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.

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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.

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 🙂

Nomad: A person who wanders or roves

Nomaders is a great new platform – it allows dialogue to be exchanged between travellers and locals. But these aren’t just any locals; ‘local heroes’, as they’re named by the Nomaders community, are people who want to showcase their hometown by sharing their culture, introducing travellers to activities that could never be found in the guidebook!

Local heroes aren’t satisfied with Starbucks and Subway, these are people that know the hidden gems in an area – the places that properly showcase the spirit and culture of a community. Local heroes are also often people who interact with their local community through associations, cultural groups and community initiatives.

Hey, if we just described you, maybe you could be a local hero and help to enhance the tourism experience through authentic and exciting activities!

The organisation aspires to the same message as Couchsurfing and the likes – gain unique experiences by viewing a location through the eyes of a local!

We’re really proud to be able to say that Adventure Alternative tours facilitate and encourage interaction with locals, offering a personalised and unique experience. This is especially true of our AlternativeGAP tours.

Each group is accompanied by 15 Kenyans on their gap years as part of the Moving Mountains Kenya scheme, so integration starts from the very beginning. Not only that, but the groups are joined by Kenyan aid workers who act as guides and mentors, teaching participants to engage with the communities and people who are beneficiaries of Moving Mountains Trust.

AlternativeGAPpers

The group is self-sufficient, travelling in our overland trucks and living in local situations, sometimes in tents, sometimes in homestays and sometimes in our guesthouses. This is where the trip differs from most tours – it’s the opportunity to travel at a pace of life which is slow enough to feel you have got to know the land and its people.

Fundamentally our gap trips are linked to long-term development projects which we believe reflects the integrity of the experience. The tours include homestays and work in some of our projects like children’s homes, rescue centres and our volunteer’s centres, along with experiences that highlight the flipside of life in Kenya, along with the people that make this country so special!

AlternativeGAPper teaching in school

Cycling through the Great Rift Valley and ending up camping on an extinct volcano with the Maasai people – now you can’t say that’s the average holiday experience!

Like Nomaders, AlternativeGAP Kenya tours are designed for people who have a real desire to explore a country and understand both its development needs and also appreciate its uniqueness. This will take an open mind, initiative and a sense of curiosity about the world. The next tour will run from 12th January, 2013. To find out more about these GAP trips, and other Adventure Alternative tours, visit the website.

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.

Everest – Risk, Tourism & Elitism

As another Pre-Monsoon Everest climbing season draws to a close there is, as usual, much to reflect on. There are the usual debates about overcrowding, unsuitably experienced climbers, ethics of rescue & risk and also debate about the unseasonal weather and conditions this year.

Photo taken from the Nepal Everest Basecamp looking towards Khumbu Tse, the Lho La and the Khumbu Icefall.

A good round-up of the season’s goings on can be found in Alan Arnette’s summing-up post.

The issue of overcrowding was brought into stark contrast by Ralf Dujmovits’ photograph which ran in The Guardian under the title ‘The Human Snake’. Though it should be noted that this photo was not taken ‘on the way to the summit’ but between camps 3 and 4, and that queues on the mountain are unfortunately not a new phenomenon. Adventure Alternative expeditions have been faced with these additional dangers on a number of occasions. It is regrettable and frustrating when it is apparent that it is due to incapable climbers, but it is hard to see how it can be controlled by external rules. For more on the overpopulation debate, visit The Guardian.

Looking down the Lhotse face, towards camp 3. Shot by mountaineer, Ralf Dujmovits, and displayed in The Guardian (May, 2012).

At Adventure Alternative, we feel that it is at least morally down to each expedition to ensure that all the climbers in their team are suitably conditioned, experienced and capable for the task. This shouldn’t mean that the world of Everest mountaineering necessarily becomes elitist, requiring a lifetime dedicated to mountaineering. But the level of skill and experience required will not come about based on a year or two of peak bagging.

Another major story was the decision of Russell Brice to abort the Himalayan Experience expedition early. Himex run arguably the most influential, and certainly the most expensive, expeditions on Everest. This should not overshadow the fact that Russell is a hugely experienced and respected mountaineer in his own right. It was a very bold decision and one that has not gone without criticism. We feel that he should be applauded for following his own judgement through on sound information and experience and not giving in to economic and marketing pressure. This is quite independent of whether or not certain objective dangers claimed casualties in the end.

Sadly the season ended with a number of climbers losing their lives. It would be unfair to group all these people together under a blanket statement, such as is often employed in the media. Each one of them was an individual with a family, a story and a combination of aspirations and decisions which brought them to the mountain.

On the Lhotse face. Taken from The Guardian (May, 2012).

Climbing Everest or any other mountain will never be a ‘safe’ thing to do. Paying such huge sums can lead to the assumption that the mountain will, and must, be summited at any cost. Therein lies one problem: money can’t buy everything. Anyone who is led to believe otherwise is being done a great injustice. We believe that each individual has the right to decide if they are willing to take the risk. What we, as providers, must do is to ensure that they receive as much honest, frank and balanced information as is available to help them to make a decision. We will then seek to minimise the risks as far as possible and present a continued appraisal of them. Consciously turning around is not a failure, losing control and perspective is.