Tourism can be both a blessing and a curse. As visitors, we are drawn to pristine environments populated by friendly locals who are falling over themselves to welcome us into their world.
Adverts and articles paint a picture of perfection and convince us that somehow we’re being short changed if we accept anything less.
Energy-guzzling air conditioning, food that’s travelled more miles than we have and towels that see more detergent in a month than ours at home would in a year all become part of the package.
If you buy into this image of paradise and you’re unwittingly contributing to the degradation of those very environments that attracted you in the first place. All too often those landscapes become littered and overdeveloped, local people jaded and cynical.
Economic benefits that were promised in good faith all too frequently leach out as soon as the big corporations move in. The social and environmental consequences we unwittingly set in motion can be disastrous.
The good news is that there are travel companies out there who are paying it forward, companies who go the extra mile to be a positive influence, both culturally and environmentally, on the communities they seek to work alongside of.
As travellers, we need to ensure that we remain aware of the impact we are having on communities simply by being there. It’s become a cliché that we should take only pictures and leave only memories, but for once, that cliché is something we should strive to achieve.
It is possible to minimise the disruption we cause to traditional ways of life and even the most fragile environments. It’s possible to boost local economies if we identify and spend our money with local businesses or those with an ethos strongly focused on conservation.
One such organisation is the Angama Foundation in Kenya. It was started by the owners of the Angama Mara luxury lodge. When the concept of Angama Mara was born, its founders wished to protect the Maasai Mara for future generations while at the same time creating sustainable luxury accommodation. While it needed to turn a profit, Angara Mara also needed to make a difference to the communities that were to be its neighbours and to look after the land and its wildlife so that they’d be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
This is especially important, because the lodge sits overlooking the Maasai Mara – one of the most pristine and important ecosystems in Kenya, and is proud to employ Maasai tribespeople as part of their team.
Kandoo Adventures is another company that’s working hard to transform lives. Its Kandoo Foundation funds a whole host of charitable projects. In 2017, it provided 1500 mosquito nets to those at risk of catching malaria in Tanzania.
Through donations made by those booking its trekking holidays, clean water was provided to the village of Komela in 2015. Until then, villagers had to walk for several kilometres to fetch this precious resource – one we take for granted.
Guests contribute financially to the Angama Foundation, which spends the money wisely on education, healthcare and conservation projects. Local schools have received grants for classrooms, running water, security and teaching materials.
The provision of medicines and of medical advice is also a high priority. In terms of conservation, efforts are set to focus on livestock predation compensation and rhino monitoring, which have been identified as key areas in which change can be effected.
Aside from providing local artisans a chance to market their crafts and to organise, they also provide more tangible help to remote Andean villages -things like presents and hot chocolate matter a lot to the tiniest inhabitants of these picturesque, isolated places.
Planeterra is another such organisation, this time acting under the auspices of successful budget tour operator G Adventures. Many of the projects it manages empower and support women, aiming to address the gender equality present in many remote communities. One such project can be found in the village of Ccaccaccollo.
With the tourism boom of the 1990s, this tiny corner of the Peruvian Andes lost its way. Ancient traditions of weaving were abandoned as residents switched to other forms of employment. Spotting an opportunity to put things right, Planeterra launched the Women’s Weaving Co-op in 2005. Local women relearned weaving techniques and the Foundation supplied looms and other equipment. Today, the market is thriving and a way of life has been resurrected. The once illiterate population is now celebrating their children heading off to university.
Carbon offsetting, if managed carefully, can also have positive effects on the environment. Tread cautiously, however. Before choosing a carbon offsetting scheme, travellers need to research how much of their donation will be left after administrative overheads have been paid and most important of all, how it will be used. Some carbon offsetting schemes, though well-intentioned, can do more harm than good. Simply planting vast stands of trees isn’t good enough – particularly if such actions impact on biodiversity or much-needed agricultural land. Often, projects which involve support for renewal energy programmes can be helpful as are initiatives such as that of the World Land Trust which buys up crucial acreage to protect wildlife habitats.
We can also make a difference in carbon emissions when choosing an airline. IATA’s Quality Assurance Standards have been awarded to airlines such as TAP Portugal, Kenya Airways, SriLankan Airlines and South African Airlines. When booking a flight and supporting the programmes endorsed by these carriers, travellers can be sure that a properly carried out audit has taken place.
Be realistic. Most of us can’t hope to achieve carbon neutrality, but every little helps when it comes to reducing the toll we take on our increasingly beleaguered planet.
At the end of the day, it’s about respect. We can choose who gets our money when we pay for a trip. With a little thought, as conscious travellers we can ensure that our footprint is minimal. We can choose to make donations to operators with active charitable foundations and financially support effective initiatives that offset the negativity of our actions.
We can seek out those companies that pay it forward. Via our social media accounts, we can choose to promote good practice and encourage our friends and family to do the same. The power of suggestion is an effective tool, so why not advocate a more sustainable way of enjoying our travels?
- Tours for Women around the World
- Tour Companies run by Women around the World
- Accommodation for Women around the World
- Women who are Local Tour Guides
- Retreat Places for Women Around the World
- Tours which include Retreat Themes