Our rule is only to employ local tour leaders; this does not mean a western tour leader living locally but people who come from the destinations and communities that we visit. We feel that this is a crucial way in which our destinations can benefit economically from the presence of foreign travellers, as local guides and drivers spend money locally rather than saving it to spend in another country. Similarly, we use locally owned suppliers, rather than suppliers that are owned by western parent companies – again, this ensures that all profits they make benefit the destinations directly rather than being expatriated to other countries.
All of our itineraries are tailor made to individual requirements but in appropriate cases, and particularly for groups such as school groups, we encourage the inclusion of a donation to appropriate local projects and charities. An example of this would be a school group that we have recently arranged to Uganda; they will be spending time with a local community project and we have built in a donation to the project within the cost of their tour.
We believe in treating our local operators as partners who should benefit equally, and as such do not seek to negotiate prices to unsustainably low levels. Rather, we prefer to pay fair prices for the services that we contract, while still offering good value to our travellers.
In our UK office we recycle extensively, from paper and envelopes to ink cartridges, plastic bottles and food packaging, with dedicated recycling bins. We minimise our use of electricity by turning off appliances and using energy efficient lightbulbs, and our toilets use reduced water cisterns to minimise our use of water.
However we feel that the main way in which we can exercise environmental responsibility is with respect to the destinations that we offer. Many of the trips that we arrange travel through pristine landscapes where the impact of people is minimal, and it is critical that they stay this way. We ensure that our local teams are as committed to protecting these as we are, ensuring that we stay to tracks to minimise disturbance to flora and fauna, that any rubbish is taken away and properly disposed of.
A great number of our trips include visits to wildlife reserves and national parks, and of course the park fees that we pay are used for conservation purposes in those destinations. However we also try to take this further and support smaller, non-government funded organisations; two examples of this would be the Alouatta Sanctuary for howler monkeys in Panama, which we suggest travellers stay at for a night, as well as the community run reserve of Anja in Madagascar which provides a sanctuary for ring tailed lemurs.
In a number of the destinations that we offer, tourism is not particularly well established, let alone the idea of responsible tourism, and in these we find it particularly important to work with our local teams and suppliers in order to raise the issue of sustainable travel and ensure that it is placed on the agenda and becomes a better known concept.
Where possible we use accommodation that has been designed with sensitivity to the environment, such as rainforest lodges that have been built to minimise use of local resources. We work with our local operators to ensure that the hotels that we use have environmental policies in place, such as those regarding the re-use of towels, washing of sheets and responsible waste disposal.
Where we visit wildlife and conservation projects, we ensure that these are genuine projects set up to benefit nature rather than being run mainly for profit, as can sometimes be the case. An example of this would be the way in which we do not visit the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka and instead guide people towards more beneficial projects that embody long term sustainable goals – even if these are not as well known.
Many of the itineraries that we arrange involve a strong social element involving the communities that we visit, and we try to ensure that local people benefit as much as possible from our visits. As with all tailor made tours the exact composition of the itinerary depends upon the client but we try to encourage the inclusion of small scale community projects where possible, to ensure that people and communities outside of mainstream tourism also benefit from our presence.
Where we visit traditional communities we try to ensure that this is carried out sensitively, in the company of experienced local guides who are able to ensure that social customs are respected and local taboos not transgressed . While we recognise that traditional tribal cultures can be very interesting for the visitor, it is important that this is a two way process and that the host community also benefits rather than this just being for the benefit of tourists. We work with local authorities and tribal elders in such cases in order to ascertain what would be a fair exchange for our visit, whether this be a financial contribution, essential supplies or other goods.
Where possible we work with local partners who have a strong social aspect to their business, including working with local charities and NGOs. In Cambodia we usually include a visit to a project run for the benefit of former street children, while in Peru we often include a visit to the Amaru community project, set up to enable local women to gain an income from the weaving and sale of traditional textiles and keeping older traditions alive.
A strong aspect of many of our tours is the inclusion of homestays, such as those in Svaneti in Georgia, Panajachel in Guatemala, the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and Kewzing in India. We feel that not only does this allow travellers a greater insight and understanding into local culture and customs but it is important in allowing families in often remote areas to earn an income from tourism, rather than travellers just passing through the area and contributing very little to the people that actually live there. Homestays in particular tend to spend more of the money that they earn within the local community rather than buying food and supplies from further afield.
Within our pre-departure information we include an extensive section about travelling responsibly, which covers appropriate behaviour and guidelines as to how our travellers can minimise their negative impact upon the destinations they visit. This covers aspects such as:
- respecting local dress codes
- buying goods that are locally produced
- eating in locally owned restaurants
- reducing water and electricity use
- not endorsing animal cruelty (such as performing monkeys, snake charmers etc)