Responsible tourism: The Caucasus tour, Russia's wild frontier
Much of the time on this tour is spent in the High Caucasus, a stunning area of natural beauty which includes Europe’s highest peaks and some of its most endangered wildlife. We spend time exploring this area by vehicle and on foot but always try to ensure that we stick to the tracks, such as may exist, so as not to disturb flora and fauna, as some parts of the region are quite fragile.
We operate a strict no litter policy on our tours, which includes the drivers. Many people in Russia do not have the same approach to the environment as we would in western Europe, therefore it is not uncommon for local people to dispose of rubbish simply by throwing it out of the window. We work to educate our drivers and other service providers so as to avoid contributing to this problem.
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 – small things but as this region is still really in the early stages of dealing with tourism we hope that they can become ingrained into the culture.
In many places we stay in small guesthouses which make a point of using local produce for the meals it provides – local in the sense of being from the village and surrounding area, not from elsewhere. Not only is this a great introduction to the culinary culture of the Caucasus but it helps in a small way to cut down on food miles.
We also make use of local train travel on this trip where possible, to reduce our carbon footprint.
On all of our tours we strive to include a strong focus on local communities and we are firm believers that tourism should have a positive impact on the places visited. On this tour we spend much of the time in the remote provinces of the Russian Caucasus. We stay at locally owned guesthouses and hotels and where appropriate employ the services of local people in order not only to gain a greater insight into the complex traditions here but to ensure that they gain financial benefit from our visit, rather than just being ‘exhibits’. The communities here do not have a wealth of opportunities to earn money, and tourism helps to bring vital income to the region. It also helps to ensure that there is employment for young people – a key problem with many of the more isolated communities in this part of the world is that younger generations migrate to the cities due to a lack of employment opportunities, and this has a negative impact upon such places, meaning that traditions start to die out. The presence of tourism helps, in a small way, to keep the traditional ways alive.
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, which can often be difficult to understand or anticipate. This can include appropriate behaviour in front of local shrines, and the customs of Caucasus hospitality.
We visit a number of sites and monuments on this tour that do not necessarily receive much funding from other sources; the entrance fees that we include help to maintain the heritage of this country for future generations – not just western travellers but more importantly to local people to whom they have far more cultural and historical significance. Many of these sites are rather 'fragile' and so we ensure that our travellers do not contribute to their further ruin - we advise our travellers not to climb on the ancient ruins that exist in some places, to avoid damaging them.
We use locally owned suppliers and our partners here are deeply involved with the preservation of the culture and heritage of the region. In Dagestan we meet local craftsmen and the presence of tourism, even in a small way, helps to encourage that locally produced traditional crafts are maintained. Our travellers are encouraged to support their efforts and buy from them where possible.