Tickets on sale today for Britain’s first Travel Lottery

Any of us working in sustainable tourism have heard of the fine work of The Travel Foundation (TF) over the last decade. However, the TF still isn’t known by most travellers. Their Travel Lottery is a genius initiative to get tourists who are passionate to protect the destinations they love waking up to the work of the TF. WhatTF? – you’re brilliant.

Tickets are now on sale for this first ever Travel Lottery in the UK, whereby holiday makers have a chance to win prizes while raising vital funds for carefully monitored, community led sustainable tourism projects.  Tickets cost £2 and the first draw is at the end of March. Each ticket is a chance to win back the cost of their holiday in the form of a cash prize of up to £5,000.  Prize draws are monthly, with a guaranteed cash prize of at least £1,000 given away in each draw.travel lottery

The lottery is the first of its kind for the travel industry, creating a unified way of fundraising that protects and invests in communities and natural environments in popular holiday destinations; from Cyprus to St Lucia and from Turkey to Thailand.  Customers will be able to buy tickets from travel agents and other companies when they book holidays and buy related products and services. Launch partners Midcounties Cooperative Travel and Holiday Extras will sell tickets for the first draw, and many more travel companies are expected to join them in the coming months. The aim is to sell at least 100,000 tickets and raise more than £50,000 for good causes in the first year.

Customers can also buy tickets directly from www.thetravellottery.co.uk, either for a single draw or by signing up to play regularly.  At least 50 pence from each ticket goes to projects run by The Travel Foundation, with a focus on work that will sustain the local environment, wildlife, history and culture. These projects also help to tackle poverty by creating opportunities for local people to benefit from tourism. These projects include: helping beach operators in Kenya earn a better living from tourism and provide hassle-free tours for holidaymakers to enjoy; finding new ways to help local businesses grow and thrive alongside all-inclusive hotels in Cyprus; supporting local communities in Jamaica and Turkey to create great tourism experiences whilst protecting the marine environment; Continuing to develop the business skills of Mayan women in Mexico so they can supply locally-produced honey products to hotels.

I can stand by the projects of The Travel Foundation, as I wrote one of my first travel articles about their superb work to stop the exploitation of the Maasai in Kenya a few years ago. You can read more about that trip here, but watch the progress made by the villages, with the help of The Travel Foundation , since then in the video below. Watching these Massai elders, teacher and children, with whom I spent precious time, now growing their own sustainable tourism products is what gives me faith in this mad maelstrom of mass tourism.

Well done The Travel Foundation for making a new mark on the consumer side of the tourism industry, creating a social media-friendly way to share sustainable tourism stories and carrying the responsible tourism movement forward another good few steps.

Headwater hits sustainability head on

Cycling in Provence with cycling and walking company Headwater
Cycling in Provence with cycling and walking company Headwater

Partnerships are what make sustainable tourism a reality and leading UK based walking and cycling tour operator, Headwater, has demonstrated that sustainability is about creating genuine community agreements.  After a year  of working closely with over 400 hotels and over 100 agents and local guides, they put have put in place a new and pioneering Sustainability Programme and Charter.

Due to the nature of its work, Headwater works with a plethora of ground handlers. Complex infrastructures are often used by tourism businesses as barriers to creating sustainable and ethical practices, but this company rose to the challenge. They have assessed every holiday in their 2014 portfolio, and evaluated every component using an agreed set of eight criteria. Not wanting to overload their suppliers with paperwork, they talked through the procedure with them at the annual contract meetings, so that suppliers did not feel as if they were being ‘examined’.  Reviewing sustainability standards will now become an annual event at Headwater.

The aim of the Sustainability Programme is to give each holiday an overall ‘Sustainability Score’ which appears in all brochures, in print and online.  It is impressive to see that local employment and local food sourcing also feature in these criteria, areas often upstaged by recycling and renewable energy initiatives by other schemes.

According to Headwater, most of their suppliers bought into the idea especially when they got to talk it through face to face, as it soon became evident that they were all engaging in sustainable practices already, but just not shouting about it. And the proof is in the pudding. In their cycling programme, only 5% of holidays scored less than 80%, with several scoring 95%. 81% of their walking holidays scored at least 80% with Spain’s Camino de Santiago and the UK’s Wye Valley walking holidays both hitting 99%. Tina James, Managing Director at Headwater, adds “ Going forward, it is vital that we both maintain these high standards but also continue to work with staff, suppliers and customers in order that all our holidays achieve, or exceed, our global  80% Sustainability Target” . Read more about Headwater’s sustainable initiatives here.

Trinidad and Tobago – Sustainability with a Smile

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Matura beach – one of Trinidad’s top turtle nesting beaches

“They don’t like tourists in Trinidad, you know, but I’m sure it’ll be interesting anyway” a neighbouring passenger told me as he got off the London to Trinidad flight at its brief stopover in Tobago, leaving me somewhat speechless as I waited for the plane to prepare for take-off again to my final destination of Port of Spain, Trinidad’s capital. A few hours later I was sitting in a press conference with the Minister of Tourism for Trinidad and Tobago, and it was tempting to share this exchange with him, but I thought it might be best to go gently with four more days of the 14th Annual Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development still to go.

The Honourable Stephen Cadiz is unlike many other tourism ministers, relaxed, in an open neck white linen shirt, personable, informal, and refreshingly honest about the challenges ahead in putting Trinidad on the tourist map. He confirmed what was immediately evident en route from the airport to the impressive Hyatt Regency Hotel, located on the water’s edge of Port of Spain. Trinidad is an industrial nation, with an economy based on years of exploiting oil and gas reserves. As we looked out at the bay, peppered with freight ships, Cadiz gave us the facts: “55 000 people are engaged in the manufacturing industry here, accounting for $1billion GDP. However, that accounts for only 5% of employment. And, at the moment, tourism still only provides 6% of GDP in Trinidad and Tobago.” He also stressed that, unlike other Caribbean countries, all inclusive enclave tourism is not the right direction for Trinidad, stating that “All-inclusive enclave can’t be sustainable. In Trinidad and Tobago 70 cents of the tourism Dollar remains on our islands. The average for the Caribbean is 55cents, some territories as bad as 10 cents. I want to be able to go to 80 cents on the dollar. Now you are talking true sustainability. And you can’t do that with the all-inclusive enclaves”.

Salybia Beach, Trinidad
Salybia Beach, Trinidad

Cadiz admitted that the time had come to move away from a non-renewable energy dependent economy and that, to date, their natural and cultural heritage reserves remain unexploited for tourism purposes. “At the moment, Tobago is our leisure market destination”, continued Cadiz “as a place for just chillin’ and sittin’ down on the beach. Then twenty miles away is this crazy place called Trinidad. We have our Carnival, of course, but now we have to start creating, branding and marketing an all- year-round product”.

When questioned about the tourism product potential in Trinidad, Cadiz referred to the ecotourism opportunities in the North, with hiking, waterfalls, cocoa plantations and fecund turtle nesting beaches. The South of the island is home to the 150 acre La Brea pitch lake, not your traditional tourist attraction, admittedly, but fascinating to many, as the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world. The East coast boasts acres of coconut plantations and is home to a well-integrated cultural mix of Hindus and Catholics. From this, the country boasts a rich history of food, music and ritual which tourists relish every year at Carnival, but are not valued as fine, experiential products for the rest of the year. “Local people tell me that Trinidad can never build a tourism industry”, says Cadiz, “but I say absolutely we can. People have no idea of what they have here and that tourists want to see it. It’s about taking what we do naturally every day and making a tourism product out of it. This is where we have missed the boat”.

Tobago Cocoa Plantation
Tobago Cocoa Plantation

Over the next few days at the Conference, it was clear that Trinidad has not missed the boat, however, but was just starting to build it. An evening at the Phase 11 Panyard, home to the reigning champion of the island’s annual Panorama competition for steel pans, was our first immersion in community culture and tourism. This is just one of many community panyards throughout Trinidad, home of the steel pan, and it is impossible not to be totally enthralled by the beat of the island’s home grown sound and national instrument. Their rendition of Moon River, the smell of Doubles stalls wafting through the air, washed down with a Rum and LLB (Lemon and Lime and home-grown Angostura Bitters) cocktail, was the perfect cultural cocktail for any visitor to this welcoming neighbourhood. Closely followed by calypso performer, whose ingenious improvised song about sustainable tourism got the message across quicker than any Powerpoint or pie chart. I suggested to Minister Cadiz that he bring him to the World Travel Market. After all, Trinidad and Tobago is the home of Calypso, and if anything can make sustainability sexy, this Calypsonian can.

Trinidad and Tobago’s natural heritage is at its most harmonious on the turtle nesting beaches, however. Conservation and protection of these precious areas is currently in the hands of Turtle Village Trust, (TVT) an NGO specialising in turtle conservation. TVT acts as an umbrella group for all the community turtle conservation projects that have developed in Trinidad and Tobago over the last twenty years. Its Executive Director Dr. Allan Bachan presented at the Conference and described his organisation as “a unique model, where private, public sector and communities have come together to expand in the region. A region which has the highest number of sea turtles in the Western hemisphere”.

Turtle beaches have gone from having 2500 visitors in 2000 to over 21000 visitors today, and you can only visit them with a guide working for the Trust during the turtle season. During that time 80% of Trinidad and Tobago’s villagers are employed in turtle conservation and tourism. “But we need to balance development and conservation of national resources”, Bachan added, something which was more than evident at Matura Beach, which I visited a couple of days later. It was a daytime visit, and so there was no sign of the hundred or so leatherbacks which had visited this seven mile sandy stretch the night before. At Matura the beach is patrolled and protected by one of TVT’s community organisations, Nature Seekers and, under the wonderful guidance of Francis Superville(listen to my quick chat with him here) who has seen this community change from poachers to protectors over the last generation, we saw turtle trails and learned about their reforestation programme which ensures the sustainability of these swathes of Galba, Olivier and Lay Lay trees, to name but a few, which line the white sands of this luscious northern coastline.

The steel pans, Trinidad's national instrument
The steel pans, Trinidad’s national instrument

What doesn’t line the sands in Trinidad and Tobago, however, is evidence of protection at government level. How much longer can local communities, paid by funds raised by an NGO from organisations like BP (ironically) be expected to work in good faith and for little money, just for the love of it? Matura Beach, as well as many others, has Environmental Sensitive Area status, but as yet there is no National Park in Trinidad or Tobago. This must surely be the first step in putting real faith into its sustainable tourism product, enabling not only a future for its flora and fauna, but a guaranteed income for those who have worked round the clock, and with little investment,  to keep the resources alive to date.

When I asked Minister Cadiz when Trinidad and Tobago might see a sustainable tourism policy put in place at government level, he said that a draft was due to go to stakeholders for consultation. I couldn’t help wondering if the likes of Francis at Matura Beach, Christiana Gabin, our seventy year old guide at the Tobago Cocoa Plantation, Kelly and Carl Fitzjames at Brasso Seco Paria Eco Community, Elton Pouchet of In Joy Tours who organised our memorable panyard excursion, Andrew Welch of Banwari Experience which leads tours crossing all cultural aspects of Trinidad and Tobago, Courtenay Rooks who not only leads hiking tours to Paria Springs but is also President of Trinidad and Tobago’s Tour Operators Association were on that list of stakeholders. I certainly hope so, because although none of these was presenting Powerpoints to the hundreds of international delegates visiting their country, they are all making their mark on the ground, for sure.

There is no question, however, that when chatting to these all these individuals working in Trinidad’s nascent tourism industry, be it at government or grassroots, there is a genuine commitment to sustainability. And, as for liking tourists, well, let’s look at their national food as the perfect analogy. Because just like the famous Double, Trinidadians wrapped us up tight in a warm and spicy cocoon of deliciousness for a few days, leaving a lingering taste and a thirst for more. And as long as the environmental and tourism authorities protect and value the ingredients and the chefs, this country will be cooking up an a la carte menu of locally produced sustainable and quality tourism products which will bring a smile to every guest’s face.

Catherine and Francis Superville, turtle watching guide with Nature Seekers, Matura Beach, Trinidad
Catherine and Francis Superville, turtle watching guide with Nature Seekers, Matura Beach, Trinidad

But will it make the hosts smile too? Can we make people actually like tourists? Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz summed it up perfectly, saying “I don’t have to teach people how to smile here.  We do it naturally. One of the traits that Trinidad has is that we understand what it is to laugh at our own selves. We do that very easily….that is half the fight in building a tourism business – we, as a people, are who we are. What we don’t understand, is the value of what we have. Because that is what the real traveller wants to see. And that is what I am trying to explain to Trinidad and Tobago. Be natural.” For a full version of Catherine’s one to one interview with Minister Cadiz, click on Youtube screen below.

 

For more information on Trinidad and Tobago, see the official website. Go Trinidad and Tobago.  

How do I find the words?….

WalrtweekI love the choice of words that Ron Mader, editor of Planeta.com, has used to guide us through this year’s Responsible Tourism Week, an online conference which was created by Ron himself. Every day he used a new theme, teaching us to be Attentive, Generous, Creative, Empathetic, Curious and Grateful  while immersing ourselves in the world of travel, whether we are hosts, guests, writers, photographers, publishers, tourist boards, activity providers etc.

I am always bowled over by the personalities I meet on my travel writing expeditions. They demonstrate the practice of these key words throughout every aspect of their businesses and so I am taking this opportunity to celebrate them. Please visit their websites, follow them on Twitter or Facebook, spread the word about them, and use them as case studies to inspire others to act the same way. Or, if they have businesses which are open to guests, just go visit them. They will all be glad to say hi, I am sure.

  1. Attentive – One of the most attentive people I know is Valere Tjolle, a UK based sustainable tourism consultant with Totem Tourism and Sustainable Travel editor at Travelmole. Anyone who has been lucky enough to meet and chat with Valere in detail about the issues of sustainable tourism will know that there are few more attentive people than him. He talks and writes about sustainable tourism in a way that steers clear of academic bluff, he has no hidden agendas, he has been working in tourism for long enough to see responsible tourism go from niche to norm, back to niche and then to a place which lies strangely in between the two. When hearing about worldwide tourism projects he is attentive to all the details, highlights them on Travelmole for all of us to read. He listens to everyone’s stories, asks all the right questions and pushes the envelope when questioning tourism leaders. His attentiveness means that many people, who wouldn’t normally be given one, have a voice. He has also decided to extend his already busy life into a tour operator business, just launched this week, bringing tourists to the wonderfully undiscovered region of Romagna in Italy . Still in its infancy, Watch this space , Best of Romagna,  for more details.

    Pembrokeshire coat path between St justinian's bay and Porth Clais
    Pembrokeshire coat path between St justinian’s bay and Porth Clais
  2. Generous –Having walked on The Wales Coast Path a lot, one of the most glorious long distance walking routes in UK, I was struck by the generosity of landowners who are happy to share their space with tourists. I stood on the Pembrokeshire coast after walking from headland to headland all day, looked out across the water and thought how amazing it would be to walk the whole coast of my native Ireland.  But sadly it isn’t possible, due to land access issues. This is the same in so many countries, but in Wales farmers and other land owners have opened up paths for walkers, albeit in exchange for a small remuneration, meaning that not only can you now walk the length of the coast of Wales, but around the whole country as the Coast Path now links up with the Offa’s Dyke Long Distance Trail which follows the inland border with England route for 285kms. All thanks to the generosity of strangers.

    Catherine's canoeing out to their beds at Echologia
    Catherine’s canoeing out to their beds at Echologia
  3. Creative – This is a tough one as creativity oozes from every project I visit, but I think Echologia in the Mayenne region of France wins my creative prize this year.Apart from their website, that is, which has a way to go, but I forgive them as they have put all their creative energy into their stupendous eco set up. The proper name is actually EcH20logia, because this extraordinary 70 hectare site revolves around water, ecology and lodgings, with three disused limestone quarries offering natural gems of a getaway now that their underground water sources have been allowed to seep back up to the brim again.  Poised in and around these teal coloured water holes are a collection of twenty different places to stay, from yurts spread across a wild meadow, tipis within diving distance of the natural reed filtered swimming pool, cabins poised among the trees which overhang the waters or two cabins which float serenely in the middle of one of the basins. And all the creative vision of a group of local men and women who wanted to bring this dead space back to life again. Their vision is Zen like, but not in a purist, whispering way. It’s just about chilling in nature really and their act of replacing a loud, industrial space with something so natural is worthy of praise.
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  4. Empathetic- This is a tough one, but when I get a room full of food producers and tourism providers who just thrive on local sourcing, I really start to feel the love. Connecting tourism with local producers is when responsible and ethical tourism starts to kick ass. There are so many tourism businesses which go the extra mile to ensure that they source their food locally, totally empathising with the farmer down the road and working hand in hand to create the most deliciously local experience. In Ireland,  John and Sally McKenna’s Guidebooks , Best Restaurants and Best Places to Stay not only capture all the flagships of local produce in Ireland, but are written with total empathy and love for everyone mentioned in the book. Organic Places to Stay website has a wonderful selection of places to stay all around the world, which use organic and local produce. I am totally in love with the small island site, Real Island Foods on the Isle of Wight just off the South coast of England, where you can order all your local produce before you arrive, so that it is waiting at your self-catering accommodation when you arrive. Surely a model to emulate in other small destinations? Other websites in the UK which promote the food of love include farmison.com which has a plethora of farm to fork food and bigbarn.co.uk which is a great short cut to finding local producers on your travels. Just enter a postcode to find your nearest market, farm shop, artisan producer etc. Please feel free to comment on this below if you have found similar food tourism networks around the world, so that I can spread the word, and provide the ultimate feast of tourist sites with local food at
    John and Sally McKenna's Guidebooks to Ireland
    John and Sally McKenna’s Guidebooks to Ireland

    their core

  5.    Curious – Well, I guess I have to come back to travel writers for this one.  The people who love to dig and delve, but who also put responsible tourism at the heart of their work. Twitter has been a wonderful way for all of us to communicate and share ideas, and so here is a shout out to some of my favourites. Gail Simmons  (@travelscribe)  writes about the Middle East with great wisdom and sensitivity and has been Highly Commended at the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards twice. She has introduced me to the wonders of Palestine and the exciting tourism developments happening at The Siraj Centre . Caroline Eden (@edentravels) works a lot in Asia and was also Highly Commended at the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2012. Matthew Teller is also rather brilliant on the Middle East, and is a wonderful commentator on Twitter too.  Kevin Rushby is The Explorer for The Guardian newspaper and he is, basically, just too cool for school and I am at my greenest when reading his work….with envy that is! Richard Hammond of the UK’s Green Traveller website wrote the green travel column in The Guardian for years and then went on to found his website, which features hundreds of green holiday ideas all of which are  accessible by train. He also has a writers’ blog on his site which he contributes to regularly as well as a team of other writers. Such as Paul Miles who lives on a houseboat and so no better man for writing about slow travel and slow living (@Travel_n_green), Rhiannon Batten – the author of Higher Ground: How to travel responsibly without roughing it, and also regular feature writer for The Guardian and The Independent in UK (@rhiannonbatten),  and Jeremy Smith who is former editor of The Ecologist magazine and starting to write a lot about wildlife conservation via his blog Fair Game and on Twitter @jmcsmith.
    The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane
    The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane

    Jini Reddy is one travel writer I would love to travel and work with one day. She just seems to sing from the same songsheet as me, as you can see just from her trip portfolio, which includes  a canoe trip along Botswana’s Selinda Spillway and taking tea with the women of Pakistan’s pagan Kalash tribe (@Jini_Reddy). And last, but not least, Leo Hickman, environment editor for The Guardian newspaper in the UK, who also wrote the wonderful book on responsible tourism – The Final Call. He is also very active on Twitter, so follow and fall in awe, like I do every time I read his fine pieces of journalism, such as this recent one on flying and climate change. And to conclude, the Saint of all travel scribes, Robert Macfarlane , whose books seem to glow on my bookshelves telling me to pick them up and read them again and again. If you haven’t treated yourself already, check out the ever curious compositions  of this extraordinary travel writer in The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2012), The Wild Places (2008) and Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination (2003)

    Catherine, totally grateful to be walking in Jersey
    Catherine, totally grateful to be walking in Jersey
  6.   Grateful –Well, asI get to share Tweets,  cross paths and go on journeys with nearly all the above, who  else could be more grateful than me, of course?

 With thanks to Ron Mader and all the participants of #rtweek2013 and #rtyear2013, as well as all my fellow travellers.

 

WTTC Launches 2013 Tourism For Tomorrow Awards

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) is inviting tourism businesses, organisations, and destinations worldwide to apply for its prestigious Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.

Each year, the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards recognise global leadership in sustainable tourism best practices. Due to its rigorous three-step judging process involving 22 independent expert judges from all around the world, and including an on-site evaluation of all award finalists, the Awards have become one of the highest accolades in the global Travel & Tourism industry.

Applicants should demonstrate how they are actively engaged in a successful programme of sustainable tourism practices and management, including maximising social and economic benefits for local people, reducing negative impacts to the environment, and supporting the protection of cultural and natural heritage in destinations where they operate.

Award applicants may enter in one of four Award categories: Global Tourism Business, Conservation, Community Benefit, and Destination Stewardship and can submit their entries online at www.wttc.org/tourismfortomorrow until 26 November 2012.

David Scowsill, President & CEO of WTTC said: “The Travel & Tourism industry has immense influencing power and has the potential to raise awareness and initiate action on the sustainability agenda among consumers, employees, and governments.

With its ninth year under WTTC stewardship, the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are rewarding top sustainable tourism practices globally. These are outstanding examples, reaching new heights in the world’s sustainable tourism advancement.”

Finalists and winners receive complimentary flights and accommodation and will be recognised during a gala Awards ceremony which takes place alongside WTTC’s Global Summit in Abu Dhabi, UAE on 9 April 2013, attended by Travel & Tourism industry leaders, government representatives and members of the international media.

Costas Christ, Chairman of Judges, stated: “A tremendous amount of work goes into the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards each year. These Awards are truly global in nature, with a team of nearly two dozen judges from all around the world, ranging from indigenous tourism leaders to international sustainable tourism experts, and hailing from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.

One day there will be no need for Awards that recognise sustainable tourism best practices. Care for local people and the planet will simply be a part of how every tourism business operates. Until then, the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are shining a light on the sustainable tourism visionaries of today that are helping to lead the way forward.”

In 2012 ‘Destination Røros,’ won in the Destination Stewardship category, ‘Saunders Hotel Group’ won the Community Benefit Award, ‘Inkaterra Peru’ won the Conservation Award and ‘Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts’ won the Global Tourism Business Award.

The strategic partners of the 2013 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are Travelport and the Travel Corporation’s TreadRight Foundation.

 

 

The people who created the beautiful Bivouac, Yorkshire

A Bivouac shack Photo: The Bivouac

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about the people I meet in this field of ‘responsible tourism’, and how sometimes, it is the they who make us want to visit a place. Their stories, their commitment, their love of a region. So, let me introduce you to Sam and Beth Hardwick, the owners of Bivouac, one of the most stunning campsites in the UK , located in Yorkshire. I don’t want to put it in the ‘glamping’ box because it is something more than this somehow. As a result of my chatting with the Hardwicks, I invited Beth to write a guest blog for me, to share her story of how The Bivouac was born. Because I do firmly believe that it is the people who make the place. Over to Beth….with thanks.

“Sam and I worked long hours during our dating period. I had my own business and he worked in the city. We decided that when we got married we’d quit our jobs and go traveling together for some proper revaluation time. We backpacked around the world talking the whole time about what we believed in; what made us who we are; what inspired us; how we wanted to live; what we were good at and no so good at. Some key themes came from this such as community, faith, family, sustainability, simplicity and nature. There was a lot more talking … and then Bivouac fell out.

So we came home, rented out our house and converted a garden shed to live in whilst we began building the dream.  It was a very long up and down journey through finding land, gaining planning permission, getting a government grant and raising a family all at once. The initial plan was that this Bivouac adventure would add massive value to our family, but at times we felt we had lost that ability as our family life got more disjointed as we got further in. But now, even though we have to work really hard, this was the best thing for family life.

Bivouac Interior Photo: Bivouac

Family life means a great deal to us. Bivouac is a place where we want family life and spending quality time together to be inspired again and time and space is given to just being together, in the outdoors, in our activities or cozy by the fire.

We have had our own family torn in bits with the death of our third daughter Florie Briah. She caught a nasty virus and was not old enough to fight it and she died from the damage to her heart that it caused. This happened just as the thirty or forty guys arrived on site to build the project with us. It was like living in a nightmare which couldn’t stop or slow down. We had folk living with us, needing us each day, when all you want to do is hide and catch breath. But, the flip side of this is that everything we believed we were building, community, and ethos of family and friendship, transparency, creativity – it all came into play in that season and I knew then, no matter how hard things were – Bivouac had been birthed. In Florence’s memory we are raising money to build a natural play park here on site. Free to use and designed for families to play, laugh, relax and reconnect.

We have Martha Willow 4, Elsie Myla coming up 3, full of life, creative and amazing company. We are a long way off where we hope to be, but this place is something special and I am so very privileged to have time here with my family, building something for other folk and us to all enjoy and take a part in. Bringing back something about life which might get missed far too often”.

Photo copyright: Bivouac

For more details on Bivouac, see www.thebivouac.co.uk

Urgent appeal to keep Goa ‘going with the flow’

If you love Goa, then you have a chance to take action to preserve its most vital resource – water. There are so many injustices going on with relation to water that the majority of tourists don’t have any idea about, and the fact is that water which is being made available to tourists in contrast with that available to people who live there has hit crisis point. Which is why I am asking you to urgently sign a petition to the Goan government, as part of an campaign led by Tourism Concern, the Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP) and Eco Footprints to urgently address the overexploitation of Goa’s water resources by  a growing numbers of resorts and hotels.

Petitions do make a difference, especially when they have an heap of tourists behind them, upon whom Goa’s economy heavily depends. New research by Tourism Concern entitled Reclaiming Water Rights – Towards and Equitable Social Contract in Goa will also give a strong spine to the petition landing on the Ministers’ desks, which indicates that the luxury tourism sector is being prioritised over domestic and small-scale livelihood needs.

For example, findings show that residents in the popular resort town of Calangute receive piped water for just two hours every two days. Traditional community wells are becoming unusable due to pollution and over-extraction, forcing a growing dependency on inadequate public supplies and infrastructure. Meanwhile, nearby resorts boasting swimming pools and golf courses enjoy a continuous water supply. One 5-star hotel in Benaulim consumes up to 1,785 litres of water per guest per day, compared to just 14 litres per day by neighbouring villagers. One guesthouse owner in Calungute comments,  “The wells here have been contaminated for 10 years. The contamination has been partly caused by soak pits from tourism. Dirty water leaches into the ground. The soak pits are illegal. In the hot, dry season – March, April, May – we get water for 20-30 minutes a day…. Many people depend on tankers.   Local people sometimes feel angry, but they recognise the benefits that tourism can bring. But it is we ordinary people who are suffering. We are drinking this water, they are not. Some can afford to buy water, some cannot.”

Dumped waste and sewage behind hotels at Colva Creek Photo: Tourism Concern

It does not mean that you shouldn’t go to Goa, enjoy your pool, shower or golf course, although using water responsibly, just as we do at home these days, does help.   Real immediate change must start at government level, so that urgent improvements can be felt straight away among the local population, who need water urgently.  “The Government of Goa must respond to this critical issue and implement the recommendations of our report, Reclaiming Water Rights – Towards an Equitable Social Contract in Goa. We urge them to instigate a clear regulatory framework for water and tourism management, implement existing laws and improve infrastructure to ensure community water rights don’t come second to major resort developments”, says Mark Watson, Executive Director of Tourism Concern.

The research simmers with discontent, quoting many local people who are now panicking about this life threatening issue. Geraldine Fernandes, another guesthouse owner in Benaulim says, “I have a well, but the water level is going down.  When they build these new developments they dig a borewell with a pump. My well water has significantly declined. I’m now running dry by February… There’s so much environmental destruction and garbage, and lack of proper sewage treatment… We are not anti-development; we want development that protects our livelihoods.”

So please, if you love Goa, take thirty seconds and sign the petition here to keep Goa going.

 

 

The people I meet

Ben Rramat and Ben Longisa with Catherine in Masai Mara, Kenya

I remember pitching a column idea to some editors a few years ago, on one of those ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’ sort of days. It had the working title of ‘The People I Meet’.  My aim was to get human stories onto the travel pages and, in the process, create a consumer awareness of responsible tourism without labelling it such. So many people get uptight about terminology linked to the responsible tourism movement but my feeling is that, call it what you will, it always comes back to people. Predictably I received several polite ‘no thanks’ to the pitch, but the one which stood out was from a leading broadsheet which just said “We and our readers want to read about places, not people.  If you could get an interview with Richard Branson, however, we might run it”.

So, I put the idea to bed for a while, and in my own way, still try to incorporate the people I meet into my travel features. For example, Ben Llongisa, the Maasai elder whom I met a few years ago and who, against all odds, has created a lodge to host tourists in his village of Enkereri in Kenya ( see the video thanks to The Travel Foundation). I remember one of the editor’s arguments against ‘people stories’ was that they don’t sellholidays and, in an effort to keep their sponsors and advertisers happy, they need to talk about the place first and foremost. However, ever since leaving home at eighteen, it has so often been people who have lead me to a place, not effusive editorial or ‘on brand’ marketing campaigns. In fact, it was hearing a Maasai elder speak at WTM about how they just ‘needed a voice’ that made me want to go to Kenya in the first place.

Christine Kieffer, donkey conservationist and mountain guide shows us our route through The Alpes - to be led by one of her donkeys

Of course, I accept that not every traveller wants to holiday in order to ‘give people a voice’ or indeed, an ear. But I do believe that people’s stories do often influence our travel choices. The success of the much missed BBC Radio Four’s Excess Baggage or popular books such as A Year in Provence are simple examples of this.  Last year we had the honour of hosting Michel Awad in our home, the co-founder of the Siraj Center in Palestine, an interfaith, community based tourism initiative in Palestine, which runs walking and cycling holidays. Michel talked to us about his fascinating organisation, which works closely with the Palestinan Center for Rapprochement Between People, enabling them to partner with many grassroots organisations to discuss and act upon issues such as water distribution and, of course, changing tourists’ perceptions about Palestine. Palestine is now at the top of my list of places I hope to visit in the near future, not because of a PR pitch or an alluring article, but because I met a lovely person doing extraordinary work there.  I will certainly be needing  a people-phile editor to commission that one as the stories will, hopefully, be worthy of a weighty word count.

It was a great relief, therefore, that humans were being put back in the heart of tourism at the recent  Tourism Industry and Human Rights meeting in London, co-hosted by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and Tourism Concern . Speakers from the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Water Aid, International Business Leaders Forum, Minority Rights Group, and the the International Labour Organisation (ILO) all agreed that human rights issues have been at the top of corporate agendas in other industry sectors for a long time now, and that tourism has a lot of catching up to do. Not for the want of trying, I am sure Tourism Concern wanted to shout out, the charity which has been putting people first for a long time now, and giving a voice to many people who wouldn’t have had a hope in hell of being heard in the past.

Zinaib, a Berber woman, teaches me the basics of weaving in Morocco

In other industries, speakers reminded us, the commercialisation of an industry needs to take into account all the costs involved and a true analysis of the social, or human cost should take place in tourism destinations as well. There was a lot of talk about UN Guiding Principles, endorsed in June 2011, which outline how States and businesses should implement the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework in order to better manage business and human rights challenges. So, do destinations which are marketing themselves for tourism protect their country from human rights abuses by travel companies, for example? Secondly, adhering to the corporate responsibility to respect human rights in all tourism activities, and then thirdly, providing greater access to victims to seek a remedy for any injuries resulting from human rights abuses.

The tourism industry was also being urged to get a system of due diligence in place quickly if they were to play ethical catch up. What are the country’s human rights risks, are you linked to them in any way, how transparent are you being about these risks, and do you have adequate remedies available when, as one human rights expert stated ‘ when bad things happen’ ?  Tourism businesses were being advised to ‘stop being the experts and go out and see what people think on the ground – not just once, but often, as human rights issues change all the time – and if you don’t engage you won’t know’. We are not just talking about the Burmas and Balis either here. This could involve child sex tourism in Eastern Europe, inhumane working conditions in the UK hospitality sector, or people displacement in Scotland in the name of a golf course.  And if, as a tourism organisation, you are super proactive in the area of remedying some of these issues, then these are stories you might want to shout about. And hopefully, if any editors out there don’t want to shy away from the human element in tourism, I can then share.

David Job, owner of Yarde Orchard eco bunkhouse and cafe on North Devon's Tarka Trail

By writing about people who are creating a force for change in tourism, we can not only assist them in seeking remedy, but we can also simply remind tourists that human beings and their homes are central to our holidays.  I stayed at a Cretan house a few years ago, and we invited our hosts in for a bottle of wine on the first night. A bottle of home made wine they had been kind enough to give us, by the way. In spite of our language barriers, we enjoyed the wine, more wine, songs, laughs and warmth. And then more wine. When we left, our host told us we were the first UK family in twenty years of hosting, to invite him and his family in. This is far from a human rights issue, but for that human, it was certainly a big issue. If it is this hard for us to even say ‘hi’ on holiday, then we have a long way to go before we hear the real stories behind the smiles. But, we have to start somewhere.

 

All inclusive holidays – the way to a ‘better world’?

A beach in Togo Credit: Tourism Concern

Since leading holiday company, First Choice decided to make 100 per cent of its holidays ‘all inclusive’ packages this year, it has grabbed the headlines. An all inclusive holiday is one where flights, accommodation, food, drink and entertainment are paid for in advance of the holiday so that customers can, more or less, leave their wallets at home. Demand for such holidays has been increasing over the last few years (a third of all package holidays booked in the UK are all inclusive now)  and so First Choice says that this switch over is merely a response to customer demand. In spite of the fact that the company has a responsible tourism plan which is crammed as full as an all inclusive buffet. A veritable smorgasbord of sustainability, in fact, which proudly states that, “We in the travel industry often get to meet those who are most affected by the big social and environmental issues of today. So perhaps this gives us a greater chance to create a better world through the way we operate”. So, is the all inclusive holiday the way to a better world?

I pick First Choice merely because it calls itself the ‘The home of the all inclusive’, but of course there are many other companies offering similar packages. First Choice even has an all inclusive calculator on its website, where you can work out just how much you are saving,  compared with staying at the local villager’s apartment, buying fruit and vegetables at his mother’s market stall, eating at his uncle’s restaurant, renting canoes from his neighbour, and buying ice cream from his best mate. Don’t do that, First Choice says, because you can get it all in their resort and at half the cost.

“We are just doing what our clients want us to do’, emphasised First Choice’s representative at a recent debate on the sustainability of all inclusives, as if to suggest, it’s nothing to do with us, we just have a duty to uphold.  So, imagine this. A region such as West Cork in Ireland, the Isle of Wight in England, or the Pembrokeshire in Wales,  is suddenly marketed as THE next destination for, say, Russian tourists. The Russian tourists want casinos, golf courses and all day buffets, all within the resort gates, with no access to local people, except to come and clean the rooms and serve the food. The use of locally produced food is not guaranteed, no one needs to use local cottages, canoes, walking guides, car hire, bikes, markets, tourist offices, gift shops, bakeries, pubs,  etc. Looking at the ‘I want therefore I get’ school of commerce, it’s not hard to imagine what the reaction of the host nations would be.

The ‘pro’ argument for all inclusives is always that local people should be happy because they offer ‘employment’. At a recent conference on responsible tourism, when one international hotel chain which was boasting its ethical practices in the Caribbean, because it was now buying all its jam from an island producer, I challenged them: “Why stop at jam?” I suggested, “Surely there are so many other products you could source locally?” to which the response was, “Have you any idea what that would do to our profit margins? And anyway, we employ hundreds of people here every year, which is more than they had before we arrived.”

Sustainability Manifesto for Lanzarote outside home of island acclaimed artist Cesar Manrique Photo: Catherine Mack

In a BBC television interview last week, where Nick Longman, Distribution Director at First Choice defended the decision to move to a 100 % all inclusive model, he said “Businesses have to be innovative in how they get to customers and I would also suggest they would want to work with our hotels”, adding that First Choice is “developing dine-around programmes, where we may give people the opportunity to go out into the town to eat and drink in bars that we have relationships with”. This suggestion that, for example,  traditional cafés selling cafes con leche and cervezas were just not innovative enough or, indeed, commercially minded, is beyond patronising.

I also asked a representative from the Spanish Tourist Board recently, who was agreeing that all inclusives were not a positive model for the Spanish economy, why they just didn’t go out on a limb and ban them. “We can’t do that, it is a free economy, they can do what they want”.

Until the customer starts to say no, that is. Especially if it is, as suggested, solely customer desire which drives boardroom decisions. Many customers are capable of calculating the real costs of costa del consumerism, especially if they know that only 10% of tourist spend in Turkey makes its way into the local economy due to the all inclusives, for example. Or that in Kenya, 87% of tourists go on all inclusive holidays, and yet over half of local people live on less than $1 a day.  These statistics are from recent research from Tourism Concern, the leading UK charity campaigning against the exploitation of human rights in tourism, which is currently leading a campaign highlighting the destructive impacts of all inclusives in destinations all around the world. Check out their online questionnaire on the subject, to give much appreciated feedback on these issues.

Jost Krippendorf, author of a superb book The Holiday Makers (Butterworth-Heinemann) put it perfectly in his detailed study of the impacts of international tourism:  “Why has the loss of local autonomy – certainly the most negative long-term effect of tourism- been totally ignored? Why does the local population tolerate it?…the determining factor is perhaps the very nature of the process: it creeps in, moving on soft soles and one only becomes fully aware of it when it has reached an advance stage. Tourism is a kind of friendly conquest, which takes place not only with the acquiescence of the conquered, but at their explicit invitation” and that eventually, “foreign infiltration it total”. He concludes that “it is a new and devious form of colonialism, because it creates, in a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-its-mouth way, a new dependence and exploits people and resources”.

The fact is that all inclusive resorts are not always the cheaper option. I used the First Choice all inclusive ‘calculator’ to see just how much a saving they say I would make if I buy an all inclusive holiday in Lanzarote, compared with a self-catering one. For a week in July, with two adults and two children, they offer a deal of £2768 (Sterling) all inclusive, and claim that a similar holiday on a non inclusive basis would cost £4349. Although the calculator is not an exact quote, described as merely an ‘entertaining tool’ , I thought it would be equally entertaining to compare the cost of staying at a wonderful eco-friendly glamping resort which I wrote about earlier in the year, Lanzarote Retreats. Here are the approximate costs for a family of four in Sterling: Flights £800 (quote from 29 April 2012), accommodation, £700, airport transfers £100, day trip to water park £100, day trip to local island £122. Total:  £1822. If I were to add on £946 for food and drink for the week, that would bring me up to the same cost as First Choice’s all inclusive deal, as opposed to the £4349 they were suggesting. And even eating out a couple of times, buying fish from the local fishmonger, shopping at the local markets, buying the finest Lanzarote wine at €10 a bottle,  I can make a grand a week spread a long way and have an wonderful and truly sustainable holiday. So, you can consume and care, without it costing you or your hosts a fortune. But at the end of the day, the real choice is yours.

Lanzarote Retreats, a sustainable and sublime alternative to the all inclusive resort Photo: Catherine Mack

(An edited version of this article was first published in The Southern Star newspaper, Ireland)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do punters give a toss about responsible tourism?

Maasai villagers reading about their achievements in The Observer Photo: Tribal Voice Communications

‘Responsible tourism? Ha! Does that mean not dropping your litter as you walk through the rainforest?’ was the scathing reaction of a friend when I told her that I was taking on an Msc in Responsible Tourism Management six years ago. I tried somewhat pathetically to defend my tiny corner. Then, “I am so tired all of this f***king eco shit” one award winning travel writer said loudly in my direction a few years later at the ABTA convention, to a round of back patting and communal cackling from his peers. By then, I had learned to smile politely and walk on. But oh, how they laughed.

So, six years later, with one Masters degree, a modest pile of published work, three books, one app and an award, I am simply bemused to see they are still laughing.  Just this week  on Twitter, in an albeit humourous banter between fellow travel Tweeps, I posted something about Responsible Tourism Week, an online iniative happening 13-17 February 2012.  So why was I surprised to see the ensuant piss taking? “Apparently it’s Responsible Tourism Week soon. Personally I quite fancy an Irresponsible Tourism Week. Anyone else?!” one travel writer teased. “Isn’t every week an irresponsible tourism week?” another retorted. I retweeted and replied, “Speak for yourselves”  *still smiling*

However,  what surprises me most is that six years later, after a plethora of responsible tourism conferences, conventions and codes of practice, so many travel writers, not just travellers, still think it is amusing that our industry is ‘responsible’  for so much damage. As one Tweep put it, the term responsible “feels at odd with fun”. They still dismiss the responsible tourism movement as a bit of a whim, a green geeksville. A posse of party poopers even. They still don’t get the fact that the responsible tourism movement is about water inequity, human rights abuses, irrational use of natural resources, waste, pollution, commercialising culture, and so much more.  And why do they not know? Because so many of the responsible tourism issues and destination developments are debated in academic circles, at government or UN level or around the board tables of small, committed tour operators and agencies. And there is always one empty chair at these debates. That of the media. There will always be travel writers for whom a commission will come before a ‘cause’, of course, but there are so many who are still just simply in the dark where responsible tourism, ecotourism, green or sustainable tourism issues , call it what you will, are concerned.

Ireland Green Travel app by Catherine Mack

The reason ‘responsible tourism’ evolved as a term, is because, long before I started my studies,  many forward thinking individuals from around the globe recognised that we all have to take responsibility for the tourism industry. That is to say,  tour operators, tranport providers,  accommodation owners, tourists, governments, service providers, activity companies  and of course, the media. I completed my Masters degree with detailed research into  the UK travel media, and how responsible they were in their travel journalism. The research results were, not surprisingly, a bit grim. Some shone, however, and stood out as getting what sustainability in travel really meant. One editor commissioned me to write my first piece, as a result of my meeting with him to discuss the research, and so my writing career began. I remember thinking that if I could get all the editors around a table to debate the issues, with a view to spreading a social responsibility among travel writers, I would put myself out of a job, being a ‘specialist’ in this area. But that idea was never jumped upon, funnily enough, and then when I hear the jibes and jests emerge once again,  I realise that I still  have a few years’ work ahead of me

In the meantime, the challenge for me is to make a ‘responsible’  holiday sound fun, exciting or interesting enough to persuade a tourist to go on it, without making them feel they are sacrificing anything for the sake of being  more ‘responsible’. And then if both the readers and the editors can see that I am not the party pooper they presume me to be, I can start to throw in a few of the more urgent, if not life threatening issues which arise from irresponsible tourism in certain destinations.

 In response to the latest Tweet from a colleague on this subject this week, “Do punters give a toss?”, the business case for responsible tourism is already well documented. The rise of the ethical consumer is considerable, a growth trend which is surviving the global economic crisis. I guess what I give a toss about is getting the chance to write an article for a mainstream outlet about a small fishing village on County Mayo’s most remote coast, where a young group of fishermen are working to conserve their marine environment and community by creating an exemplary and exciting tourism business to keep them in their region.  A good article in a reputable media outlet could have them booked out for a season, allow them to get a loan for a new boat, and stop them emigrating from the area.

Spotting dolphins on the way home from a fishing trip in County Mayo Photo: www.dulra.ie

Or when I get to highlight the exploitation of the Maasai through reckless oversights on the parts of foreign-owned safari lodges, and promote their hard won sustainable enterprise which helps to provide schools and clean water. This beats any press junket, Facebook following or Klout rating. Or when I get even a handful of the 90% of visitors who travel by car around our National Parks to leave them at home, by showing them how to get their by train, and kayak, coasteer, walk or cycle when they get there, that is a good day’s work. And when one tiny Alpine business which has been fighting to stop the pollution caused by skiing in their region almost single handedly for the last ten years, gets put on the Sunday supplement map, then this is cooler than any award. One thing it isn’t is boring. And fun? Well, each to their own, but I am about to go ice skating across Sweden’s frozen lakes with exemplary responsible tourism company Nature Travels, which is fan  f***king eco-stastic in my book.  So, laugh away, and I will try to keep smiling. And then I will calmly keep on ‘worthying’.