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.
During 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.
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!
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.
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.
‘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:
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.
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!
We 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.