How to do tourism right?
For us, whether we call it 'eco', 'sustainable' or 'responsible' tourism, our company and visitors have to give something back. The best and most lasting way is to enjoy your holiday in the company of ordinary local people, where everyone gets to see and enjoy a place's natural and historical wonders.
Why is this important?
Not everyone in a local community understands the value of their natural and cultural heritage, and that includes civil servants and government officials. So the primary goal of responsible tourism should be an attempt to bring a change in this outlook. That's why we believe it’s not enough to just give an income to expert guides, NGOs and hotels (not that it doesn't help). And we shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking we need only find some local farmers and give them a little extra cash.
A change in outlook is only brought about, bit by bit, if local people themselves are involved in the tourism enterprise, if they can introduce the foreign visitors to their home, and if they can engage in a bit of chat and a glass of wine.
Just using one local guide does not satisfy such principles; we must work with a large cast. It’s not easy, but that’s what has to be done. And we are lucky to know the area and its people, so we spend a lot of time talking to them about their lives and dreams, pasts and futures, hopes and fears. Stories that they now love telling to visitors.
We want to contribute to the preservation of the region by having you meet people from all three countries, and immerse yourself in the nature and history of their home. To that end, all our tours and services are designed with three elements in mind:
“Tourism – done right – can be a powerful tool for conserving wilderness and heritage areas. For both traveller and local, it increases appreciation of the social and environmental importance of conserving biodiversity.” — Kerry Lorimer, Code Green: Experiences of a Lifetime
We don't just show you nature. You'll see the whole ecosystem and human history; how everything interacts.
WORKING WITH LOCALS
Every day of your tour, locals show you their home and tell their stories. Farmers, fishermen, beekeepers, park rangers.
We only offer tours for small groups, so you can chat with locals, in the field or at dinner, via translators in each country.
“In the end, it's all about protecting the product. If the product - our destination - aren't protected in environmental and social terms, then people won't want to visit them.
It's as simple as that” — John De Vial, ABTA
There are good guides and bad guides, good tours and bad tours. No one wants to pay money for a one way lecture, whether it is in the hotel or outdoors. We use a mix of expert and local guides, in different venues and with a variety of tools, to give our visitors a better understanding of the forces at play in a complex ecosystem and a foreign society. And as well as traditional 'night-before' briefings and guiding in the field, the visitors are given waterproof checklists and leaflets that explain the natural and cultural highlights they will see, and our website is full of information about the region. This allows visitors to ask questions rather than just wait and listen for explanations.
Working with locals
Our tours involve local ‘guides’ every day of your visit. He or she may be a national park warden, or a farmer, fisherman, beekeeper or stockbreeder. Sometimes it is as simple as joining us on a morning walk through their fields, other times it is a boat ride with a fisherman, or a beekeeper giving a tour and explanation of his hives. Each of these can then sell their products to the visitor. By giving employment opportunities and building local capacity to promote their region and products, we provide a small economic nudge towards seeing the region's values in a different way. We ensure that as much visitor money as possible stays in the local economy, and most importantly that it is spread between different villages and families, so we don't use the same hotels, restaurants and guides every time.
The economic incentive isn't the most important part; it's the relationship between visitor and local guide. We insist on small groups, which allow direct dialogue with locals through translators. This allows the visitor to hear about someone in Europe who has a completely different life to them, and the locals also enjoy it. They are not used to people being interested in their lives, indeed it often seems that their own governments aren't. Plus, it's also good for them to hear from the visitors that they are interested to see wolves, dragonflies, monasteries and archeological sites. This allows these two groups to share their opinions about the region and to discuss matters such as the conflict between protecting nature and development.
Protecting the product is easier said than done. There is a lot of misunderstanding about what it really involves. As the ‘eco-tourism’ industry grows, we’re also seeing the phenomenon of companies ‘greenwashing’ their tours and services, whereby they call themselves eco or sustainable purely as a marketing tool. Some may be conscious of this, whilst others may simply not understand what it really means.
All kinds of “eco-trips” can be found: mountain biking, kayaking, rock-climbing. As these can potentially harm wildlife, especially if done during reproduction or nesting time, they cannot properly be called eco-tourism. In our spare time we enjoy doing these activities ourselves, but as 'a product', they need control and enforcement, to ensure that they don't conflict with nature. Still, with these activities, at best, nature gets nothing back. At worst, it’s disturbed.
Responsible tourism has to give something back. It has to produce a conservation gain for nature and/or heritage. And to do that, as many people as possible, whether visitors or local people, have to understand that protecting the whole social and environmental aspects of a place are essential.