the due diligence of tourism companies increases when people or certain groups are marginalised, discriminated against and thus not treated equally. Even though this often correlates with autocratic/dictatorial/totalitarian governments, we preferred this distinction to the differentiation between democratic / non-democratic, as it gets to the core of what we want to focus on: the people in the destination.




  • supporting cultural exchange and impacting societies.
  • exchanging ideas and exposure to foreigners that challenge local ideological views.
  • bringing income to people not part of the regime.


  • no free movement of guests without government escort is possible.
  • no free enterprise economy exists.
  • no independent civil society exists.
  • military-run hotels/casinos/restaurants run by local rulers are unavoidable.
  • partners/suppliers must put themselves at risk for business relationships.
  • no possibilities of local value creation exist without supporting the authorities.


  • Always ensure respectful interaction and encounters at eye level.
  • Foster dialogue to understand local needs and cultural values.
  • Use your freedom as a foreigner not to act according to the regime's ideologies.
  • Recognise your leverage to demand change wherever it is possible and safe.
  • Establish feedback mechanisms to better understand the situation (e.g., customer reviews, local guides, self-assessments by service providers).
  • Get support from within the company if an issue is too big to tackle alone (e.g., corporate responsibility, crisis management, management).


  • the ideal situation.
  • the reality in their tourism field.
  • their scope for action.


     Small and persistent actions can make a difference.

"Constant dripping wears away the stone "


The local population should benefit from tourism. In oppressive regimes, however, there are often upstream mechanisms (e.g., state agencies, visa fees and similar). This requires an analysis of value creation and how it can be distributed to have a direct positive impact on the local population.

Key questions:

  • Who is involved in my product (agency, hotelier, tour guide, supplier, employee)?
  • Who benefits from my product?
  • How can I maximise the profit of my product for local communities?

Action steps:

  • Map and analyse your supply/value chain.
  • Verify the profits of different suppliers within your supply and value chain.
  • Foster collaboration with local and small providers and partners - particularly open and "change-willing" stakeholders.
  • Look particularly for community-based tourism and homestay options.
  • Encourage your customers to buy and eat locally and tip workers directly (e.g. cleaning staff, drivers, etc.)
  • Distribute services diversely and broadly to avoid monopolism.
  • Ask for/ prepare certificates/documents (e.g., supplier code of conduct) from/with suppliers, ideally following GSTC-accredited principles.

Good practice:
A European tour operator has understood its direct influence and leverage in a South-Asian country under a dictatorship. To provide authentic travel experiences, the tour operator diversified its product portfolio and suppliers in the affected region. Regarding volume business, the tour operator henceforth mainly works with GSTC-certified hotels and for niche markets only with local homestays and smallholder businesses that belong to an independent association (e.g., guesthouse association).


The local population should be involved as broadly as possible in business processes, employment and decisions that affect the destination. Oppressive regimes tend to violate labour rights, promote forced labour or slavery, or structurally discriminate against certain marginalised groups (such as women, migrant workers, ethnic minorities or LGBTQI+ groups). This requires heightened due diligence in recruitment criteria, wage structures, employee welfare and safety measures.

Key questions:

  • What information about restrictions by the regime can I get (e.g., through my business partners, suppliers, and employees)?
  • How can I create my product according to my directives without offending my local partners?
  • How can I integrate and promote disadvantaged/vulnerable groups more in my business processes?
  • What effect does my product have on the employees on the ground? (e.g., security of livelihood, the principle of equality)

Action steps:

  • Promote job applications from locals in particular.
  • Target vulnerable or marginalised groups directly in job advertisements, and use your leverage as an "outsider" to establish more inclusive and diverse hiring.
  • Create a safe space for staff from vulnerable or marginalised groups to work in, train other staff if necessary and promote teamwork to reduce prejudice and aversion.
  • Cooperate with local business partners only with the conclusion of an appropriate contract containing all employment points by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) labour standards. Annual checks for each business partner are necessary and raise awareness, e.g. self-disclosure, customer and business partner surveys, reports, and on-site business trips.
  • Implement a feedback process and build up a direct dialogue with business partners. Create working conditions for a decent life (living wage vs minimum wage).
  • Review/reinforce supplier code of conduct requirements..

Good practice:
Besides the supplier code of conduct, which every company can develop, one tour operator developed specific policy papers for employer groups like bus drivers, city guides, field and hiking guides, porters, cooks etc. These policy papers fix the detailed working conditions under which both sides can guarantee fair treatment and good quality. For example, they define conditions for little respected groups in the supply chain about minimum wages, equipment, clothes, sleeping conditions, the minimum age for work etc. With structured feedback from clients and tour leaders, this can be monitored.


Travellers can have an impact by visiting a country with a politically challenging context. Regimes can instrumentalise travellers for their ideology or even discriminate against or endanger them. This requires special care and transparent and informative communication in advance.

Key questions:

  • What is our responsibility (in terms of informing clients)?
  • How can I include relevant information without discouraging or upsetting clients before they book and, at the same time, prepare them properly?
  • Where during the travel are my clients (especially) confronted with propaganda/misinformation/discrimination or glorification of the regime?
  • How can I support clients to make their impact on the country and its people as positive as possible?
  • Do I pay special attention to travellers that might be regarded as vulnerable or minorities in the destination (e.g., women, cultures/communities, indigenous communities, LGBTQI+ and others)?

Action steps:

  • Choose tour guides with in-depth knowledge and language skills in the respective country. Train these tour guides especially. Tour guides have great potential to influence customers positively and give an objective view of the situation on the ground. As a direct link between tour operators and destinations, they are valuable sources of information and feedback.
  • Provide customers with relevant and transparent information (e.g., safety precautions for the LGBTQI+ community) and sensitise/raise awareness for country specifics (customs, directives etc.).
  • Consider that clients may not read the information provided in advance and should be briefed on the most important codes of conduct/country information by the local agency once they are on the ground.
  • Encourage clients to engage in dialogue with local people, but also point out that they may not be able or willing to speak freely. Depending on the context, locals can also be endangered by a too open conversation. This is where the expertise of local guides is particularly needed.
  • Create product modules that sensitise clients to local problems (e.g., in cooperation with local civil society representatives, initiatives or projects).

Good practice:

From the Field:
The voice of a tour guide with several years of experience in travelling to oppressive regimes:

" Upon arrival, I usually ask my group to accept the rules of conduct of the respective country and not to question them. I also ask them to put aside their prejudices and first look and observe.
On the first evening together, I list as many facts as possible about the country. I choose statements from different sources and name them to show the subjectivity of every report. In the next few days, I will try to present the country's past somewhat through history - e.g. if it is a former colony.

In between, there are always stories, sagas, fairy tales, and legends through which I try to break up the often intensely politically coloured information that the participants bring with them and show that every society is made up of many facets.
Often, communication with the people of the country is simply not possible due to the language barrier. If it works rudimentarily, it is only very superficial. I believe that one can only build a basis of trust with local companions if there is contact over an extended period. "

For the local population living in an oppressive regime, the exchange with foreign tour operators and travellers should ideally be a window to the world. However, it is essential not to create unrealistic expectations or envy. Especially when working with regime opponents, it is also necessary to ensure that the cooperation does not put the individuals or groups concerned in additional danger.

Key questions:

  • Do I have an active influence on the participation of local people?
  • How can I strengthen dialogue with local communities (e.g., when designing a new product) and have a positive impact?
  • Where do I have to play by the rules, and where/how can I subvert the regime to enhance local communities without putting anyone in danger?
  • Where and how can I use leverage to positively influence local communities and/or governments?
  • Does my product put clients in contact with locals, minorities or regime opponents?
  • Do I specifically offer opportunities for minorities (e.g., women, cultures/communities, indigenous communities, LGBTQI+ and others)?

Action steps:

  • Establish close partnerships with local stakeholders and rely on local expertise.
  • Maintain loyalty to locals, even when things get complicated (e.g., providing interim aid).
  • Build intercultural bridges and long-lasting relationships with tour guides and select them carefully.
  • Include safe spaces in the product planning, where guides or regime opponents can speak freely, like hikes, private dinners etc., but do not necessarily promote them in the official programme description.
  • Civil society, initiatives, etc., can also be supported outside the product parcel, e.g. with donations / in-kind services, networks or similar.

Good practice:
In a desert area, one tour operator insists on the participation of the locals (Berber/Tuareg) as drivers and guides. The tour operator argues that they know the local conditions best, and this is the only way to guarantee safety and quality for the customers. With this agreement and allowance by the local government, jobs are created for the marginalised group. The Berber/Tuareg navigate through the desert and simultaneously open doors to local encounters; they achieve income for the families and communities in an area without substantial working opportunities.

This collection should grow steadily.

Do you have suitable case studies, articles or publications?
Please send them to info [at] humanrights-in-tourism [dot] net and we will include them on the webpage.

IMPRINT: 1st edition, March 2023

Concept & Content Development: Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism (Katharina Stechl) in cooperation with Hauser Exkursionen (Manfred Häupl) & Studiosus Reisen (Ruth Hopfer-Kubsch).

First Published: March 2023

Editor: Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism e.V.

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Webinar on the launch of the Guideline from 28.03.2023