Choosing the Right Tour Operator: 6 Questions to Ask

Wendy Redal September 7, 2010 0

If you’re reading Good Nature, chances are you are a traveler who cares about the Earth and its inhabitants, both animal and human. As a traveler, you hold a very privileged position in the world: where you choose to go, with whom and in what manner, can have a great impact – for good or for ill — on the places you visit and the people who live there.

Elephant RideConsider the significance of the dollars you spend: the travel and tourism industry provides more than 10 percent of the gross domestic product worldwide, and some 230 million jobs, according to figures from The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). It is the largest overall business sector in the global economy.

Tourism is also the principle “export” (foreign exchange earner) for 83 percent of developing countries, and the leading export for 1/3 of the poorest countries, including nations like Nepal and Tanzania. In fact, for the world’s 40 poorest countries, tourism is the second most important source of foreign exchange, after oil.

Clearly the dollars you spend matter.

So how can you be certain your travels are working for the good of the people and places you care about?

Read on, and I’ll present six questions for you to ask before you book, to be sure your travel dollars are spent responsibly.

Perhaps the most important benchmark is choosing an adventure travel provider committed to the principles of authentic ecotourism. In the minds of some, “ecotourism” means tramping about in hot, humid equatorial rainforest and sleeping in damp tents. While ecotourism could include such a foray, it encompasses much more, and it doesn’t preclude comfort, or even luxury. Ecotourism can happen as easily in the U.S. or Europe
as it does in the Amazon or the Himalayas.

Ecotourism, to use the official definition from TIES, is: Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.

EcotourismEcotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. When there is a mutually supportive relationship between these three components, you have a formula for a gratifying experience that supports the future welfare of the both natural places and the cultures that subsist in or near them.

How do you know if a company you’re considering follows the precepts of ecotourism?

Do your research – read their catalog, check out their website in detail, talk with office staff, see if they hold any certifications or awards for green or responsible travel practices – then assess them on how well they adhere to the following principles:

1) Does the tour operator minimize impact? (i.e., via small group sizes, using ecologically sensitive accommodations and transportation modes, etc.)

2) Are they committed to building environmental and cultural awareness and respect?

3) Do they provide positive experiences not just for visitors, but also for hosts?

4) Do their trips provide direct financial benefits for conservation?

5) Do they provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people?

6) Does the operator raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental and social climate?

BeachIf you’d like to explore this subject further, start by downloading TIES’ Global Ecotourism Fact Sheet. Then, start planning your next trip!  You can take satisfaction in knowing that when you choose wisely, your travel dollars are an investment in protecting the wildlife you care about and the people whose lives depend on your economic contributions.

Yours in Conscious Travel,

Wendy

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