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Ethical travel questions

Tribes Travel is a founding member of the Ethical Tour Operators Group (ETOG).  Responsible, sustainable travel is key to Tribes.  This ETOG group comes under the auspices of the UK’s Tourism Concern, a charity which campaigns for better tourism worldwide.

Yesterday we had a meeting and a variety of tourism issues were discussed.  The agenda this time included: slum tourism, all inclusive hotels, trekking porters’ rights, and standards in volunteering travel. As you can see the issues which this group take on are quite diverse.  The tourism industry really has so many different angles which need to be considered and changed for the better that it’s sometimes hard to know where to start.

Below are some of the questions which were posed and discussed yesterday.  What are your views on any of these?  Give us your comments and let’s widen the discussion.  The more views the better!

  1. Why do travellers visit slums / townships?  Do they know that unless a visit is undertaken sensitively and properly, such visits bring no benefit to the community?
  2. Are all-inclusive hotels bad for the community they are within, given that guests rarely leave the confines of the hotel?
  3. Gap year volunteering trips are very popular now. Many (not all – for example, see our recommended volunteering page) are badly run and planned and can cause real problems in the places they are trying to help. Would it not be better for gappers to simply travel, and not volunteer?

So if any of these questions have any connection with your travel choices, we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Comments
5 Responses to “Ethical travel questions”
  1. Hi Amanda,

    On the volunteering side of the debate, a smaller part of this sector, but one which seriously needs to address these and other issues is that of school organised expeditions and overseas project work. It is big business in the UK, with probably 5,000 – 6,000 plus school children going on adventurous expeditions around the world every year. Many would undertake development / project related work “to give something back” to the communities (a common phrase used by many expedition companies), as part of a 3 or 4 week expedition.

    The project side of these trips definitely fall under voluntary tourism, yet the children working on the projects have no teaching credentials, no CRB, no expertise of any kind, other than man power, which often sadly means doing local people out of a job.

    The irony is, that the expedition industry is completely obsessive about the safety of ‘our’ UK children (risk assessments, best practice guidelines, CRB checked expedition leaders and such like), yet there is absolutely no guidance whatsoever on responsible tourism or project selection. Painting murals on schools buildings is sadly an all too common occurrence.

    The other major issue which the industry has (I work in the industry and have been very vocal about this, but with little effect) is the heavy reliance and promotion of UK expedition leaders. Recent directives by government supported schemes, mean that to achieve commercially valuable ‘badges of best practice’ (such as the ‘Learning outside the Classroom’ Badge), expedition companies must employ UK based expedition leaders. Yet this completely ostracizes overseas guides and leaders, and therefore also side lines those responsible tour operators that use, train and invest in in-country leaders. Where good quality, highly experienced in-country leaders are available, using UK leaders (who often haven’t even travelled to the destination) is an absolutely tragedy – not just for the employment opportunities of in-country leaders, but also for the missed educational opportunities of the school children on the trip.

    Thanks for opening up the debate to a wider audience.

    Adrian Ferraro
    The Specialist Travel Consultancy

    • Amanda Marks says:

      Hi Adrian
      Thanks for your comments. Not being directly in the volunteering side of the travel industry, your points about schools trips hadn’t really hit me before. However I can completely see your point. I’m sure the red tape on such schools trips is quite strict, but it does indeed seem a shame not to be able to use good local guides. Tribes makes a point of doing that and we know, like you, that the value you get from good local guides who are explaining about their own culture or their own environment is such a big bonus to travellers.
      Best wishes
      Amanda

  2. Why do travellers visit slums / townships? Do they know that unless a visit is undertaken sensitively and properly, such visits bring no benefit to the community?

    Curiosity. See how the other half live? Yes I did know that some organised tours do not bring any benefit and exploit these people even more and if they’re done well it’s still as if these people are visiting a zoo. However, I think they can be beneficial to both sides, when they’re done more ethically, as even though it is reminiscent of visiting caged animals, at least it brings the injustices to the attention of the wealthy. Some may be inspired to do something charitable when they get home and it raises awareness. The tour operators should, I think, have a mini lectures when people come to visit, so they can hear real life stories from people who live there. Gain a true impression of the gravity of the situation.

    Are all-inclusive hotels bad for the community they are within, given that guests rarely leave the confines of the hotel?

    Yes. They cut people off from the local area and community. People can’t really connect with the place, in some places locals are often told not to go and dine/drink there as its for tourists only. Travel should be about connecting people and that should be done with local businesses too. But unfortunately we live in a world where profit is more important than people.

    Gap year volunteering trips are very popular now. Many (not all – for example, see our recommended volunteering page) are badly run and planned and can cause real problems in the places they are trying to help. Would it not be better for gappers to simply travel, and not volunteer?

    No. What about all these other good causes that need people to come out and help? And backpacking travel can also be damaging to locals anyway, it depends how it’s done. To totally not recommend gap year trips would be short-sighted. Travellers need to be made aware of the problem through advertising and be directed to the website to see which ones are approved. As awareness increases (probably slowly) you’ll then find real charities who need the help and know that they’re doing a good job asking to be credited. You could also get people to report bad experiences they’ve had and check those places then blacklist them if necessary. Unfortunately this all takes money and time. If I was unsure of a volunteer trips credibility, I would probably backpack instead, and perhaps try and find a worth-while cause as I was travelling.

    • Amanda Marks says:

      Hi Sarah
      Thanks for your thoughtful response.
      You’re quite right of course – slum tourism CAN be beneficial to both the visitor and the community being visited. Certainly we only work with people offering townships tours etc which we feel are done well and preferably with a guide from the township. If you can get to talk to people from the township it does make a big difference to perceptions. I once took someone to a township in Port Elizabeth with a local guide, and when we dropped this (very educated, articulate) guide at his tin hut which he shared with 9 other people, the visitor was shocked to his core. That is good shock, which hopefully results in positive changes all round. On the other hand, a colleague at Tourism Concern says she regularly sees large bus loads of Americans in Rio’s favelas. They never get out, they just take photos from the bus. They are of no benefit to the community, and they just block the roads and make the residents angry. I think education is key to making sure this kind of tourism is done right, so yes, your ‘lectures’ idea is a good one.
      Re volunteering, again, as you say, it’s about whether it’s done properly isn’t it? Tourism Concern have a leaflet which helps decide if a company is doing it right. You’ll find it here – http://www.ethicalvolunteering.org/downloads/ethicalvolunteering.pdf . I will pass on your ideas to them about a list of ‘approved’ companies. Maybe that’s something they can think about.
      Thanks again for giving your views!
      Bestest
      Amanda

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