Responsible tourism: Central Asia overland tour, the stans
Most of the time on this tour is spent in towns and cities, but we do spend some time in the Song Kul area, where we stay overnight in yurts. When exploring these areas on foot we take care to stick to any trails that exist and not to damage any of the flora, as some parts of the region are quite a fragile environment. We operate a strict no litter policy on our tours, and work to educate our drivers and other service providers so as to avoid contributing to this problem. We ensure that all litter at the yurts is disposed of properly – this means working with the owners to educate them about recycling, and taking waste back to proper disposal sites where possible.
Similarly, in conjunction with our local team we work with hotels and guesthouses to implement best practices when it comes to environmental matters – 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 Central Asia is not as used to tourism as countries in western Europe.
Some of this trip is spent exploring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan’s national parks and reserves. Both countries have been much exploited and during Soviet rule its environment suffered greatly, like that of much of Central Asia. National parks such as Altyn Emel are vital habitats for some of the region’s most endangered wildlife such as snow leopard and Tien Shan bear, and the entrance fees that we pay here help to fund much needed conservation efforts. In addition, bringing tourism to these areas helps to show local people that there is economic benefit in maintaining wildlife populations, as we employ the services of local guides and rangers in the parks where appropriate, and also use accommodation in or near the parks. With the skins of snow leopards fetching high prices on the black market, this helps to counterbalance the often traditionally held views that wildlife should be exploited and not preserved.
Within the national parks, we stick to the established tracks and trails (where they exist) to avoid damaging the fragile natural environments that we travel through.
On all of 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 try to allow our travellers to gain a real insight into the traditional customs of the country; a good example of this is when we stay overnight in yurts at Song Kul. Not only is this a great experience for travellers but it means that small scale community based tourism projects, often ignored by mainstream tourism, are able to benefit from our visit.
Some of the sites that we visit are popular attractions, others less so – an example of these are the monuments of Termez. Relatively few tourists visit here and so the entrance fees that we pay are more critical than in other places in contributing to the preservation of their heritage. These sites are quite fragile, being made mostly of mud brick, and we ensure that our travellers do not unwittingly contribute to their degradation by briefing them on appropriate behaviour.
Parts of Central Asia are very traditional with certain codes of behaviour, and the people here are not always that accustomed to outsiders. We ensure that our travellers are appropriately briefed in order so as not to offend local sensibilities. This also applies to the numerous mosques and mausoleums that we visit on this trip; religion is important here and it is important that we respect these traditions.
We use locally owned suppliers and our partners here are deeply involved with the preservation of the culture and heritage of the region. Where possible we encourage our travellers to spend their money with local businesses; for this reason we do not include meals where it is feasible to eat outside of the hotels, in order that local restaurants are able to benefit from the presence of tourism, rather than the income being channelled just to the hotel.