& the Gold Award for ‘Best for Poverty Reduction’ goes to Adventure Alternative

So yesterday was an exciting day for all of us at Adventure Alternative. Our MD, founder and captain of the AA ship, Gavin Bate, was sat in a packed audience of over 500 tourism professionals, media, ministers and officials. The room was hot and he looked slightly uncomfortable in a shirt (he’s more at ease in a down jacket on a snowy knife edge ridge), the room lights dulled and the stage lights ignited as the compare announced the

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These awards are highly regarded within the industry and are competed for globally. We were over the moon when Adventure Alternative made the shortlist in the ‘Best for Poverty Reduction’ catagory, but we didn’t expect to win…… But we did! Suddenly Gavin, who prefers the quiet, solitude of the mountains found himself on a stage with a million watts glaring at him, the music pumping and his mug shot on the big screen. Meanwhile in the various AA offices around the globe whoops and cheers went up as the @RTAwards twitter feed announced the winner as Adventure Alternative!

WRT AwardsWhat the Judges wanted: The Best for poverty reduction category is one of the longest standing categories of the World Responsible Tourism Awards. With this category we are looking for holiday providers that offer memorable experiences that support their activities in seeking to reduce and prevent poverty in a local community.

Judges reason for winning: “We have previously awarded Gavin Bate, when he won Best Personal Contribution in 2009, but the judges felt that the extent to which he has expanded the operation of Adventure Alternative and increased the flow of benefits to the local communities with which the company works, deserved further recognition. Over twenty years, Adventure Alternative has developed companies in Kenya, Nepal, Tanzania, Malaysia, Morocco and Russia using responsible tourism and equitable contracts to create sustainable livelihoods and help people out of poverty. The judges were impressed by the wealth of detail that Adventure Alternative provided on their impacts and the way in which it is building self-reliant locally owned businesses”.

Gavin Bate, the founder of Adventure Alternative, is a man who climbs mountains. And moves them too, by knowing clearly what he wants to achieve in tourism. Which is to take tourists into extraordinary, rural mountain landscapes in developing countries and, in doing so, pull the local people who host them out of poverty and into wealth creation.

Traditionlal Maasai Dancingphoto(10)Matt Harding in Poria, Papau New Guinea

For all of us in the AA family, whether in the offices in Portstewart, London, Nairobi, Moshi, Kathmandu, Moscow, Kota Kinabalu or working out in the field or on treks or peaks it was great to be given this recognition. Our business model is purposely designed so that tourism positively impacts on everyone involved. Sustainable and reponsible tourism is our DNA and it’s great that other people outside of the company / our clients also appreciate and recognise the difference that can be made if the right approach is taken.

And today, heavy heads in the office? No, we’re busy as usual planning more trips and we hope to launch our new website very soon with even more stories about the wonderful people and communities with whom we work around the globe!

Like to read more? Full details: http://www.responsibletravel.com/awards/categories/economic.htm or http://www.adventurealternative.com/news_stories

What Responsible Tourism is Not

The word Sustainable is now everywhere, it has grown beyond its literal, grammatical meaning and is tagged onto a huge number of entities, some deserving, some not.

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In the world of travel and tourism we also find the word sustainable. Though often it is expanded and perhaps made more specific by use of the word ‘Responsible’.

Again, the word ‘Responsible’ is tagged onto many things. It is now an established term in the industry but is, in our opinion, often mis-used as a pure marketing ploy. We are genuinely passionate about acting Responsibly as an organisation. This is not an add-on for us, it is an all-permeating ethos.

Perhaps you will therefore grant us leave to express, in fairly blunt terms, what we feel about certain schemes that are used by certain organisations in order to claim use of the word ‘Responsible’ in association with their services.

Responsible Tourism is many things, but it is not….

  • Simply throwing a lump of money at a community with no background research, establishment of a working relationship or long-term plan and goal.
  • An outside organisation, company or group telling the local community what it is that needs to be done. It should be listening.
  • Setting up a ‘fund’ from which local individuals may or may not be able to apply for a pay-out from.
  • Swamping an area with volunteer labour, displacing local jobs.
  • Constructing a building or facility with no provision for the costs of its ongoing use.
  • Offering cheap deals by squeezing local people on their wages.
  • Using a ‘volunteering project’ simply as another box to tick on an adventure travel itinerary.
  • Inventing a white-elephant project to tick the box above.
  • Paying too much or too little for anything.
  • Reaping the benefits of what a country has to offer without sharing the rewards fairly with it.
  • Hiding possible negative or difficult aspects of a trip from prospective clients.
  • Just using the cheapest provider when you outsource certain services

Are we on track for 2015?

How are we doing in the run up to the post 2015 world?

On Tuesday I attended an event to discuss what will happen when the date for completion of the Millennium Development Goals expires. This week the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, co-chaired by the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron is meeting to discuss the new global framework of development and in particular the role of private business.

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So how does Moving Mountains and Adventure Alternative, two tiny players on the stage, stand up to the assessment of how progressive developmental aid should be carried out?

At the event we met Michael Anderson, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on the Post-2015 Framework, who commented that in developing the new goals we must stay focused on the fact that a vibrant private sector is the exit strategy from aid.

Funnily enough I have always thought that Adventure Alternative should play its role as a partner to development, mainly because our ‘products’ are mostly based in developing countries and it seems only right that the onus for upholding equitable employment standards should be on me. The spoils of tourism can and should be ploughed back into the destination rather than on expensive UK overheads, and that has been a principle of mine ever since I started AA in 1991.

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NGOs are beefing up their private sector teams, to engage with businesses and implement “inclusive” business models. Funnily enough that’s what Moving Mountains has been doing for a long time. I have always felt that if the charity can provide the capital investment for improving infrastructure (like we have done in the Nepalese villages for many years now) then the company can provide revenue and a route to market through tourism.

For example all of our youth trips, gap trips and international development trips contribute financially to communities where previously there was no market, while at the same time promoting the long term development aims of the charity. Our medical camps in Nepal bring important medical aid, but they also bring visitors to the villages, which in turn promotes jobs and income.

The fact is that development happens because people have access to economic opportunities and greater choice.  The exit strategy from aid is a vibrant domestic and international private sector – one that will create the vast number of jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities needed (two things prioritised by poor people themselves). That is exactly what I have tried to establish in Adventure Alternative.

For example, Kevin Onyango  is our book keeper in the Nairobi office, but he came from a very poor background in the town slums around Muthurwa where I started the work of MM. Having put him through school and college, he then got a job with the company. But most importantly his son Cliff will never suffer the same privation that he did, and I am fortunate to see that cyclical effect of combined aid and economic opportunity in the new generation.

Ang Chhongba Sherpa is my oldest friend in Nepal, a one-time porter who now helps to manage AA Nepal and MM Nepal. His own self-determination took him to school but with the opportunity offered by the charity and the company he was able to put all his children into school. Now his family lives in America and his sons Norbu and Sonam study business and engineering at college, and his daughter Tashi studies medicine.

 To my mind this is poverty eradication and sustainable development on a small scale, but reflects the global agenda of the post 2015 discussions.

As a businessman I see my role as teaching and promoting good business practises within the AA family of companies – an equitable gender environment, transparent trading and accounting, fair employment contracts and accountable supply chains to name a few. I can achieve this by investing in communications, staff training and development, and an ethical approach to the product itself. We don’t plant thousands of trees in Sarawak for nothing; the sense of responsibility for causing damage from flights has to be borne by all of us in the tourism sector.

Around the world the conversation has moved beyond “do no harm” and “doing good”, to companies “doing good by doing good business”.  The post 2015 development goals need to be underpinned by a clear recognition of the role of the private sector in driving long-term development, and therefore the factors that are needed to help it grow.

In the tourism sector there is a cynicism and boredom with words like ‘sustainable tourism’, a fatigue borne of over-exposure to confusing semantics and underwhelming action. For many people, it’s still about using low energy light bulbs. I sit on the sustainable tourism committee at the Association of Independent Tour Operators and our biggest problem is that the majority of the membership think that sustainable tourism is not an integral feature of the association.

 ‘Sustainable tourism’ is out of step with how far the general business and development discussion has come.  We have moved onto the question of “how”, while many people are still at the “why?” stage. The cutting edge of global developmental policy is already onto granular issues, but many people are still navel-gazing on whether it’s something they want to do. And the “Why” is vital because people generally follow a vision and a cause, and at the moment sustainable tourism has no visionary to take it forwards.

I am very happy that in its own small way Adventure Alternative and Moving Mountains reflects a joint business model that is progressive and accountable; it requires a dynamic approach to business management, especially nowadays in the current climate. Flexibility, adaptability and knowledge of online technology and marketing is a big part of my ‘toolkit’.

But when I look at Kevin Onyango and Ang Chhongba and how far they have come, and how far their children will go, I know it is all worthwhile. I keep in mind the essential vision of the company which is this:

We believe in combining good business sense with concern for the social inequities we have created on this planet, and we do this by providing authentic holidays and amazing adventures to far flung corners of the world.

Good & Green Guides

The Good & Green Guides are for travellers and inhabitants alike, covering London and a range of Dutch cities and allowing people to support sustainable business.

At home we can gradually construct a web of sustainable and ethical outlets, becoming knowledgeable about suppliers, locality of produce and organic and Fair Trade credentials, amongst other criteria. When we move city or travel to foreign lands, the conscious consumers amongst us face a dilemma: where is our money really going?

As consumers we have a lot of power and we can truly encourage change, especially when our choices extend to every part of our lives, including travel.

Founder, publisher and author, Harold Verhagen introduces the concept of the Good & Green Guides, offering examples of the content found in the Amsterdam edition: www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZbdBLo-_LU

Each guide focuses on five key areas that consumers can ‘green’:

  • Eat & Meet: bars, cafes, tearooms, food shops, food markets, restaurants, herbs & food supplements
  • Dreaming: hotels, bed & breakfasts, hostels and campsites
  • Experiencing: kids, mobility, mind & body, parks & gardens, down & out
  • Shopping: cosmetics, fair trade, fashion, office & home, second-hand, vintage, repair, online shops, banks
  • Getting involved: aid & activists, collection & recycling, ECO interest points, freedom interest points, volunteering, offsetting CO2

Good & Green Guide covers – Amsterdam

Each organization can be rewarded a maximum of 10 stars (Good & Green Star rating):

3 good stars (for taking care of the development of people),

3 green stars (for taking care of the environment) and

4 great stars (for being transparent about good and green actions and results).

Stars are rewarded when organisations meet verified national or international standards. There are also certain actions that will result in a star, such as striving towards CO2 neutrality or partnering with a charity.

London’s Good & Green Guide iPhone Application was released to coincide with the Olympics. We think it’s great that a digital version has been made available; if you’re going to go green, you may as well go a step further and reduce physical consumption.

Features of the iPhone application include:

– GPS tracking, maps, searches, browses, look up what’s nearby
– Thousands of recommended Good & Green places to visit and things to do
– Extensive editorial content from the guides
– Sustainable top 10s using the Good & Green Guides Star System
– Add favourites and integrate with Twitter & Facebook
– Swipe to scroll through cities, main categories and subcategories
– Background information about sustainability & certifications

There are also apps for certain Dutch cities, including Rotterdam as the example above displays.

In order to green your actions, as well as the products and services you choose, use Adventure Alternative’s Sustainability Handbook. It’s the perfect complement to the Good & Green Guides, offering tips for before, during and after travel to try and make your travel choices more sustainable.

Travel sustainably 🙂

Africamp Update 2012

Adventure Alternative’s Africamp project in Tigithi is progressing nicely. The team’s primary goal is to help build Tigithi School’s second classroom. Many of the older children walk over 8km to reach the nearest secondary school. Soon there will be one on their doorstep! The classroom should be fully functioning by the start of the New Year but we have already had the local elders congratulate the group on their hard work.

The Africampers will be working and camping alongside the kids from Tigithi School. Work has thus far included collecting basalt from the nearby quarry, making concrete and then plastering the walls and floors.

The team is divided into 4 groups:

Duma – meaning ‘cheetah’ in Swahili

Pumba – ‘pig’

Simba – ‘lion’

Twiga – ‘giraffe’

Yesterday, the Simba group went off on an excursion to Mau-Mau cave where they swam in the waterfall, picked and ate passion fruit and caught glimpses of a troop of colibus monkeys – sounds idyllic! The day ended with festivities around the campfire.

Having a chat and getting to know each other after a hard day’s work!

Adventure Alternative runs a number of international development tours, including Africamp trips that help contribute towards sustainable development in Kenya. For more information on these trips and for an insight into the wonderful lands of Kenya, visit our website. The Moving Mountains website offers an insight into the different projects that have been run in collaboration with Adventure Alternative and different tour groups, including more information on Tigithi School and how our partnership with them has developed over the years.

For more photos from the trip (updated regularly), visit us on Facebook or Google+.

Make Holidays Greener

In conjunction with The Travel Foundation’s ‘Make Holidays Greener’ Campaign, we are publishing our Sustainability Handbook online for all to peruse. It’s soon to be branded, published and distributed to our clients to help them help us carry out our commitment to responsible tourism, but we thought we would give you a sneak peek!

The Make Holidays Greener Campaign hopes to engage holidaymakers on the topic of responsible tourism, with the aim of protecting both the environment and local communities in tourist destinations. The Campaign hopes to encourage tourists to partake in greener activities whilst on their hols, even just one action. This is where the handbook comes in… we want to offer our clients practical guidelines to achieve positive incremental changes that contribute towards making destinations more sustainable. We know, only too well, that the myriad of ‘green’ terms and practices can make the sustainability arena a confusing and daunting one to try and tackle as an individual. To remedy this, we introduce our Sustainability Handbook in the hope that you will realise these suggestions in everyday life and travel.  We would love to hear your feedback!

The Campaign was launched two years ago; let’s contribute to make this year’s the biggest and best yet! To find out more about the Campaign, visit: www.makeholidaysgreener.org.uk. Download the free ‘greener holiday guides’ and find out more about the effects that your holidays have on the environment and host communities.