Responsible Tourism Week – A Better Answer to Some Tough Questions

When I read this blog earlier this week on the Local Travel Movement blog, I was extremely keen to be able to post it here as well. It is the kind of “food for thought” we need to get valuable discussions going within the Responsible Tourism movement.

Thank you Kate from the Responsible Safari Company for allowing us to publish your blog here as well.

Louise de Waal

We at The Responsible Safari Company were excited to celebrate Responsible Tourism Week, but it also sparked some heated discussions and questions in the office about how responsible we are.

Should we be shouting it from the rooftops or just quietly getting on with what we do? Are there guidelines on how to be a responsible tourism company? Do you need to make a huge impact through your actions? And, most importantly, do you need to be awarded certificates and spend money on marketing your ‘greenness’ to be accepted into the responsible tourism club?

Is it about which list you make, which award you win, how many stars you have or green flags you wave? Do we need the above to call ourselves a responsible tourism company and will you get more green travellers because of this? We are not so sure.

Guided bush walk at Nkwichi

Does being ‘green’ have to start with the colour of money?

Over the last few weeks we have been trying to find ways to market ourselves as a green tourism provider. Recently, we started with a Google search and were bombarded by results covering everything from sustainable travel to green products to environmental marketing companies. They were different names but all seemed to offer the same thing: boxes needed to be ticked, documents submitted and money transferred.

We are passionate about ensuring our company offers sustainable travel experiences. We love writing articles and actually enjoy the box-filling and submission policies. However, what we lack is the wads of money.

I must admit I feel a little lost as to what is worth spending money on and what isn’t. What does the industry recognise as a fantastic company to be associated with? Which stars and awards should we apply for? Which organisations can help us move forward and come up with new ways to ensure we protect our brand as a responsible tourism company? Perhaps most importantly, which companies do travellers want to see us associated with?

Reality check: responsible tourism by what standards?

I find it amusing sitting here in the dark as our electricity has once more been cut while I was trying to complete another form that asks how much power our company uses. As the printer grinds to a halt halfway through a document printed on non-recycled paper, I laugh. We use hardly any electricity since it is switched off every few days and we can’t buy recycled paper here! I don’t know whether to tick the box or cross it out.

Yes we recycle, but no we don’t recycle our glass or our plastic because there is no such facility in Malawi. Instead, every month we diligently collect our office paper waste, our plastic water containers and our kitchen tins and take them to local community projects for the children to make crafts with and for a local women’s group to make paper products with. Our plastic goes to our house staff, who take it down to the local market and resell it.

Is that the recycling policy that will get me points? Can we do more from a country like Malawi? Are we banging our heads against a brick wall about all the things we can’t do and ignoring the things we can and are doing? Can we shout about these please!?

Simply doing what we care about

The Responsible Safari Company is built out of passion in the belief that tourism can and should benefit local communities. We celebrated responsible tourism week without green-coloured flags and endorsements, but instead with a team of dedicated Malawians who are passionate about our belief in what we are doing.

Yes it is small. Yes we have a long way to go. Yes perhaps we will find we need to fork out money to show the industry all the good things we are doing. But for now, we will continue to support the communities with which we work, continue to train our staff, and continue to try and inspire our visitors to truly see Malawi! This makes us very happy to have been part of Responsible Tourism Week!

Written by Kate Webb from the Responsible Safari Company in Malawi, originally published on the Local Travel Movement blog.

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