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Responsible Tourism at WTM Latin America

The Responsible Tourism Seminar programme  WTM Latin America celebrates the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development

WTM Latin America opens the door for Latin America tourism and travel trade celebrating – and working for – the sustainable development goals in the industry. With 3 different sessions on the UNWTO’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, initiatives, tools and results were made available so the Latin American trade take responsibility for impacts in destinations.

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The Responsible Tourism Seminar started with the presentation of Ms. Sandra Carvão, chief of Communications and Publications at UNWTO. The audience had the chance to learn the initiatives the organisation brought in this special year for the promotion of Sustainable Development, with many online tools both the trade and the traveller can join and take the responsibility for local sustainable development.

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The session benefited from  the speech of Mr. Frederico Levy, director of sustainability at the Brazilian Tour Operator Association – BRAZTOA, who presented the projects the association has been developing to promote sustainable tourism among its members, like the BRAZTOA Sustainability Awards, the SEEDS Program (Semeando a Excelência do Desenvolvimento Sustentável, or Sowing Excellence for Sustainable Tourism) a series of seminars with specialists who bring solutions for positive local impact for the association’s members.

The second day of Responsible Tourism Seminars at WTM-LA brings South American World RT Award winners 

The second seminar on Responsible Tourism at WTM-LA, in São Paulo, brought to the audience the first World RT Awarded initiative in the continent, Caiman Ecological Refuge, in the Brazilian Pantanal. Mr. Roberto Klabin (owner of Caiman Refuge) presented on how this jungle lodge acts for the conservation of the biodiversity, showing reasons for having got the Silver Award in 2008.
Mr. Klabin was followed by the presentation of the 2016 World RT Awards Overall Winner, Tren Ecuador. Ms. Ana García Pando (General Manager at Tren Ecuador) brings the experience with traditional communities along the railway where Tren Ecuador takes its travellers, confirming the positive social and economic impact is an efficient action towards poverty reduction.
The session also counted with the participation of representants from Bonito (Best Destination for Responsible Tourism, 2013) and Campo dos Sonhos (Best for People with Disabilities and Overall Winner, 2014), showing the importance of the WTM World RT Awards for the trade and sharing effective solutions for a more responsible travel and tourism industry.
Animal Welfare was the topic for the 3rd day for Responsible Tourism Seminars at WTM Latin America 

Mr. Roberto Vieto, Wildlife Manager at World Animal Protection – Latin America brought the Program “Wildlife: Not Entertainers” showing the trade the urgency on taking the responsibility for the use of animals as attractions across the globe, specially in major ecotourism destinations such as in Latin America countries. Their program aims to educate travellers on their holidays, bringing useful information to help protect animals from mistreatment.
Mr. Vieto was followed by two Brazilian cases in which organisations use tourism as a strategy for environmental education and conservation of wildlife. The first to speak was Mr. José Henrique Becker, biologist at Projeto TAMAR, an NGO that brings tourists to their 8 bases spread along the Brazilian Coast to educate on the issues related to sea turtles in the country. With the support of visitors, TAMAR has helped release on seas over 25 million baby turtles, protecting their nests and working on the issues of fishing, maritime pollution and hunting.
Mr. Pedro Nassar (Coordinator of the Community-Based Program at Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development) then presented the case of jaguars in the Amazon. Together with local riverine communities and Uakari Floating Lodge, the jaguar researchers at the Institute developed a scientific program for travellers that helps raise awareness in local communities of the importance of the conservation of the species, qualify selected teenagers to become local researchers on jaguars and funds the Jaguar School, an environmental education basis for locals to learn more about the local biodiversity and the threatens on specific species. Along with having the chance to spot jaguars in the wild, visitors fund all those initiatives with positive local impact.
The seminars drew good good audiences with 40 to 50 on the frist day, 50-60 on h second and 25 on the thired day.
Interest is clearly growing in Resonsible Tourism in Latin America.
All the sessions were moderated by Gustavo Pinto

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Filed by Gustavo Pinto

Founder and director at Inverted America Journeys
Linked in 

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From Helsinki to the Russian Border

by Harold Goodwin – Responsible Tourism Partnership

Last week I was in Finland, Helsinki, Jyväskylä and Base Camp near the Russian border, from the city to wilderness in four days. In Helsinki, we met with the city to discuss the challenge of sustainability. They have wisely separated the managing tourism function from marketing. More and more destinations are realising that mixing marketing and management in a DMO is fraught with difficulty. All tourism is managed by the local authority or national park; roads, litter, toilets, congestion, all have to be managed, and the DMOs are not good at that.

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Then on to JAMK at Jyväskylä where I contribute to an international summer school programme on Responsible Tourism with students for India, Korea, Egypt and Finland. The focus of the student’s work is on tourism development on and around Lake Päijänne which stretches from Lahti in the south over 100 km to  Jyväskylä in the north, a city which has grown from 8,000 inhabitants in 1940 to more than 130,000.  There is also time to meet with local tourism entrepreneurs and discuss how the city can best develop tourism in its rural hinterland.

Harmooni, part of the Arts & Crafts Restaurants Oy chain, brings local fish and game to the table with a menu that changes each month to include the best fresh stock from local vendors. Supper with the owner to talk about how they might extend their tourism offer by linking with the rural communities and food producers.

After class on Thursday Keijo Salenius of Basecamp Oulanka drove me north close to the Russian border and Oulanka National Park which has over 400 threatened species of flora and fauna. Live webcam Siberian taiga,  boreal or snow forest, reaches the European Union here in northern Finland. Basecamp Oulanka, on a lakeside opposite Juuma, provides a luxurious camp, a wilderness hotel,  base for access into Oulanka for walking, trekking, white water rafting, canoeing, Nordic walking, skiing, fatbikes, snowshoeing and climbing. I whitewater rafted on the River Kitka to the Russian border where Basecamp has a satellite smoke sauna camp within sight of Russia.

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Outdoor activities are a core part of the offer, but Basecamp was created as an alternative to the highly mechanised ‘urban’ ski centre at Kuusamo with its snowmobiles and skiing infrastructure. Basecamp’s rive groups stop off to fell a tree, as volunteers they contribute to restoring a meadow habitat beside the river.

Meadow

I was not attracted by the rafting – I was motivated by the desire to see bears in the wild. I saw 5 different bears at the same time from a comfortable hide – next time I would stay the night. Wolves, Elk, Reindeer (come of them white),  Wolverine, Otters and Bears can all be seen with expert guides in the different seasons. This is an accessible wilderness. The corridor and protected area are most important to birds like the golden eagle, black grouse, capercaillies and owls. There is a bird list below.

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Siberian flora and fauna come from the east along the River Oulanka, which runs to the White Sea via Lake Paanajärvi and Lake Pääjärvi through Russian forests. The microclimate is very strong with dry, warm summers and dry, cold winters. Paanajärvi National Park is very wild with a mere 5000 visitors annually, who mostly stay on the eastern side. The border is isolated on the Russian side with a 5km unauthorised approach zone.

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Keijo Salenius

 

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Source: Google maps 

In 2009 Basecamp Oulanka was included in the 4 best places in the world to see the Northern Lights Aurora Borealis: Being so close to Russian wilderness with a microclimate so cold and dry, there are very seldom clouds and no light pollution.

lake at basecamp

The WILD OULANKA FOUNDATION

Basecamp Oulanka is helping create The Oulanka Paanajarvi Corridor, between the Oulanka and Kuusinki rivers, a new private protected area of 1000 hectares (about 2 x 4 km) between Oulanka National Park (30 000 hectares) and Paanajärvi National Park (104 000 hectares with 100 000 hectare buffer zone). Echoing the Peace Parks concept in Southern Africa the two parks form an internationally unique wilderness area and an important destination for nature-based tourism. The close cooperation of both protected areas also helps foster better understanding between Finns and Russians on both sides of the border, as a role model for peaceful cooperation, and brings economies of scale financially and environmentally, working together for the common purpose of biodiversity conservation and sustainability while managing tourism responsibly under a joint management plan.

The landowner is Kuusamo Forests Common, a local cooperative with 4400 owner members. The cooperative area is over 94,000 hectares of land for the purpose of local income generation through forestry. The Wild Oulanka Foundation has signed a lease agreement with Kuusamo Forests Common for the coming 25 years for the corridor area. The foundation’s annual budgeted of €160,000  covers the staff, making the nature trails, the financial loss to the cooperative and most of the hunting rights. Access to the border zone 453 hectares within the corridor area will be limited with voluntary agreements, under controls and patrols by the Finnish Border Guard. Clear signage, gates and barriers will be put in place, and visitors limited to 1000 annually.

In the words of The Long Run of which Base Camp Oulanka has been a member since 2015: “Basecamp Oulanka is a “positive footprint destination”, founded for conservation and wildlife experience purposes. The heating system used throughout the complex relies totally on nature using special wood pellets for fuel. Even the hot tub is run from an ingenious system that uses the excess heat generated from the sauna. When it comes to day to day life at Basecamp a very important feature is that manpower is always used over motors to minimise the carbon emissions. Basecamp also uses electric outboard engines for rafting boats resulting in zero fuel consumption. ”

Basecamp Oulanka is a member of The Long Run Foundation. In 2011, Basecamp Oulanka was awarded VESTAS, the European sustainable tourism awards, as an “Outstanding example of sustainable and responsible tourism.” In 2014 they were awarded the GreenLeaders GOLD status by Trip Advisor.

http://basecampoulanka.fi/en/ 
www.facebook.com/basecampoulanka
www.youtube.com/basecampoulanka

Species

In the Oulanka Paanajarvi Corridor, the EU Habitats Directive protects 22 habitat types and the Nature Directive protects 53 species. Species on the EU Directive include (plus several secret species) include:

  • Ahma* – Gulo gulo
  • Ilves – Lynx lynx
  • Karhu – Ursus arctos
  • Saukko – Lutra lutra
  • Susi – Canis lupus
  • Kivisimppu – Cottus cobio
  • Havuhuppukuoriainen – Stephanopachys linearis
  • Jättisukeltaja – Dytiscus latissimus
  • Kalkkisiemenkotilo – Vertigo genesii
  • Lahokapo – Boros schneideri
  • Mäntyhuppukuoriainen – Stephanopachys subtriatus
  • Idänkynsimö – Draba cinerea
  • Isotorasammal – Cynodontium suecicum
  • Lapinleinikki – Ranunculus lapponicus
  • Lettorikko – Saxifraga hirculus
  • Myyränporras – Diplazium sibiricum
  • Pahtakeltto – Crepis tectorum
  • Pohjankellosammal – Encalypta mutica
  • Tunturiarho – Arenaria ciliata ssp. pseudofrigida
  • Kirjojokikorento – Ophiogompus cecilia
  • Isonuijasammal – Meesia longiseta
  • Korpikolva – Pytho kolwensis
  • Rusoharmoyökkönen – Xestia brunneopicta

Birds on the Directive include (plus several secret species):

  • Ampuhaukka – Falco columbarius
  • Helmipöllö – Aegolius funereus
  • Hiiripöllö – Surnia ulula
  • Huuhkaja – Bubo bubo
  • Kuikka – Gavia arctica
  • Kurki – Grus grus
  • Lapinpöllö – Strix nebulosa
  • Lapintiira – Sterna paradisaea
  • Laulujoutsen – Cygnus cygnus
  • Liro – Tringa glareola
  • Mehiläishaukka – Pernis apivorus
  • Metso – Tetrao urogallus
  • Palokärki – Dryocopus martius
  • Pikkusieppo – Ficedula parva
  • Pohjantikka – Picoides tridactylus
  • Pyy – Bonasa bonasia
  • Sinirinta – Luscinia svecica
  • Sinisuohaukka – Circus cyaneus
  • Suokukko – Philomachus pugnax  
  • Uivelo – Mergus albellus
  • Varpuspöllö – Glaucidium passerinum
  • Vesipääsky – Phalaropus lobatus

Cillian Murphy: ‘a pretty “alternative” perspective on the tourism industry.’

I have a reputation for having what would be called a pretty “alternative” perspective on the tourism industry. In the main, it is an extractive industry and we should treat it with the same degree of wariness we would any of the other extractive industries; and while all that may sound a bit radical, it is an opinion that’s been around for a while. At the launch of the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards  in 1994, Sir Colin Marshall, former chair of British Airways, defined the tourism and travel industry as “…essentially the renting out for short-term lets of other people’s environments…” funnily enough, a definition that doesn’t often see the light of day; And yet, despite all the emphasis on eco and/or sustainable tourism development over the intervening 24 or so years, little has changed.

 

But given the scale of the growth the industry is seeing, 1 billion tourists in 2012 and 1.3 billion in 2017 according to the UNWTO, something does have to change. The recent McKinsey report for the World Travel & Tourism Council is called “Coping with Success”. That word ‘coping’ is reactionary, rarely ever used in a positive way and most often when dealing with situations that are out of control. You have to think maybe we should have started with something called ‘Planning for Success’, then we wouldn’t have to ‘cope’ with it. Maybe that’s what needs to change.

 

Planning.

I was recently asked to be the keynote speaker at a series of three symposiums, put on by the Central Counties Tourism organisation (RTO6) in Ontario, to give some insight into how we in Loop Head Tourism, a community-based destination management organisation I had helped to co-found in 2009, had planned and developed a different type of destination, how we had organized ourselves, the successes we had had and what advice would we offer to other communities who wanted to take charge of their own tourism development destiny. It is to the credit of the team at Central Counties that their wishes were to engage and empower the communities within their care, instead of dictating from the top down as to what should or should not happen in those communities, a refreshing approach to say the least and one that bears repeating.

 

It was to be a forty-five-minute presentation followed by a Q&A session afterwards. Now, anyone who knows me knows that talking is a particularly strong suit of mine, so I thought ‘no problem, however, I didn’t realize how many words go into a 45-minute speech. I do now…6,700 to be precise. I also hadn’t thought about how much introspection would go into preparing for it. It was a profoundly interesting time for me to sit back and assess critically what we had done, its impact and to look at what learning’s there were that could be passed onto other communities who wished to be more in control of their own tourism development.

 

In the 1950s a guy called Taiichi Ohno devised the famous Toyota Production System. In one of his best-known quotes, he said we should “ask ‘why’ 5 times about every matter” to get to the root cause of a problem.

 

He used the example of a welding robot breaking down to demonstrate the usefulness of his method;

  1. Why did the robot stop? “The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
  2. “Why is the circuit overloaded? “There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
  3. “Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?” The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
  4. Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?” The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
  5. “Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?” Because there is no filter on the pump.

 

I believe the converse is also true, that if we undertake a similar process before we begin any tourism development, we can plan out an industry that will avoid problems occurring in the future.

 

There is no doubt that tourism can deliver economic benefits to host communities; however, there is considerable doubt that the current system of tourism development is actually doing this.

 

In short, we need to change what we are doing. We have to look at what has been successful elsewhere, and then use that learning to capacity build and empower other communities so they are able to create their own destination. My experience with Loop Head, and others has led me to believe that local stakeholders need to be brought through a system of workshops that will deliver this.

 

I call it “Persistent Enquiry”. It builds up the layers of information for a community so they get a solid understanding of how tourism can deliver the maximum benefit for them.

 

Thus, Persistent Enquiry can design out the potential flaws.

The first question many communities ask is…How can we get more tourists? indeed many local and regional development agencies ask the same question and the operators on Loop Head, myself included, were no different…but it is the wrong question to start with.

 

We need to start with a different one…. Why do we need tourists?

We then need to work our way through another 4

  • What
  • Where & When
  • Who
  • How

 

  • Why do you want tourism?

This is the most important question; the answer provides a guide for every other question. It essentially creates the ‘vision’ statement for the destination.

The reasons on Loop Head, farming is becoming more intensive, fewer jobs, our fishing industry is dead, we are too are away from transport hubs for industrial investment, and our connectivity is too poor for the IT sector. Our population is declining and as a result investment in infrastructure both physical and societal is a low priority for the government, and getting lower, low population = low votes! Tourism seems to be the only viable option. So we want tourism, but, the answers to the question have also defined a role for it, it has a job to do, to replace fishing and farming in providing economic benefit, basically jobs, to the area…. and we also realized it had the capacity to drive inward investment, both private in the shape of entrepreneurs, and the public, in the shape of public infrastructure which could support the industry development needs.

Cillian Murphy
CillianMurphyConsulting
“Responsible Tourism Development; Sustainable Tourism Destinations’
Linked in
Twitter; @Tri2bResponsibl

 

Is the knowledge gap too wide to innovate responsible accommodation?

Is the knowledge gap too wide to innovate responsible accommodation?

Christopher Warren 9th February, 2017

There is currently insufficient research to assist the transition for tourist accommodation to become a low carbon sector that also uses water sustainably. After reviewing 110 academic resource-saving studies  Christopher Warren and Susanne Becken found significant research gaps that leave us still unclear how accommodation can make deep game changing savings.

What the Gaps cover

These gaps include:

  • renewable energy
  • renewable water
  • non-hotel accommodation types
  • building design
  • climate and cultural influence
  • smart technology
  • guest engagement

Lack of Data

They could only find a small number of studies which detail consumption amounts, so there is insufficient data to establish benchmarks and track savings (only 15 studies provided energy and 13 studies offered water benchmarks). This limitation is made worse by the lack of studies which measure the influence of seasonality and climate over time (an important when considering Climate Change and adaptation).

They found many studies lacked detail that allows us to unambiguously interpret findings. Overall the studies used different measures and terms making it hard to compare results and build a body of knowledge. Only a few studies indicated a return on investment, which is worrying as new technologies tend to be sold on the idea of a financial benefit.

Without clarity, deep savings become more difficult because there are in fact a multitude of factors which influence consumption. This demonstrates that technical efficiencies alone cannot be relied upon as the sole method to save. Building a solid body of knowledge and developing the skills to run accommodation more sustainably is therefore essential; since it is human behaviour that controls resource use by how a firm is run, how savings methods might be organised and how guests can consume less.  To stimulate service innovation we require a more consistent research approach and to link expertise that tests and refines solutions.


 

Lack of Coverage

Tourism is a global sector yet most of the research into resource saving at tourist accommodation has been conducted in Europe (38%), Asia (mainly China, 26%) and North America (19%). The Middle East only had two papers and the Southern Hemisphere only records 20% of the total output. Of the eight papers whose primary focus was water saving, none covered the Middle East and Africa. Since local climate, building design and culture are important variables in resource use there is obviously a great need to redress the imbalance and conduct innovative research in the South (see research opportunity below). Likewise there were only six papers focused on guest engagement (tiny when considering guests can account for half of the energy and water used in hotels). Most of the papers concentrated on hotels with a small number covering camp sites, shared economy and small operators. These findings clearly spotlight ‘known unknowns’ which we must address.

Why this is important now

The urgency to bridge the research gap is also a global challenge as tourist accommodations’ environmental footprint is very likely to be underestimated. This is because the shared economy has been outpacing traditional accommodation growth, and statistics exclude unofficial hosts, so the size of the sector is far larger than authorities estimate and more complex. Therefore the level of consumption, versus aspirational carbon reduction targets, may present a larger challenge than originally thought. The sector’s consumption is further aggravated by aging building stock and changing climates. Meanwhile, tourism grows exponentially, so while an accommodation may show energy and water savings per guest night, absolute resource use could remain unchanged. Without holistic knowledge to help the sector innovate and become more sustainable, consumption is most likely to rise and with it carbon emissions and water use.

What we should do

Tourism should now establish collaboration networks between scientists, practitioners, and entrepreneurs which bridge the knowledge gaps and accelerate sustainability-oriented innovation.

How we might do it

Findings from our study lead to the following proposed research framework (see figure below – adapted from Warren & Becken, 2017). If we want to close the research gap and generate new knowledge then we need a holistic approach that includes key influencing elements, more consistently presented findings, to share and built upon. Networks linking expertise must conduct research which addresses clear savings targets and identify paths to achieve them (e.g . if we want to save 50%, then we need to take this action). The ICRT-Australia is conducting an international research study on responsible service innovation and is an example of collaboration; expressions of interest to participate are welcomed. The knowledge gap will not be too wide if we start collaborating now.

Proposed integrative framework to advance research and theory of energy and water savings in tourist accommodation. Adapted from Warren & Becken, 2017

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Adapted from Warren & Becken, 2017 Int. Journal of Tourism Research

ROE (Return On Environment)

 

For more information contact:

Christopher Warren

christopher.@icrtourism.com.au

 

Work Responsibly in Pakistan

A request from Najeeb Khan

I humbly request all the Domestic Pakistani Tour operators, Facebook tour operators
PLEASE PLEASE
Work Responsibly:
It is simply not possible to advertise a 4 day trip from Lahore to Hunza, it is not possible if you follow the international travel rules, no matter the clients are corporate OR students, they need to be guided not misguided
Don’t drive at night time just to save money,
On the Karakorum Highway there is no 2nd chance, exhausted drivers behind the wheel, in the blink of an eye can take you down in the Indus River and disappear,
Adverts,
Please be more informative, adverts on your page must be clear and complete of services included name of the hotel, meals, menu and excursions
If you take security personals they are for security not for show-off, some are advertising as the retired SSG guards, the security personals need to be from a licensed security company along with licensed weapons and in normal shalwar kameez not in uniform
Uniform gives unnecessary visibility; people are travelling with you for holidays not to look like VIPs.
Respect the local culture and traditions,
A group of students from Punjab were in trouble in central Hunza while taking picture of ladies working in the field, luckily in the group there were female participants they intervened and apologized to the ladies, the issue settled before the local youth arrived.
You need to put your landline number, so in the case of emergency your office can be contacted
Copyrights:
Please respect copyrights.
Najeeb Ahmed Khan CEO Himalayan Holidays (pvt) Ltd
Winner of The World Responsible Tourism Award WTM London

From Responsible Tourism top Craft Beer

Robin Barden completed the MSc in Responsible Tourism Management  (2007-10) with a very good report on the tourism and sense of place in the Barri Gòtic.

Robin is the first RT graduate to have his name in lights on Times Square.

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In 2013 Robin was part of the team which ran the 7th International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations in October 2013.

He ran a successful weekend of “walks and talks on responsible tourism in heavily-visited touristic-historic cities” (Barcelona, Spring 2012) which brought together members of the ICRT’s international network, the ICRT Barcelona & Catalunya (Xarxa de Turisme Responsable), local tourism businesses, tourism consultants, tourism board professionals, journalists, a slow food group, students, and academics in the area.

Applied local and responsible tourism knowledge to compile My Guide to a Sustainable Congress for the IUCN World Congress in Barcelona and ran  an authentic visitor experience in Barcelona built around the emerging craft beer movement in the region. See www.facebook.com/CraftyBeerTours

In January 2014 he became the Craft Beer Ambassador for Edge Brewing,  brewing American-style craft beers at its brewery birthplace in Barcelona, where Edge’s two adventurous founders and Robin first met.

As Robin says
It’s an exciting project presenting new challenges, but also fun opportunities, like meeting new people who are passionate about generating and sharing ideas, whether those relate to brewing, or creative ways to engage the “craft beer curious” , and keep the “craft beer converted” on their taste buds. It’s great to be in a position where better flavour, a greater diversity of flavours, a little reflection on what you’re imbibing, sociability and happiness… growing an interest in all those things is the name of the game, because that’s what good beer is all about.

Barcelona a Beer Destination 
Las cervezas artesanas duplican ventas cada año

Edge Brewing
Carrer de Llull, 62
08005 Barcelona
Onwards, upwards and… Edgewards!  On Twitter and Facebook too!

Look for Edge Brewing in the  lists of the World’s Best New Breweries & Best New Beers.

Responsible voluntourism exists – and I found it in the Calais jungle

It was as I was beginning to edit my first ever responsible tourism video (concerning how tourism can help the refugee crisis) that it hit me: I live within 30 miles of a refugee camp, and yet I’ve never visited one.

I was reading about awesome initiatives and inspiring stories that told how refugees were being integrated into our communities as museum tourist guides, and how tourists and refugees were encountering each other in Lesvos and sharing life dreams.

And then I stumbled upon Manda Brookman’s A Million Acts of Sanctuary project.

It was here that I discovered that the Cornish community is coming together in an act of compassionate collaboration. And then it suddenly dawned on me: I need to help more too. But how can I possibly be credible in delivering the message if I have no personal experience of what is really going on?

My first thought was to tell my friend and Production Manager, Maddie Duggan, that I had to go to Calais. She agreed, and told me that she was coming too. We packed our bags and emailed the Help Refugees charity in Calais to tell them we would join them for a weekend.

The night before our trip, some of my extended family told me I was making a mistake, that the people in the camp were economic migrants seeking better livelihoods, and were not actual refugees. And that I should be very wary and not stray away on my own.

I was also told that I needed to establish if any refugee women live in the camp, because, you know, there’s an assumption made that women prefer to send their men out to seek asylum and then receive money from them. The implication was that they wouldn’t actually make the journey themselves because they weren’t really in any danger.

The usual propaganda.

I wanted to draw my own conclusions. I informed friends and family that I would go with an open mind, and would share my thoughts with them upon my return.

When we arrived at our destination, our briefing pack discouraged us from entering the camp and taking photos of refugees. We were asked not to prompt any discussions as they could do more harm than good, and potentially distress people. The camp managers highlighted that refugees are not tourist attractions and shouldn’t be treated as such; and that we, as volunteers, had an important duty to perform: to help provide refugees with the best possible experience in the circumstances.

I was told that jobs inside the camp were only given to long-term volunteers who understood the etiquette of the camp and knew how to interact with refugees, and came with the appropriate qualifications.

In my close circle of responsible tourism practitioners, we recognise that deprived people should not be treated as tourist attractions, and that formal qualifications are imperative when it come to volunteering to work with vulnerable people.

That’s exactly what Justin Francis from Responsible Travel, together with Harold Goodwin and many other responsible tourism industry leaders have been campaigning about over the last few years.

And we’re now seeing even more widespread traction on these topics, with the likes of J.K. Rowling campaigning against reckless voluntourism, and promoting a more well-informed approach, especially when it comes to volunteering with vulnerable people.

During my Calais trip I discovered that responsible voluntourism was being practiced correctly – right in front of my eyes. I was delighted; these people were doing it the right way.

We spent our two-day adventure putting together winter-clothes arrival packs for women (yes, surprise, surprise – there are women in the camp) and working on a production line assembling food packs. We neatly put together the essentials: beans, milk, rice, flour, sugar and onions into boxes that were due for delivery by truck the next day. We were asked to prepare extra packs, because the following day a lorry drivers’ protest was scheduled and the whole compound needed to be sealed.

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While we worked, we did some research. We found out that, as well as women, the camp contains over 860 children, 78 percent of whom are on their own, some as young as eight.

We discovered other statistics: 45 percent of camp refugees come from Sudan, where the war ended nine months ago. A further 30 percent hail from Afghanistan, which is still at war, and seven percent have arrived from Pakistan, whose north-west region has been at war since 2004. There are also minorities from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Iraq – countries that are all engaged in active conflicts.

census-edit-kids

This data alone proves that these unfortunate people are not economic migrants; they are fleeing from war.

My experience has proved to me that we need to start getting our facts straight, and work at understanding these conflicts better. As Robin Lustig said very recently, it is time for some moral outrage. We need to understand the problems better, and we need to do a great deal more to help – each and every one of us.

How is it possible that the UK government continues to supply weapons and licence the sale of arms in some of these countries? Whether we like it or not, we are complicit in perpetuating such conflicts, and we have to do something to help reverse the situation.

Despite the dark clouds gathered across our world, I always see a silver lining, and continue to remain hopeful. There were so many positive outcomes following our experience.

We hung out with compassionate people, did useful jobs, learned things and ate great food (thanks, Calais Kitchens).

  • Since our return, seven work colleagues have decided to join Maddie and me for our next volunteering trip.
  • Our foray was taken notice of by Travel Weekly, who decided to write about it.
  • Harold Goodwin has asked me to talk about how tourism can help the refugee crisis at November’s World Travel Market.

And finally, I love witnessing my friends’ campaigns that promote the right course of action. We can all make a difference, and every individual effort adds up to make a huge contribution to dealing with the crisis.

For me, it started by making a video, which in turn inspired my trip to Calais. Now, I have a huge to-do list. What about you?

My name is Crista Buznea, and I’m here to learn.