Tag Archives: Responsible tourism

Sometimes it’s hard to share

I am sure everyone who has travelled has encountered this situation.  You are out touring, maybe in a third world place, and you are met with big eyes and outstretched hands – usually a child’s.  It’s hard to say no to this but you should.

When I travelled to Vietnam and Cambodia our guide was extremely strict about not giving money or even candy to the kids who surrounded us at every stop.  She got very cross with one of our group who handed out one dollar bills and she said that this encouraged children to stay away from school and instead turn to begging on the streets.  Even worse than that was the fact that mothers with too little money and too many children might turn out the prettiest or the cutest onto the streets to beg.  It is one of the saddest parts of being a traveller.  You still have to smile at the ingenuity of these kids.  Stepping off a small boat somewhere in the Mekong Delta we were greeted by a small crowd of kids from one of the remote villages.

“Hello – how are you?  Hello Canada?  Very nice country!”

I found similar situations in India and there too our guide in Mumbai spoke sternly to the young women and children hanging around the tour buses.  As a busy guide in this huge city she knew many of them by sight.  I was surprised when she told me that not all of these people were homeless and that begging can be a profitable “job”.  She also was very upset at the practice of tourists bringing big bags of candies and handing these out left right and centre.  I could understand this concern.  Suddenly a kindly tourist is surrounded by a horde of excited children.  Eventually the candy runs out and yes – there are going to be some disappointed kids there – usually the smallest and the youngest.

So what to do if you want to share the wealth.

The first thing is to check the tour company you are booking with.  Many of them have initiatives where a donation for every booking goes to a registered charity in your country of destination.  For example when I did my tour with Insight Vacations to India there is an automatic donation of $5 per  passenger included in your total trip paid to the Indian Children’s Charity.  Now $5 may not sound like much but let me tell you – it buys a lot in India.  We could not believe that a short cab ride we took in Mumbai cost the equivalent of a dollar.

Secondly check that your tour company uses as many local guides as possible.  I read somewhere about a tour company that boasts about having North American guides so as to identify more easily with the guests.  What?  Why would you want a North American guide on your tour to India for example?   We learned so much from our lovely guide in Mumbai.  If you really want to experience a country let its own people show you around.  G.Adventures is another company that does this very well and also supports many local endeavours to support small business in the countries in which they operate.

Finally check the charities supporting the country you are visiting and make a donation there, find out if there is a school visit planned so that you can take books and pencils but find out first what they need most and lastly tip generously.  It doesn’t add up to much in Canadian dollars but in Rupees, or Vietnamese Dong or Cambodian Riel or Thai Bhat….

Well …. you do the math!


Waste not, want not

I just watched Gravity – what an amazing film.  It really has some tense moments and I found myself clenching my teeth throughout most of the 90 minutes.  One thing though that stuck in my mind long after the happy ending was the debris in space that caused all the problems to begin with.  Don’t we just do that all over the world – leave our rubbish to spoil the environment.  Now we are doing it in space.  Wow.  Pretty bad behaviour.

Everest is another example.  When you plan your ascent you are asked to take a plastic bag to the top with you so you can bring some garbage down off the mountain with you.  Shame on those climbers who scattered their litter all over Everest.  You would think someone who would love mountains so much that they would be prepared to pay the large amount of money it costs to fly there, get to base camp, buy all the equipment would at least have the common sense to want to leave the area in a pristine condition.

It reminds me of the first cruise I ever took – on the Odysseus part of one of the cruise lines now defunct and not operating.  She was just a 12.000 ton old cruise ship but we followed a magnificent 21 day itinerary from Durban all the way up to the Seychelles.  We stopped at remote islands like Aldabra where the giant tortoises roam and browsed through markets in the Comores where the women all wore white paint on their faces and swarmed around my little blond haired boy in amazement.  Yes it was a remote and beautiful part of the world but one of the passengers who liked to fish off the back of the boat came and alerted us that every evening there would be a mass dumping of orange garbage bags off the back of the ship.  We were appalled and some people argued with the crew who just shrugged their shoulders.  They had no other method to deal with the disposal of garbage and I guess this was the way it was done in those days.  Shame on them!

Even in Communist Poland everything was recycled – of necessity perhaps – but it was done.  When you wanted toilet paper you would take your paper products to the recycling depot.  It would be weighed and then you would receive the equivalent amount of toilet paper in return.  That puts a whole new meaning to the phrase “I need to go”.  Yes first you had to go and recycle.

Nowadays there is far more scrutiny on how players in the tourism business work with the environment, which is a good thing. So next time you head up Everest bring back the best souvenir of all – your rubbish!