We are a small and new company and as such do not have any partnerships with western charities, although in the future as the business grows we intend to explore this possibility. We are however very strong on ensuring that the maximum economic benefit is funnelled to the regions that we travel through. On almost all occasions we will use guides from the countries visited – not only do they have a deeper connection with the place than a westerner can possibly have (and this be able to impart more local insights) but this means that the money we pay for this portion of our tours stays within the country. We also use locally based operators, rather than operators that are based in Europe and expatriate the profits from their businesses – again this ensures that money is spent within local communities. On a more micro-level, our tours include a high level on interaction with local people, and visits to villages. When this happens we usually employ the services of a local villager to show us around – although they are unlikely to have (or be able to impart) the detailed knowledge of a guide, this involves the village and gives them a stake, albeit small, in the visit. Where appropriate we also make a donation to village elders as a way to say thank you – these elders will then use this money as they see will best benefit the village.
We believe in paying fair prices for the goods and services we receive – although we strive to achieve value for money for our travellers we don’t believe in forcing our suppliers to accept unsustainably low prices.
Wherever possible we will buy supplies (such as food, camping equipment) from the communities we travel through, rather than bringing everything from either Europe or the capital city. This isn’t always possible due to limited availability in some places, but we try to ensure that this happens. Similarly, we encourage our travellers to spend money with local businesses – if we are stopping to meet an interesting ethnic group we would always try and purchase something from them, whether that be a few cold drinks in the village ‘shop’ or locally made handicrafts. Where practical we include meals at local restaurants rather than in the hotels, again trying to spread the benefits from tourism.
Many of the areas that we visit on our tours contain pristine environments that have been little touched by the human hand. Good examples of these would be the Sahara desert in Chad, the jungles in the Congo or the grasslands of Mongolia. We operate to strict environmental policies on our tours to ensure that our presence does not damage such regions. This includes a strict ‘leave no trace’ policy when camping and we are meticulous about making sure our waste is either recycled or disposed of properly.
We work hard to educate guides and drivers about environmental responsibility. While the guides that accompany our groups are well accustomed to such ideas, the same cannot always be said for drivers, boat crews etc and we strive to ensure that they operate to strict criteria – not always an easy task in places where simply throwing rubbish out of the window is fairly normal, and culturally acceptable. The same goes for hotels – while bigger hotels will often have sound environmental policies in place, by virtue of the destinations that we offer, many of the hotels we use are small and not that used to foreign tourism or western notions of sustainability, so we try to educate them bit by bit to implement better policies. We actively seek to use hotels which operate in an environmentally responsible manner, whether that be by using solar power for heating water or by growing their own food – again, as we operate in places where tourism is less prevalent than other regions, this can be a challenge but where possible we try.
A number of our trips include time spent in national parks and reserves, such as Nouabale Ndoki in the Republic of Congo and Komodo National Park in Indonesia. The park fees that we include as part of our tours play a vital role in ensuring that conservation measures can be maintained and endangered species safeguarded from human pressures. Whenever we visit national parks we employ the services of local guides, which not only ensures that the local community benefits economically but also gives them a financial stake in maintaining the environment.
We have a strong focus on local culture, and many of our trips spend time visiting isolated and remote ethnic groups that live very much outside of the mainstream of society. We recognise that such visits need to be carried out very sensitively in order to ensure that interaction is a two way process and that any villages or communities visited gain from the encounter, as much as the people visiting. We are careful to ensure that we only visit communities where our presence is welcomed – there is nothing worse than a bunch of tourists turning up to take pictures of ‘exotic’ locals who resent being treated as exhibits. A good example of this would be in the Atakora Mountains in Benin, home to the Taneka people. The Taneka are spread over three villages, but only one is happy to accept visitors; when we visit this village we always employ the services of a local guide to ensure that we behave appropriately and do not transcend any local taboos, which are usually not clear to western visitors.
In Cameroon we work with a local partner that is strongly committed to the social aspect of tourism. We stay in a purpose built camp near the town of Poli, where accommodation has been built in a remote area, giving local villagers a chance for employment from tourism, which would otherwise largely be confined to the bigger towns. As well as the accommodation, our partner here is deeply involved with the local community, which was a key reason as to why we chose to work with them.
In Nigeria we include a couple of days spent with the Kamberi people, one of the country’s most traditional ethnic groups. We have found that the local emir here is attempting to force the Kamberi to abandon their long held traditions and convert to Islam, as this is seen as more modern. This is a difficult topic but through discussions we try to show the emir that there is value in maintaining the best parts of local traditions, while adopting those aspects of modernity that can be useful in daily lives; we do not feel that the Kamberi should shun modernity but instead attempt to make it clearer that it should be their choice and not imposed upon them. Our presence there, and in other tribal communities also helps to add weight to the idea of the legitimacy of local customs – many younger members of such communities can begin to abandon the old ways but sometimes when it is clear that the ‘outside world’ sees such traditions as valid and interesting, people are less inclined to leave them behind just for the sake of ‘being modern’.
In Chad a member of our team is medically qualified, and often if we stop to visit a nomad settlement we are able to assist with low level medical issues that otherwise would not receive attention – the nearest doctors being out of reach for people without motorised transport.
We try wherever possible to support local communities, visiting community based projects and involving local people in our tours so that they are able to gain financially from the presence of tourism.