Responsible tourism: West Africa Explorer, Guinea-Bissau & Senegal
While on this tour we visit Djoudj National Park, an important wetland sanctuary that is home to around 1.5 million birds, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our visit here provides income to local communities, who are thus incentivised to continue preserving the area and are able to see the value of it as an environment rather than a resource. The entrance fees paid also help to fund continued conservation efforts.
We also spend time looking for the very rare West African manatee - again, the involvement of local people and the income that this generates for them helps to persuade them that the manatee is worth protecting rather than as a food source.
On the Bijagos Islands we look for saltwater hippos and turtles, again involving local communities. We take special care to ensure that our presence does not disturb these animals, in particular the turtles when they are nesting.
This tour travels through some very remote regions, some of which have barely been touched by the presence of humans, and we strongly believe in maintaining their pristine nature. 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.
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 West Africa do not always have the same respect towards wildlife as most travellers will have, and can sometimes offer such things for sale. This also extends to bushmeat it is quite common to find antelope, porcupine or even monkey served in restaurants, and we specifically advise our travellers against contributing to the depletion of local populations.
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.
We spend time with some traditional ethnic groups on this trip, from those in the Bijagos Islands and the Felupe and Baiote people in Senegal. Tourism rarely reaches here and we recognise that we have a special responsibility to ensure that the encounters that we have are carried out in a responsible manner. We consult extensively with local tribal elders to ensure that our presence here is very much welcomed we feel that it is very important to be seen as guests here rather than outsiders come to merely look. We are able to spend time with the communities learning about their traditions and customs.
We are careful not to disrupt the traditional way of life of the people that we meet. As a way to say thank you for allowing us to visit, we bring traditional gifts, such as sugar, tea and so on we do not bring modern accoutrements that may change their way of life as we feel that it is important for all tribal groups that any move towards a more modern lifestyle is made on their own terms and not imposed upon them. We give gifts to the elders of the villages who will then ensure that they are distributed appropriately, rather than just giving them to individuals, which can cause problems, jealousy and fights within small communities.
Where small local shops exist within the villages, we encourage our travellers to but something, be it a cold drink or a snack, so that we have some economic benefit, however small. We employ local guides from the villages to show us around not only does this give our travellers a greater insight into traditions but again it helps to put money into the local economy.
These are very traditional areas with certain codes of behaviour, and the people here are not that accustomed to outsiders. We ensure that our travellers are appropriately briefed in order so as not to offend local sensibilities. This includes photography while we recognise that many people are incredibly photogenic it is important for us to respect their wishes should they not want to have their photo taken, and our travellers are carefully briefed upon this.