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
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Slum Tours : The Human Zoo?

Over the past decade ‘slum tourism’ has sky-rocketed to popularity, seen as a new way to branch outside the more conventional tourist activities. This form of tourism can actually be dated back to Victorian times, when the curiosity of the upper-classes drove them to London’s East End to witness the living conditions of the poor. A century or so later and slum tours were being offered in India, Africa and Brazil. Now the idea has spread all over the world.

Rocinha camaras

UN-Habitat define slums as urban areas that lack one or more of the following: durable housing; sufficient living space; easy access to safe water; access to adequate sanitation; and security of tenure that prevents forced evictions.

Many become uncomfortable with the idea of a group of wealthy tourists visiting a slum to look at the poor; these experiences have been likened to a museum visit – the detached visitor sauntering around whilst critically looking at what’s on offer. But surely these trips have so much more potential, if orchestrated properly? First of all, visitors will experience the whole infrastructure of the slum and if they’re lucky, might even interact with its inhabitants. This experience begs the privileged tourist to open their eyes to deprivation, appreciate their comfortable lifestyle and may even lead a few people to offer themselves up for charitable work, or at least a donation.

Moving Mountains Kenya Chair, Gilbert Njeru, offers his first-hand account of the effects of slum tourism in Shauli Moyo and Grogon slums, both in Embu, Kenya:

Slum tourism in Kenya can have both positive and negative impacts on communities.There is a great feeling amongst the slum dwellers that most people will visit the slums and take photos, through which the locals get no benefit or assistance, whilst the tour operator benefits financially from their exploitation. It is hard to tell which organisations are genuine out there and which are there to make profits and benefit from the people who live in the slums. Most of the people are turning hostile towards visiting tourists; they are sick of having their photos taken as people use them for fund-raising and personal benefit. The slums are turning into a museum.

Moving Mountains is helping the communities in the slum areas by improving the infrastructure and learning facilities in schools whilst trying to lift the education standards With a couple of programmes running like the social welfare programme, we offer on-going support to children through funding school fees and uniforms. We also have a feeding programme that helps to maintain children in school, taking the big boys to polytechnics to learn skills that will help them get employed. Moving Mountains also offers grants to some of the families to start up small businesses that help them support their family’s needs.

Kenya slum 2

My experience with on a tour in Rio de Janeiro’s largest slum, Rocinha:                   

To be honest, I found the most unethical part of the experience took place before the tour even began – each of us boarded a moped taxi. This was both thrilling and slightly petrifying as we wound our way uphill through the busy streets of the slum to reach the starting point of the tour. Drivers there are daredevils by Western standards and we narrowly missed passers-by and the odd chicken; it was an interesting start.

Rocinha signOther than being fed facts about Rocinha, the tour was a chance to purchase locally-crafted items, including artwork and baked goods – I purchased a painting by 13 year-old Edu who lives in the slum; I couldn’t say no. We didn’t make fly-through visits; we got a chance to chat to the inhabitants in broken English or our tour guide would ask questions about slum life and translate the story back to us. We were assured that the slum community were welcoming of tourists, mainly due to the donations and aid work offered by the tour company that partners with the slum’s orphanage and school. The company also helps inhabitants into employment. The main objective of the organisation is to “dispel a myth that Rocinha is simply a place of drug dealers and extreme poverty” and it does this by creating a relationship with the local community.

Interesting cables…

Many competing organisations failed to create such a symbiotic relationship and their connection with the slum community wasn’t as positive, which can mean that the tourist’s safety is somewhat questionable.

Adventure Alternative’s view:

One of the success stories is the Africamp Street Kid Rehabilitation Programme. The background to this whole programme begins with an idea to take street children off the streets and try to give them a life, an identity and some hope in their future. They are given clothes, a school uniform, a place in which to meet safely, regular food and an opportunity for education. Mostly we give them company and friendship and a sort of surrogate family which is a big security for them.

This was the vision of Gavin Bate since 1991. Now it is a highly successful, well managed and fulfilling programme which incorporates many aspects of corporate strategy promoting pro-poor tourism, and charity being supported by commerce. This is now seen as a main tenet to aid in Africa by the Commission for Africa report in 2005.

A taste of what Adventure Alternative clients can experience:

Clients have a full afternoon to visit and experience life in the slums where Moving Mountains works on a daily basis; Muthurwa slum is where everything started, the original street kids that helped shape MM and AA all came from this area and we have spent a number of years re-building the local Primary School and developing our ‘Black Cats’ Street Children Sports Program. After this, clients head over to Sub Saharan Africa’s largest slum, home to an estimated one million people; Kibera. MM and AA has been involved with projects in Kibera since 1991. Ushirika Community Clinic, which was developed by MM is also the base for our HIV/Aids Community Outreach program with a team ofhealth workers and volunteers working daily in the slum to provide medical and nutritional assistance and counselling to families and individuals affected with HIV/Aids.

 It’s not a case of quick entry and exit – this is where Moving Mountains Trust – Adventure Alternative’s partner charity – conducts a lot of its work and we want our clients to take part in the development of these areas and to meet the wonderful people that reside here.

Excursions Without Excuses at the World Travel Market

The World Travel Market 2012 kicked off on Monday. It’s a leading global event in the tourist sector and a place for folk in the travel sector to meet, network, negotiate and conduct business.

Tomorrow the spotlight is on Responsible Tourism and Gavin Bate, MD of Adventure Alternative and founder of Moving Mountains Trust, will be joining a host of industry experts on a panel to discuss what makes a responsible excursion; from developing products that give back to developing new trips and auditing. The seminar, named ‘Excursions without excuses – improving the quality of excursions through sustainability’ will see Gavin join Jean-Marc Flambert of St. Lucia’s Tourist office, Andreas Moniakis – the head of Operations Greece, TUI Hellas S.A. and Grete Howard – a tourist who has travelled to over 135 countries. The discussion will start at 15:30 and will be chaired by Salli Fenton of The Travel Foundation.

The seminar will also include a look at The Travel Foundation’s new Greener Excursions tool and give delegates a chance to put their own excursion-related questions to the expert panel. The Greener Excursions tool will offer guidance on auditing current excursions to try and make current trips more sustainable and to help try and develop new and sustainable excursions. You can find the Green Business Tools here.

Adventure Alternative is delighted to have been chosen by The Travel Foundation to represent best practice. During the panel, some of our excursions and projects will be featured as best practice case studies to try to highlight that it is possible to maintain a profitable and healthy organisation whilst being ‘responsible’ – environmentally, socially and financially.

The Travel Foundation will also be hosting an interactive art installation that will celebrate sustainable tourism practices. The aim is to inspire exhibitors and visitors to share their sustainable success stories and ambitions. An artist will be on-hand to convert these suggestions into visual form to make a mural that will hopefully inspire change in the tourism industry.

A representation of the mural

You can contribute your sustainable tourism story, inspiration or ambition to the piece in one of three ways:

Via Twitter: send your suggestion using the hashtag #WTMscribbles, and follow @TravelTF for daily news and pictures

In person: pop along to stand No NA383 throughout WTM to see the artwork, meet the artist and submit your suggestion face to face

Via email: send your suggestion to graeme.jackson@thetravelfoundation.org.uk before  9am on Thursday 8 November (the final day of WTM)

It’s not too late to attend the World Travel Market. You can register for free here. All that is required of you is to print off the confirmation e-mail and ‘badge’.  If you aren’t able to register, you can turn up at the ExCel London (closest tube line Custom House on the DLR) event but it will cost you £50.

Are You Being Fooled by the Greenwash?

Even before ‘greenwashing’ had made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 1999, it had been sneakily adopted by the cynical and irresponsible in every industry, not least tourism. Many tour operators, travel agents, hotels and lodges are guilty of adopting the word ‘green’, ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’, but simply donating money to ‘green’ causes, choosing to recycle or any other lip-service does not a sustainable organisation make.

Similar to agriculture, transport and energy, tourism is regarded as a climate-sensitive industry with many tourism and leisure organisations dependent on the climate and the health of the local environment in order to operate. Can tourism and travel ever be truly ‘green’? Tourism often involves air travel and other carbon-intensive activities that would suggest not.

This blog is in response to Justin Francis’ (Chief Executive and Co-Founder of www.responsibletravel.com) outrage at the claims made in Travel Weekly Magazine. The magazine congratulates Las Vegas hotels for their green attributes:

Las vegas Lights

“Las Vegas Strip, that legendary bastion of glitz and neon, is actually a model community when it comes to sustainable environmental practices.” – Travel Weekly USA, October 10th.

The article then goes on to say: “Today, agents can sell most cruises as responsible, some even as eco friendly.  Perhaps no major line has been more active than Royal Caribbean in promoting its image as a green company.” –  Travel Weekly USA, September 26th.

The problem seems to be that the award schemes that these organisations sign up for reward incremental performances.  By showing relative annual improvements, these organisations are apparently worthy of a Gold Rating in sustainable performance. Many hotels in Vegas have the same environmental outputs (energy, waste and water) as a small town, whilst cruise ships have a notoriously bad history when it comes to staff welfare. Consumers will see these ratings and will be led to believe that these establishments are at the pinnacle of sustainable practice. This is dangerous for sustainable tourism, allowing the greenwashers to win. Of course incremental improvements should be celebrated, but in order to be meaningful, sustainability should really be measured in the absolute sense.

Adventure Alternative have put together a list of questions that you can use to help you to look beyond the greenwashing, the glitzy marketing and the price.This guide by no means covers everything; it is intended to be a pragmatic user guide rather than an overwhelming and head-melting mass of questions. We categorised the points so that you can choose to focus on the areas that are of most importance to you and your travel companions. You can likely answer many of the queries by snooping around on websites or perusing brochures, but don’t hesitate to call up and ask tricky and invasive questions.

Photo: Alamy

We are also planning to produce a further list of questions aimed specifically at trips involving volunteering or charity work. This is an area of tourism where recent history has uncovered a huge amount of cynical ‘box-ticking’ exercises by providers. Many incidences have left both participants and potential beneficiaries equally let down by the poor methods of project identification and administration.

By demonstrating that consumers are taking an interest in sustainability, the industry will be forced to comply to consumer demand and up the sustainability game. You have a lot of power! Your choices as a consumer can significantly impact upon the development of communities and the conservation of culture and natural resources.

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.