The ger camps where we stay in the countryside are owned, and have been developed by local entrepreneurs and the staff are all people from the vicinity or students from town, who benefit greatly from the opportunity to get a modest cash income during the short tourist season.
One or two places that we go to in the Gobi, for example Yoliin Am and Bayanzag, are the highlight of any tour to the Gobi and have quite a number of tourist visitors each day. This has encouraged a few local people to station themselves at these places and sell small souvenirs that they have made, for example wooden carvings or felt handcrafts. These make wonderful reminders of your holiday and in buying them you can be sure that you are making a positive contribution directly to the family who is selling the items. These people live in an almost cash-less economy and have little opportunity to make money to buy essentials such as flour and tea.
When passing through certain areas of Mongolia we are obliged to pay a “Protected Areas Service Fee” on behalf of each tourist (already included in price of tour). The fee contributes towards the following services: (i) introduction of the activities of the information centre and eco-ger and provision of information on legislation and security activities of the protected areas, (ii) regulation of camping places in these areas, (iii) to provide tourists with information, brochures, booklets and warnings, (iv) garbage disposal.
The staff on this tour are all Mongolian and their salaries make a considerable financial difference to their families since unemployment in Mongolia is high and for those employed by the State, salaries are low. People joining this tour will enjoy the country and the people in the knowledge that they are making a positive contribution to the local economy.
There is little opportunity to make waste on this trip, but there are a few situations in which we can make a difference. For example, if people drink bottled mineral water, we save all the empty bottles and give them to nomadic people we meet along the way who will use the bottles for their milk products. They live in a largely cashless economy and these kind of containers are very useful to them. We also ask people not to throw away plastic carrier bags, but give them to the staff to be re-used in their work. Good quality plastic bags are hard to come by in Mongolia; they are not given away free with every purchase as they are in the West.
Western travellers tend to already be aware of the importance of not leaving litter, and in this respect they provide a very good example to Mongolian people who are not yet used to the idea of non-decomposing waste. We always provide litter bins / bags at every stage of the journey to make it easy for our travellers to dispose of litter properly. The litter is dumped whenever we reach a town or settlement which has correct disposal facilities.
Both electricity and water are limited by the ger camps where we stay. Some ger camps do not have electricity, so we use candles. Those camps which do have electricity usually have a generator, which is switched on for a few hours each evening, giving enough power for an electric light in each ger. Hot water for showers is usually heated by solar power, and when the tank supply has been used up, that's it for another day. The showers are (purposely or otherwise) designed to have a modest flow - they are not power showers.
At the time of booking, everyone is given a Tour Dossier which gives advice on how people are expected to behave. During tours we often meet local people and are invited into their homes, and the tour leader always gives tips on appropriate etiquette. Mongolian people themselves have an inherent respect for wildlife and the environment. Inappropriate behaviour would not be tolerated, but in truth our visitors are always aware of the need to preserve Mongolia's rich natural heritage.
Normal group size is between 4 and 12 people, travelling in our 4 x 4 minibus vehicles. If the group size is more than 10 people, we use only one vehicle (our 6 x 6 expedition bus). Larger group sizes are welcome at the local ger camps as this is more business for them and benefits the local community directly. Visiting local families in larger groups is, in practice, not a difficult issue as Mongolian people are quite unflappable and always delighted to welcome any number of people into their home, as this is their culture.
All meals on this trip are provided by the ger camps where we stay. The catering staff at the camps buy food produce (meat and milk products) from the local community where they can. To make meals more interesting, some imported food is bought in Ulaanbaatar, but Mongolian vegetables are always preferred to Chinese. All services (transportation and accommodation) are locally owned and benefit the local community.