During the past year Finnish Association for Fair Tourism has discussed the relationship between tourism and global inequalities. It was asked, how can cooperation between actors in the Global South and local entrepreneurs become fairer? What principles should be included in the global tour operating to make it more equal?
During the past year Finnish Association for Fair Tourism has discussed about tourism and global inequalities. The aim has been to inform tourists that they can consider their activities while travelling so that encounters with locals in the Global South would be more equal. It is important to pay attention on how the private sector of tourism – especially tour operators – are addressing the issues of inequality.
It was asked how can cooperation between actors in the Global South and local entrepreneurs become fairer? What principles should be included in the global tour operating to make it more equal?
This article will open the question of equal tour operating based on the results of the master's thesis of Salia Binaud, who is part of the Duara team.
The thesis explored the collaboration between Western and local tourism entrepreneurs in the context of Sri Lanka. The aim was to gain understanding of how partnerships between responsible Western tour operators, and local tourism companies are influencing tourism development in the Global South. In addition, the thesis was trying to find out how much the locals could affect on this development.
The Global North has the control on the Global Souths’ partnerships in many ways
Accommodations are chosen and planned according to what the Western clients are used to. For example, Western companies might send guidebooks and instructions for their local partners and local partners produce services according to this material.
Sometimes Western companies even use their own tour guides instead of local ones. When a Western style breakfast is generally included in the price of the hotel room, the local breakfast is served for additional price and must be separately ordered.
At the same time, the locals are feeling that their services are not correctly adapted for Asian customers who have different kind of habits and requirements than Europeans.
Sri Lanka, as many other destinations of the Global South, is economically very dependent of Western travellers and tour operators. Local tourism managers in Sri Lanka experienced that the Western partners’ most important mission is to bring new customers and bookings, and through that increase the living standards and salaries in the destination.
This dependency relationship inevitably means that Western players are very much in control of the partnerships. The study made by Salia reveals the unbalanced setting in which the Western travelers are building the entire tourism field. Although, the locals in Sri Lanka feel that they are free to choose their suppliers and planning the tourism services, the criteria set by the western tourists are constantly at the center of attention.
Sri Lankan tourism managers are experiencing that the Western way of doing business and working can be challenging. First, contracts with the local partners are renewed every year or every season, which brings uncertainty to the constancy of the partnership, and locals don’t have the possibility to influence on that. Second, the price negotiation and bidding the prices is experienced as challenging and unsustainable. The lower prices the Western partner asks for, the lower salaries the local entrepreneur can, for example, pay to his employees.
Last, the demand for quick online access have increased challenges for local entrepreneurs. Fast response times required for e-mails and customer inquiries are causing that local entrepreneurs are not always able to do their job as well as they would like to. The 'Western way of life' and hurry inevitably controls the way Sri Lankan local entrepreneurs work.
Responsible tour operating in the Global South requires familiarization with the local partner
Although local tourism companies want to take the responsibility, they wish that Western partners would come more often to visit the destination and would get more familiar with the services they sell and the local’s way of acting. Local companies also wish that the Western partners would inform the travellers about the different aspects of the local culture. The awareness and information about the local culture is currently too much under the responsibility of the travellers. In other words, if a Western tour operator wants to communicate that they are as supporting local communities and respecting the employees, culture, and the environment, the tour operator must also spend time and effort in getting to know the partner.
The study revealed that Western companies do not particularly monitor or check the responsible activities of the local partners. Certificates related to responsible tourism are not required. Usually in Sri Lanka, local entrepreneurs consider sustainability, wellfare of the local communities and environmental issues as their own responsibility. In other words, Sri Lanka's local tourism entrepreneurs do not assume that their Western partners would intervene or manage the responsible tourism activities. The locals see it as a sign of trust when they have the freedom and responsibility to act in their own way.
The locals of the Global South are often a heterogeneous group of different groups of people
When working in the Global South, it is also good to keep in mind that those involved into tour operating in the destination, directly or indirectly, are many groups of different locals. In several cases different groups of people in the local society, are in an unequal position towards each other.
Internationally financed tourism projects can increase the socioeconomic disparity between the representatives of the indigenous people and the other actors. In many cases indigenous communities are getting disproportionate benefit from bringing their own cultural heritage as part of the tourism industry. Competition and business, on which tourism is based, has not traditionally been part of the lifestyle and culture of these communities.
It is also good to be aware that behind our own behaviour and paradigms can be influences of many cultural, historical and social patterns which are excluding certain groups of people. Traditionally especially the women of the local communities are in a weaker position for enjoying the employment opportunities of tourism. To prevent their own negative impact on the local communities, the Western tour operator should be aware of the unequal settings already existing in local communities.
As a conclusion, it is important to be subtle on how different cultures understand the tourism as livelihood – and the phenomenon of tourism in general. It should be emphasized that the Western way of organising tours is not necessarily the best way.
The entrepreneurial sector of tourism has potential and means for making tourism more equal
One in ten jobs, the 10th in the world's GDP, and a third of the world’s service exports comes from tourism. These numbers could be listed endlessly, and what they are meant to show, is that tourism does matter. Therefore, tourism also has an important role in driving the UN’s sustainable development goals.
Equal tour operating in the Global South starts especially from the point that the tour operator sees itself as a responsible actor, who has power to influence – but not to harm. Partnerships should rather focus on bringing equal benefits for all parties.
UNWTO report lists a number of good ways in which the private sector in tourism can seek to prevent inequality: Managing diversity, investing in local entrepreneurship, responsible purchases, equal recruitment and training of local staff, and involvement of local communities.
In addition of concrete actions, equal tour operating in the Global South requires consideration of power-settings. Language has a key role: it matters if one talks about instructing and advising the partner – or about collaboration and interpretation.
Finally, a tour operator enhancing equality constantly re-estimates its actions and admits its mistakes by learning from them.
How is Duara taking these above-mentioned points into ACTION?
We are constantly communicating with our local contacts who we consider as our local partners. The local contacts and the host-families design and produce themselves the activities they want to show to travellers. Duara team is there to help them to conseptualise and to put a price on these activities. 60% of the payment goes to locals, and the remaining part is spend on promoting the service internationally – something that’s not necessarily in the core knowledge of most of the villagers.
We are constantly asking for feedback from our contacts in the destinations and trying to learn how to improve the collaboration and the ways of working together. We also meet challenges and make mistakes, but we are trying to learn from each of them.
We do give tips and advices on how to improve the service and the customer experience, but we have happily noticed that with the increasing activity in certain destinations, the local partners have contacted us with suggestions and improvements as well.
A big challenge for us is to travel regularly to each of the destinations and meet face to face all the new partners who we have taken on board. Since the beginning, Duara core team has always travelled to each country where we operate but since we have started to open new villages in the existing destinations, this have become more challenging.
Luckily today there are many ways for communicating even from far! Thanks to the new technology and social media we can easily have face to face conversations, phone calls and voice messages with the contacts.
Furthermore, our circle is growing all the time and we have many wonderful friends and supporters around us who are travelling to the destinations and are happy to meet the new hosts and contacts. These friends also help us in getting as much information as possible about the country and the villages.
At Duara, we find it extremely important to give the travellers information about the local culture and the do’s and don’t’s in the destination. Therefore, we are regularly updating our ‘survival guide’ which we send to each traveller when they confirm a booking. It is also possible to order it for free through our website.