Responsible Tourism ”At its core, bad tourism is aimed at exploiting the natural beauty and cultural heritage of a region for quick financial gains without respect or concern for the social, ecological or intellectual prerogatives of the host culture. It is the unqualified responsibility of the tour operator to endeavour to minimise such negative effects upon any other culture to which they bring their clients”. Taken from Ladakh Between Earth and Sky by Siddiq Wahid 1981. Bridget and Barry Wenlock set up Nepalese Trails, (now Mongoose Travel) in 1995, sharing this view of what constituted „bad tourism‟. We had spent much of the previous 15 years, working and travelling in Nepal and India. After many years of being around the tourist industry in these countries, we were horrified by the ways in which tourism had developed, without any real benefit for the people, culture and environment. Foreigners began to come in droves to experience the joys of trekking and touring and to enjoy the thrill of being in a world so different from our own. Often, it was in fact the scenery, and the urge to explore, that attracted trekkers and the people and their different cultures, were discovered secondary to this. They found the way of life, and the hospitality, as well as the landscapes, a tonic to the troubled western mind. Every trekker has paid homage to the „tough little Sherpa‟, but how much did they pay him to feed his family, or to go to the hospital if he fell down sick? How much did they expect him to carry on his back? Once we acknowledge what has gone wrong, then we can start on the road to being more responsible and ethical in the attitude with which we travel. We cannot claim to be perfect and because „responsible tour operator‟ has maybe lost its meaning, or is too vague and pompous a term, all we claim at Mongoose Travel, is that we try our level best to operate ethically and with „fair exchange‟ in mind and to promote such views to our clients, staff, agents and within the tourism industry. In 2001 Tourism Concern and the International Porter Protection Group launched a campaign to increase awareness of the exploitation of porters, and Mongoose Travel was at the forefront of providing guidelines, which were circulated to all tour operators who work in regions where porterage is the norm. We were in fact the ONLY tour operator in the UK at that time, who had a written policy for the working conditions of our porters. This was an excellent campaign and along with an informative BBC documentary on the subject, by Shankar Guhar, it gave the industry a shake up that was well overdue. When you join a Mongoose Travel holiday, you can do so in the knowledge that after 25 years travel experience in India and Nepal, we have developed a great love and respect for both. We would wish to see tourism benefit our hosts, as well as being a transforming journey for those who travel with us. We leave it to you to judge whether our efforts at being „responsible‟ are more than just words. Our small group holidays are designed to have low impact on the culture and environment. We support the International Porters’ Protection Group. We care about the men and women who work with us, and over the years many have become our close friends. They are properly trained, insured, well equipped, well paid and happy to be part of our team. We support their families with school sponsorships and health care. We have worked closely with Tourism Concern, and we adhere to the Himalayan Code‟s recommendations. Mongoose Travel staff are trained to dispose of rubbish, clean up sites and trails and help villagers deal with the impact of our visit. Giving something back. Nepal offers the visitor much more than magnificent Himalayan scenery and kaleidoscopic culture – it offers its wonderful people, who in turn do so much to make any stay, a very special experience that will never be forgotten. Over the years, we have received so much from Nepal (and India), that we feel it is only right to put something back. We have helped and continue to support schools, education sponsorships, and small community projects, as well as numerous individuals, who are helped with healthcare, home building, school fees etc. We have links with „Seeing Hands‟, a UK charity set up to help blind Nepali students study and practice massage. This year we will be donating some of the profit from our India tours to support the work of tiger conservation projects. This is especially important at the moment, as the numbers of Bengal tigers vanishes before our eyes, in an epidemic of poaching. Comprehensive information. We encourage everyone who travels with us to find out about the country and its culture, before they travel. We provide information about your holiday, through in-depth itineraries, information about culture, trekking, health, visas etc. At the end of your trip, we will provide you with a questionnaire, for you to comment, criticise or praise us. What YOU can do Choosing the right operator Make sure that your tour operator is aware of social, cultural and environmental issues and has policies in place to promote sustainable tourism. You should ask your tour operator about their policies regarding the employment of local staff and the protection of their porters and trekking crew. What is the maximum load their porters are allowed to carry? Are they insured and do they have the right equipment for the mountains? How much of the money returns to the west and how much stays locally. Ask about litter disposal on trek, plastic waste, use of fuel etc etc. What happens to waste generated by us on a trek? Is it removed from the mountains? Cultural Impact Read something about the culture of the place you are visiting before you go. This will help you to: Be sensitive to local etiquette. Respect religious customs. Respect people‟s privacy – think before you take a photo. Be modest with your wealth. Do not encourage children to beg by handing out sweets or pencils – give them to schools or NGO‟s instead. Dress and behave modestly. Not play doctor. Keep your sense of humour! Be positive about the culture you are in – ask questions about it and show local people that you think that it is important. By speaking a few words of the language, appreciating local food, joining in a festival, visiting a temple, or holding the baby, you will encourage a pride in the culture. Not everything West is best! Environmental Impact Don‟t leave litter. Burn used toilet paper. Avoid bottled mineral water. Take used batteries home with you. Don‟t pollute water sources – when camping, make sure latrines are situated far from the water source or stream. Bring biodegradable soap, shampoo etc and take home the empty containers. Tell your hotel if you don‟t require your towels and sheets to be changed every day. Encourage the use of composting toilets – generally less polluting and as fertiliser is needed and in short supply, better to use it than let it seep into the streams. Encourage solar panels – stay at lodges where you see panels on the roof and enjoy free energy. Encourage energy efficient bulbs – praise their use if you see one in a lodge. Discourage the use of firewood for hot water. Nepal is losing its forest rapidly and your need for a hot shower is contributing to that. Bucket showers heated by wood cooking fires, at least mean that the fire is being used for many different purposes. Travel light – less pack animals and porters means less degradation to the trails. Don‟t pick plants – there are many endangered species in the Himalayas. Don‟t light fires. Size Matters! Very large groups are impractical, difficult, unfriendly to the environment and invasive to the culture and not a lot of fun either! Groups between 5 and 12 people are ideal, with the upper limit set at 15. Economic Impact Support locally made handicrafts rather than imports. Buy locally produced food products as snacks for on the trek. In restaurants eat locally produced food by ordering local dishes. Try to pay local prices, without being mean, to avoid inflation for locals. Nima’s Tale… As the sun sets behind the Himalayas, Nima Gurung prepares the rice and lentils for the evening meal. The stove she cooks on is energy efficient and simple to maintain. It uses 2 sticks, when formally she might have needed 6. The local forest is also being protected by Nima‟s use of a kerosene stove, which she uses to prepare food for the many trekkers who stay at her mountain lodge during the season. To heat water, she has a back-boiler on the stove and on the south-facing wall of her roof garden are 2 solar panels. Next to these is a solar oven, used for drying apples. In the autumn, Nima plans to install a wind-powered generator, to power the new energy-efficient bulbs she has just purchased. Nima is very conscious of the phrase “Eco-tourism”, and tries hard to adhere to the Himalayan Code of Practice, which she has been aware of since school days. She says, “In the past, when tourists arrived, we‟d light a big fire and everyone would take a hot shower. We‟d cook all the food using firewood and the toilet was a hole in a plank, directly above the stream! Today, that‟s all changed – we are very aware here of the dangers to our environment and to our culture – probably more so than in the west. Equally, this is our future, so we must continue to develop means of protecting our environment and creating a system of sustainable tourism”. Links I.P.P.G Tourism Concern Operators for Tigers campaign The Travel Operators for Tigers campaign: The Travel Operators for Tigers campaign (TOFT) is a collective Global travel industry initiative, in cooperation with the charity Global Tiger Patrol, that aims to advocate and support through supply chain pressures a more responsible approach to tourism in India‟s main wildlife reserves. It also aims to catalyze collective support for specific conservation programmes which benefit local communities and habitat preservation and restoration. Mongoose travel has joined TOFT. This means that we have agreed to adhere to TOFT‟s Operational guidelines and to the Travellers Codes of Conduct for our visitors, and make an agreed client contributions to the TOFT fund on a yearly basis. For more information regarding TOFT visit http://www.toftiger.org Our Code of Practice 1. We will endeavour to help protect the natural environments in which we operate by supporting and implementing such initiatives as set forth by environmentally concerned groups in those countries. These include The Himalayan Code of Practice, A.C.A.P. and National Parks Service. 2. We will encourage local people to value their own culture and help to promote positive interchange between our clients and indigenous people. 3. We will encourage interested, considerate and environmentally conscious travel among our clients. 4. We will remember the rights of the local population and respect their laws and customs. 5. We will endeavour to support local charities, N.G.O.s, community projects etc. in order to assist such agencies to promote better health, education, and quality of life in countries in which we operate. 6. Wherever possible we will subscribe to local services, suppliers, and labour and favour such services that demonstrate sound environmental practice and provide fair working conditions. 7. We will follow the directives of such bodies as the International Porters Protection Group (IPPG), regarding the employment conditions of any trekking personnel we employ. 8. We will continuously train our staff. 9. We will carry out monitoring of all services at regular intervals and improve, update or change such services where necessary. 10. The safety of our clients and staff is of paramount importance at all times. 11. A complaint regarding any holiday will be dealt with quickly and fairly and, in the event of non-settlement will be offered for independent arbitration. 12. We will ensure that, to the best of our knowledge, all advertising is full and accurate and is not misleading in any way. We will avoid erotic enticements. 13. We will encourage discussion and personal contact with clients wherever possible. 14. We agree to abide by all regulations regarding Tour Operators and will regularly present accounts and promotional literature for inspection by the relevant bodies. All clients‟ funds will be held in an authorised Trust Account and such funds will not be available to us until the holiday is over. 15. We will practise „Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty!‟ This code of practice was drawn up and approved by Barry and Bridget Wenlock, Mongoose Travel (formerly Nepalese Trails) partners. Sept 1997.