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Responsible tourism Awards

Interview with Simon Reeve

Simon ReeveSimon Reeve, best-selling author, TV presenter and broadcaster has been around the world - a lot. Having travelled to more than 90 countries, and around the world 3 times, Simon is fast becoming the UK's poster-boy for intrepid, investigative, and downright rebellious travel and tourism. Among being arrested for spying by the KGB, hunting with the Kalahari bushmen, and ziplining into Burma, Simon has travelled and presented Ecuator, Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer for the BBC, and still lives to tell the tales! In time for the launch of the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2010, Simon found time in his incredible schedule to chat with Lisa Scott, Travel Editor of Metro Newspaper, about Madagascan aliens, Dubai, not eating rat and, of course, Responsible Tourism.

Photo courtesy of Simon Reeve 2010.


Forget sitting around the pool - your memories won't much last longer than your tan.

Responsible travel is about spending your hard-earned money wisely and giving it to the people who matter. Stay with locals who will welcome you with open arms and an open bottle of spirits. Don't stay in a five-star hotel that's owned by the dictator's son. By putting thought into your adventure you will see another slice of life and that in turn will remind you how privileged we are to live on this tiny island where fresh water comes out of a tap.

I've generally tried to avoid eating rat.

Saying that, my breakfast of grilled squirrel and fried caterpillars in Laos looked a lot like rat, smelled like rat and, in my view, tasted like rat. Our guide even said they called it 'rat' in his village. And frankly, I'm suspicious.

We can't continue with the madness that is happening in Dubai.

It baffles me. If we want to survive on this planet we can't build ski slopes on the edge of a desert. You can't fault their engineering achievements but Dubai is pretty much the benchmark for humanity's greatest environmental folly. You can't put money into the local community as they are the minority and, incidentally, some of the wealthiest people in the world. Everything is artificial and there's no real local culture. Forget Dubai; go to Oman next door. It is very focused on low-impact tourism.

I cried when I left the Burmese people.

I spent two weeks with them after entering the country (top right) covertly from Bangladesh. They have a terrible time under the Burmese regime and I felt more connected to them than anywhere else. I would even consider some of them friends.

I am like a duck. On the surface I am happily floating along but there's panic under the surface. I tend to think the BBC is an invisible force-field, protecting us whenever we film. I have to remind myself that it's real life. I do worry sometimes; I feel we are rolling the dice each time.

The Responsible Tourism Awards focus attention on travel firms that are providing us all with amazing trips that make a difference to a local community while still protecting the environment and our planet.

And they remind us that responsible travel is not only better for our world, it's also more interesting and memorable. Responsible tourism is the future of travel.

I have never travelled in luxury and have never flown first class.

The whole point of my travels is to hang with the locals and, for a brief moment, get a sense of how they live their lives.

Madagascar is an alien place.

Like the Galapagos Islands it has been cut off from the rest of the planet for a long time, meaning the plants and animals have evolved in their own spectacular way. You climb hill after hill and are constantly gobsmacked. Your senses will be challenged and stimulated. Although tourism is criticised for the impact it has on the planet, Madagascar's national parks and wildlife reserves have been almost entirely funded by money from travellers. So unless people go there, these places will be cut down and turned into barren land. Tourism can do good.

Leaving Burma was a frightening experience.

We took a village zipline to cross into the country from Bangladesh and then trekked through the jungle to get to the village of the Chin people. The area had more than 15 military bases and we had locator beacons and survival kits strapped to our legs in case we had to leave very quickly. We had to leave in the middle of the night when a Burmese patrol arrived in the next village and headed in our direction. We even heard noises coming up behind us. But I take these risks because we are trying to tell the stories of forgotten people in a forgotten part of the world.

Always learn about where you are going first.

Know about the politics, the culture and the country's history and it will get your juices going in the same way smelling a good meal does. If you can learn a few words, fantastic. You can get by with 'hello' and 'goodbye' and my 'brother's picking up the tab'. Just get involved.

If you're slightly tired of your existence, wander away from home.

The further you go the more your views and thoughts will be challenged. The world is gobsmacking. I have circled it three times and can happily say that it's actually pretty big.

This interview appeared exclusively in the Metro Newspaper on Friday 23 April 2010.

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Claude Graves, Nihiwatu, overall winner 2010
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