Responsible tourism: Ethiopia holidays, beyond the Omu Valley
This tour travels through some very remote regions, many of which have barely been touched by the presence of humans, and we strongly believe in maintaining their pristine nature. The nature of this trip means that some nights are spent camping. We strive to ensure that we leave these areas as we find them and our team have been trained in strict no litter policies, meaning that we take all refuse to either be recycled or properly disposed of in nearby towns. We use gas for cooking, but on occasions may use firewood – but only where this does not deplete natural resources and deprive local communities from using this themselves. Washing of dishes is carried out well away from any water sources so as not to contaminate them.
Similarly, in conjunction with our local team we work with hotels and guesthouses to implement best practices when it comes to environmental matters – again in some places this is far behind what we might be used to in other parts of the world. This includes basic things like not replacing towels each day, as well as saving electricity and turning lights off.
Our travellers are specifically briefed on not to buy souvenirs made from endangered species – people in remote parts of Ethiopia do not always have the same respect towards wildlife as most travellers will have, and can sometimes offer such things for sale.
As with many of the trips that we offer, this tour has a strong focus on local culture and different ethnic groups. Where possible we try to ensure that local people benefit from our presence.
This is particularly pertinent in the Omo Valley. Tourism here is a sensitive issue, and the drawcard is the incredible diversity of ethnic groups that live here. It is very important that village visits are carried out sensitively and local people do not feel as if they are being ‘invaded’ or treated as exhibits. By virtue of our small group sizes (maximum 12, but more typically 7-10) we visit these villages on a more equal basis than would be the case if we were a group of 25 people. We consult with tribal elders to make sure that our presence is welcomed, and always make use of a local guide from the particular village or ethnic group that we visit, to ensure that there is financial benefit to the local community. We do not encourage our travellers to give gifts to children but rather advise that they channel any donations or gifts through the elders, who can ensure that they are distributed appropriately.
We try to steer away from the villages that are visited by most tour groups to spend time with people in other villages – not only does this offer a more ‘authentic’ experience for our clients but it ensures that the benefits are more evenly spread. However this has to be done with sensitivity – some villages prefer to maintain their customs without the presence of outsiders, and we therefore respect their wishes.
Travellers are briefed extensively on appropriate behaviour within the villages to ensure that we do not unwittingly cause offence.