Would you pay more for sustainable travel?

7 04 2010

When you travel, do you try to travel responsibly?  Do you really know where your money ends up?  In the article below, the head of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators makes the case that more of the benefits of tourism need to reach the local people in order to truly have their support and to develop the tourism sector in Uganda to its full potential.  He’s right.

However, he doesn’t give any suggestions on how to do that.  It is always easy to point out the problems and more difficult to figure out what to do about them.  He highlights a couple of examples where locals were supposed to benefit but didn’t, and shows what can go wrong when that happens (ie. a local stealing from a tourist because he is supposed to “benefit from tourism”).  As a traveler, though, how can you make sure that your money is going to projects that actually do benefit locals and the local natural environment?  At the moment in Uganda any tour operator or lodge owner can claim to be providing “ecotourism,” “sustainable tourism,” “pro-poor tourism,” or whatever else they want to say, because nobody is checking.

I am an advocate of certification in the tourism industry.  Some tour operators and hotel/lodge owners claim that certification programs are often arbitrary, time-intensive and sometimes costly, but I believe the benefits far outweigh the costs. As a traveler planning a trip to a new country, it is just too difficult to know if the claims of “ecofriendliness” or “local-centeredness” that your tour or lodge marketing materials throw at you are accurate.  Even if a tourism facility starts out with the best intentions, they may gradually move away from benefiting the local communities for any number of reasons.  With nobody actually checking on their claims, they don’t have a lot of incentive to get creative around how best to benefit the people living near the site (also, check back to this post about problems with the term “local”).

Here are just two examples of the many certification programs in use around the world today (there are no certification programs being used in Uganda):

http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/tourism.cfm?id=certification
http://www.sustainabletravelinternational.org/documents/sustainabletourismcertification.html

After you read Mr. Baluku’s article,  I am interested to hear in the comments section below whether you, as an individual, would be more likely to stay at lodges or book travel through tour companies that have been certified under some set of sustainable tourism guidelines.  In fact, let me up the ante and ask  if you would be more likely to do it even if it cost a bit more (let’s say 5%).  If you think certification is a bad idea, put that down there, too, and let us know why!

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Don’t just tell Ugandans to smile at tourists;

give them reason to do so

By Geoffrey Baluku

Visitors are drawn to Uganda by the natural beauty, wildlife, hospitality and the rich culture that continues to make this country a popular destination.

With the knowledge that tourism has the potential to contribute significantly and continuously to the country’s economy, the government and concerned tourism players need to place emphasis not only on the development of our infrastructure and tourism facilities but also to improve the lives of local people, protect their environment and offer a better future.

Long and short-term development plans should be developed so that tourism and its benefits are spread within local communities.

For tourism to be developed in a sustainable manner, efforts should be made to ensure enjoyment for the tourist and minimum impact or disruption for the local communities and environment. Tourism investments are too often imposed from outside the communities where some of our tourist attractions are located, and the potential for sustainable forms of tourism is weakened. Unless local people begin ‘feeling’ tourism in their pockets and on their tables, all efforts may be put to waste.

For the rest of the article, click here


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