Travelling responsibly

  1. Introducing Andy Jarosz as Guest Editor and our Travel Essay Series

    Missing ben on 2nd November 2010 | 0 comments

    November marks the start of a new project on the Tourdust blog, we’ve invited Andy Jarosz from the acclaimed 501 Places blog to take the reins as guest editor of the blog and the @tourdust twitter account.

    The Tourdust Travel Essay Series LogoDuring Andy’s reign as guest editor we will be publishing a series of thought provoking articles questioning why we travel, how it effects the places we visit and ultimately how we can improve the impact we have on local communities.

    We’ll be asking if travel is a rite of passage, a mythological adventure or simply just a form of consumption with the tourist nothing more than a cultural cannibal.

    We’ll be investigating whether travel is a form of cultural imperialism destroying cultures and sustaining inequalities or whether the cultural change and development catalysed by tourism is actually a positive.

    The Series in Full

    Why we travel


    1. Travel as religious experience
    2. Travel as an epic adventure
    3. Travel: the must have possession?


    The impact of travel


    1. Travel as imperialism
    2. Travel as cultural perversion
    3. Travel as Development aid


    How and where should we travel


    1. Where should we travel? Where should we avoid? Why?
    2. How should we travel


    With each subject we will publish thoughts both from Andy (in his capacity as travel blogger) and David Jobanputra (PhD in social anthropology) who has studied first hand the impact of eco-development and grassroots advocacy in India. We’ll be pitching the blogger's view against the academic's view, as well, of course as welcoming comments from all of our readers.

    There are no right's or wrong's in these discussions, no absolute truths. Our objective, as passionate believers in local and responsible travel, is to provoke thoughtfulness and raise awareness of the issues. So please let us know your thoughts, your experience and your comments and if the debate moves you to blog about it, let us know and we will happily link to your contribution to the debate!

    About Andy Jarosz

    Andy blogs at 501Places and is a Lonely Planet featured blogger and freelance writer. Andy has travelled across six continents (Antarctica is still on the list) and has a particular interest in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as these areas act as the backdrop to his family's incredible history. He also has a fascination with the aurora borealis and is always eager to brave the cold dark nights of the north to catch another glimpse of nature's greatest show. 

    About David Jobanputra

    David Jobanputra is a writer and anthropologist specialising in development, cultural change and environmental ethics.  He recently completed a PhD in Social Anthropology at University College London, which looked at grassroots advocacy and eco-development in the Aravalli mountains of Rajasthan, India.  In addition to living and working in the subcontinent, David has travelled extensively throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, including overland trips from Tibet to Scotland and Beijing to Java. David recently returned from 18 months living with a tribe in the Rajasthani desert.

  2. What can ‘local travel’ learn from responsible travel’s chequered past

    Missing ben on 13th April 2010 | 5 comments

    Local Travel Responsible Travel

    ‘Local travel’ describes what many independent travellers have known for years - get off the beaten track, choose local, choose small and invariably you will choose well. But will the new ‘Local Travel’ Movement survive and prosper?

    The concept of ethically responsible travel (deeply interwoven with local travel) has been around for many years now. Yet it is clouded in myth, misinterpretation, misunderstanding and tarnished reputations.  It has failed to go mainstream in anywhere near the same way as fair-trade tea and organic bananas have done in our local supermarkets. It seems responsible travel means different things to different people and is misunderstood by most. The problem has been partly caused by the media who over-simplify the issue, partly by companies who piggy back the movement without proper attention to standards and in the main due to a lack of international kite-marks by which consumers can easily judge operations.

    As a result we have a situation where companies throw around terms like eco tours and ecolodge and community tourism initiative without ever being held up to real scrutiny – A lot is very much for show (including the hastily typed responsible travel policy). So as consumers, instead of being able to rely confidently on labels such as organic or fair trade, we have to to consider our own choices and make our own minds up, for instance:

    1. Just because it is green we can’t assume it is good. A composting toilet doesn’t guarantee that the owners are paying fair wages to local staff.
    2. Just because it isn’t green doesn’t mean it isn’t ethical. The social impact of travel is independent of the environmental impacts of travel and focussing on one is better than focussing on neither.
    3. Volunteering isn’t always ‘good’. Short volunteering stays can sometimes do more harm than good. 
    4. The same principles of independent judgement must be applied to ‘local travel’. Small, local and independent doesn’t guarantee quality nor does it guarantee ethics. There are many successful large international organisations offering thoroughly locally-rooted travel experiences that are better for the customer and better for the local community than the local alternatives.

    The point is, travel is an experience without any hard and fast rules and not an easily defined physical product. In the absence of a common global standard (don’t hold your breath) travellers need to make their own judgements and companies need to do their best to make improvements.

    Any companies that make efforts to provide or promote local travel or ethical or green travel experiences should be applauded. The net effect in most cases will be good, more operators will behave responsibly and more customers will choose responsibly. But there is a worrying danger when those same companies market their product or website as ‘responsible’ or ‘green’ or ‘eco’ or ‘local’ without thoroughly and fairly assessing themselves against these labels – it simply undermines the whole movement. 

    We live in a complex multi-coloured world where white-washing, green-washing and blacklisting only serve to simplify a matter to banality. As a travel company, we should agree to treat the issue with respect, acknowledge the complexities of the issue and avoid the temptation to simplify for the sake of a good marketing slogan.

  3. Tourdust scholarship winners

    Missing ben on 9th September 2009 | 2 comments

    Ger in Mongolia

    Back in spring we decided to get involved with the Geotourism 09 prize.  The process of collecting entries from all over the world, sorting them and picking three winners has finally come to a conclusion.  We can announce that RiverIndia, CapeRace and Ger to Ger are our winners.

    To me, Geotourism is travelling to experience (and support) local culture, local places and local people (you can read more about this in my previous blog on Geotourism).   Our three winners are all putting on simply amazing adventure travel and cultural travel experiences, that they are all managing to do so whilst putting huge amounts back into the local communities is a miracle!

    1. Ger to Ger provide deep cultural immersion in Mongolia offering homestays, guided trekking, and horseback expeditions along nomadic trails.  Ger to Ger trains nomadic herders and teams them up with local guides to give travellers a thoroughly authentic taste of Mongolia.  We were delighted to pick Ger to Ger because our inspiration to start Tourdust came during a stay with a nomadic family in Mongolia.  There were a fair few disneyfied nomadic camps around, but we got lucky. With Ger to Ger you know you are staying with a real nomadic herder family - I can honestly say that there is nothing else like it on earth, the nomadic way of life is so different from the West, it is simply enlightening.  I was particularly tickled whan I read that they mongolize the visitors rather than westernising the nomads.
    2. Cape Race is a unique eco-cultural experience in Newfoundland, Canada.  You stay in three spectacular historic coastal homes and explore unique and out-of-the-way nature sites, pubs and music venues under your own steam.  The key is a tailor-made professional guide book written specifically for your trip and full of local contacts. Cape Race is trying to facilitate the ultimate aim of any independent traveller, to explore and get to know a place as only a local could.  We love that they try to give you real local contacts at each pub or place they recommend.  Importantly they also strive to ensure local encounters are spontaneous and authentic and never staged.
    3. River India offers culturally-immersive white-water rafting, kayaking, and fishing expeditions on the undiscovered but epic Siang River.  Whilst the region is undiscovered and the river truly epic, what really marks River India out is their approach to protecting the river environment and supporting the local economy.  River India supports and operates a river skills school which trains and supports locals to set up their own companies on the river.  So many adventure holidays are all about the adventure and forget about the local people and place.  River India serves up the ultimate river adventure whilst putting you up in traditional local bamboo huts and dishing up local food. That they can manage this and put so much back into the local community is awe inspiring.

    Geotourism 09 Challenge BannerWe spend a large portion of our time trying to find really authentic operators who have a genuine local expertise and run thing the way we like them run (small groups, expert guides, owners involved in operations, fantastic experiences).  We were looking for a way to publicise this search with a contest to find the the most innovative exciting small travel companies from around the world and the Geotourism contest is a superb vehicle for it thanks to the efforts of the Ashoka Changemakers organisation.  Ashoka Changemakers organise the Geotourism 09 contest and it is heavily supported by the National Geographic magazine.

    We thought long and hard about the prize and have come up with something we hope will make a real and sustainable difference to the winners.  There is a financial element to the prize which includes budget towards online marketing and participation at an International travel show.  The other element is a mentor relationship with experienced travel industry professionals:

    Christina Heyniger: Founder of Off The Radar and Xola Consulting Services, which works with owner-operators and innovative organizations blending adventure tourism and volunteer service. Christina is an Associate with the Adventure Travel Trade Association and serves on the board of directors for Sustainable Travel International, and Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself - an adventure travel/ volunteer tourism organization. She also serves as an advisor to the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Development.

    Alex Bainbridge: Authoritative & insightful blogger on the travel ecommerce industry.  Alex is the founder and MD of Tour CMS, a web-based reservation system designed for small and medium-sized tour operators.  Alex has significant expertise in harnessing ecommerce and social media for small travel businesses.

    Chris Noble: General Manager of World Nomads and co-founder of Footprintsnetwork. Footprintsnetwork is an alliance of online e-commerce companies making a difference with a solution that supports sustainable poverty alleviation community programs.

    Photo of Ger courtesy of Flickr user the wandering angel.

  4. Geotourism

    Missing ben on 8th September 2009 | 0 comments

    Walking holiday in Romania

    I've never been a huge fan of labels, mainly because only a select few know what the hell they mean. However putting that aside, let me explain how I interpret geotourism.

    We are quite set in our ways about the whole field of responsible travel.  We believe that people want great holidays first and foremost and the ethics of our holiday choices are only a hygiene factor.  So we want to have confidence that our choice is ethical but really just want to be able to concentrate on finding the most fun, most inspiring, most alive holidays.  That is why we love the concept of geotourism. 

    To me, Geotourism is travelling to experience local culture, local places and local people.  At its simplest it is staying at a locally run b&b eating good local grub and getting a few tips from the landlady on where to visit.  The diametric opposite of staying in a four star hotel with international buffets.  The beauty of geotourism is that by going local, not only are you likely to have a better experience (assuming you don't like dull sameness) but by learning about the locality and using local businesses the local community and place will benefit more too. 

    So is Tourdust a proponent of responsible tourism or geotourism?  I don't know, all I know is we spend a lot of time and effort trying to track down adventure holidays and cultural tours from local experts.  Most of the time this means a genuinely locally owned and run business, but not always - it comes down to who can give the best locally-flavoured experience.  Along the way we try and do what we can to support the communities we travel to.  From humble beginnings and all that, but at the moment we are supporting the Geotourism 09 contest and we have a monthly quota of new suppliers we take on who we work with on a non profit basis.  This tends to include our volunteering holidays, but also can include very small local operators who aren't set up to be able to pay commissions.