During the summer we in Duara Travels have attended several responsible travel panel discussions. We want to share some of the issues that have been raised up in these panels with you as we believe they touch everyone travelling in locations where there’s huge financial inequality and where you are representing the wealthier part.
Encounters with locals coming from different cultures and socio-economical backgrounds can be very rewarding and eye-opening for both parts but remember that these encounters come with some responsibilities. Here’s something to consider:
1. Go off the beaten path to truly experience the local culture
– in a responsible way
Entering new places unknown for tourism industry becomes a more and more tempting option as heavily rising number of tourists make it difficult to experience the authentic local culture in many places for example in Bali and Thailand. Many big tour operators claim that it is more responsible to travel to areas which are already built for tourism and therefore have well functioning waste management and infrastructure. Yet, our opinion is that if you want to experience local culture, these aren’t probably the best places to do that.
We believe that homestay in a village is the best way to see the local culture, benefit locals and save the environment. When limiting the number of travellers to a one group of maximum 6 people in the village at the same time we ensure the capacity of the village can handle the tourism. It won’t change the ecosystem too much nor be a threat to the local livelihood and there’s no need to build additional infrastructure. The most important part is that the money from tourism goes directly to locals (without middlemen involved).
2. THE LOCALS NEED TO BE INVOLVED IN DEVELOPING THE TOURISM BUSINESS IN THE AREA
It is crucial that the locals themselves are producing the service for tourists. We want to encourage people to two ways communication despite the cultural differences, language barrier and economic inequality. Stop to think about the motive for the locals to produce the service. Money is often important but it should never be the only reason for the community to produce the service.
We in Duara, for example, have learned that the hosts in the villages feel very proud when they can show their culture to foreigners. It is very important for them that they themselves decide what to show and how – we in Duara only tell them the basic requirements of our concept.
We don’t organise homestay in very vulnerable villages that are not familiar to global travel business or so called Western culture. That is why we don’t work with indigenous cultures in very remote areas or do slum tours which mainly aim to make you feel horrified of the living conditions of the local inhabitants.
Stop to think about the motive for the locals to produce the service.
Our concept doesn’t include any volunteering either even though we encourage travellers to participate in everyday activities in order to learn about the local lifestyle. We believe that locals themselves dig their wells or teach their kids at schools better than the foreign travelers who only stay in the village for couple of days would do. We are not saying there aren’t many very well organised volunteer organisations but please Google out the challenges with for example voluntourism in the orphanage business before considering volunteering.
3. THE BIGGEST CUT OF THE PAYMENTS SHOULD GO TO LOCALS
Responsible travel operator makes sure the payment for those who produce the service is sufficient. The payment has to be big enough to cover the costs (in our case food, electricity, possible transportations etc.) but also sufficient for the host family to be able to save about half of it. These savings are often invested in education, farming or facilities and therefore help developing the community.
Unlike most of our competitors Duara usually have 3-5 families per village that host travellers in turns. This way our service benefits several families in the village, not just one. Also, 10% of our payment is directed into an instance that benefits the whole village, usually women’s savings group that gives micro loans to its members. All in all, in our case 60% of the payment of the traveller goes directly to the village.
The main reason for most of the families in our network to host travellers is the extra income. Therefore seeking the cheapest option to travel isn’t probably the most ethical one. Very few of us are boasting with their cheap new clothes but there are thousands of blogs sharing tips on how to travel for free. Hosts in low-income villages rarely want accommodate someone just for fun. Hosting travellers is a source of income for them and they should get a fair price for it.
The payment has to be big enough to cover the costs but also sufficient for the host family to be able to save about half of it.
4. YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA BEHAVIOUR EFFECTS IN ATTRIBUTES ATTACHED TO LOCALS
Remember that you are responsible for building the image of inhabitants of your destination country through your social media accounts. When taking photos of locals and especially when posting them, think what kind of perceptions you enforce. Are you showing people in photos as active doers or passive “poor”? Never make generalisations such as “these beautiful people” but treat people as individuals.
Many global aid organizations have their reasons to show images of poor children with sad eyes. This is their way to invoke empathy and pity to make people donate more money. What would be your reason to present people like that and enforce the image that has been built for decades in Western cultures?
5. RESPECT THE PRIVACY OF PEOPLE IN SOCIAL MEDIA
Many of your friends probably want to know if you are posting pictures of their children in social media. Although social media “rules” may vary a lot in different countries, it is polite to ask the parents their permission to take and post photos of their kids. Respect the privacy of locals, especially elderly and women in certain cultures. When visiting a family you can always ask the permission on the arrival, then you don’t have to ask it every time you would like to take a photo. Respect it if they say that it’s OK as long as you avoid taking photos of certain family members.
Ps. We in Duara Travels are not telling you not to take photos and post them on social media. Many host families would hope for more travellers to visit them and posting photos is a good way to spread the word of these villages and homestay options in social media.
Respect the privacy of locals, especially elderly and women in certain cultures.
6. FEW WORDS FROM THE ECO POINT OF VIEW
When attending these panels we are constantly asked about the ecological side in village stays. It is definitely not an eco choice to fly long-haul flights to get to these destinations. We really hope for the slow travel movement to become possible for also those working from nine to five in terms of longer holidays. That would help them to choose more ecological ways of travel. So far, we in Duara concentrate on offering the socially responsible options in the destinations.
We really hope for the slow travel movement to become possible for also those working from nine to five in terms of longer holidays.
We don’t have resources to supervise the recycling or waste management in the villages we operate. However, homestay tends to be a relatively green option: the use of electricity and water is scarce, there’s no need to build any extra infra and the food is usually very locally produced and comes without packaging.
As a traveller you can take care of the following: use public transportation to get to the villages when possible, reduce the waste you produce (use big water canisters rather than small bottles, don’t block toilets with your toilet paper, try to avoid using lots of plastic diapers for your baby etc.), use eco shampoo/sun lotion/mosquito repellent (as there rarely is any sanitation system) and take the garbage that cannot be burned with you when you leave the village (as burning is often the only way in the villages to get rid of the waste).
Please help us complete this guide and message to firstname.lastname@example.org if you think something is missing from this list! And help us to spread the word and make the world more sustainable by sharing this post. We are also happy to share other posts about sustainable travel.
Text Annika from Duara Travels. Photos by Duara.