Travel experiences that empower rather than simply finance can uplift, upskill, and provide a voice. Here are some operators and hotels that consider the long-term impact on both visitors and the community.
Founded on the principle that income in the hands of women uplifts whole communities, Awamaki improves educational opportunities for the next generation and tackles climate-related issues including overpopulation. The nonprofit’s approach is two-pronged. First, by working with women’s artisan cooperatives in the Patacancha Valley above Ollantaytambo (near the Sacred Valley of the Incas), Awamaki provides technical and administrative skills and a link to the global marketplace via an online shop. Second, it works with willing rural communities to develop a low-impact tourism product that fits around childcare and agricultural schedules. Experiences include a weaving demonstration and a lunch featuring food cooked in a traditional Quechan Pachamanca “earth oven.” A Sustainable Tourism program prepares the community for tourists, covering a number of topics including how to prepare food safely and create comfortable homestays. Before joining the Awamaki program, none of the local women made as much money as their husbands; after the program, 60 percent do. “Tourism has helped us realize that our culture is interesting to people outside of our community, and this helps younger people want to learn more about weaving,” says Jesusa Puma from Huilloc Alto. “It’s helping to keep the culture alive.”
Kasbah du Toubkal
So high up into the Atlas Mountains that the last few hundred yards of the journey there involve hiking with mules, Kasbah du Toubkal has long stood as a beacon of responsible community tourism. The lodge may not be locally owned, but once the Kasbah’s U.K. owners reconstructed the building, they handed the running and responsibility of the lodge over to the neighboring Berber community. Unlike the arrangement in other operations, no expats are running the show behind the scenes, and all employees are local. The result is a genuine slice of Berber hospitality, from the date dipping and rosewater ceremonies on arrival to a low level of hierarchy among staff. Another aspect that sets the Kasbah apart is the 5 percent community fee added to bookings. This income helps improve infrastructure through the local Association Bassins d’Imlil; it’s funded a new ambulance service, trash collection, and a community hammam. Recently, a portion of this fee has gone to the charity Education For All, which provides safe boardinghouses for girls from rural villages to attend school. Each year, around 200 girls benefit from the facilities, and this year’s graduating cohort celebrated a 92 percent pass rate (compared to a national average of just 68 percent).
Sumba Island, Indonesia
With rolling surf, thatched villages, and ancient traditions including ikat weaving and the ritualistic Pasola mock battle festival, Sumba island in the east of Indonesia may seem like a land undisturbed by tourism. However, that’s far from the truth. In recent years, speculators with deep pockets have arrived—approximately 60 percent of the island has been bought by foreigners at low prices, and at no benefit to locals, Belgian philanthropist Inge De Lathauwer estimates. Recognizing the danger of exploitation, she founded the Maringi Eco Resort—since renamed Maringi Sumba—and Sumba Hospitality Foundation (SHF) in 2016, a hotel and school that trains Sumba locals in hospitality skills. The foundation aims to upskill locals so they benefit from tourism. Recent graduate Alejheandrew Lhoist Syach remarks, “At SHF, they taught me to fight for myself and deal with my problems. I received so many opportunities and even worked at a nearby five-star hotel. It is important because we locals have things we want to express but don’t have the skills to share them.” The hotel’s five bamboo pavilions and four pool villas finance the school and allow guests to engage with the hospitality trainees, much like a teaching hospital. Visitors can walk around the permaculture gardens or support the students with conversational English. Maringi Sumba also features a spa and on-site yoga classes.
Traditional voluntourism often revolves around a handout mentality that can do more harm than good by creating dependency and taking away jobs. However, Orbis Expeditions’ Women’s Partnership Challenge trip to Malawi carefully matches visitor skills with female entrepreneurs to foster exchange and connection that leaves a lasting impression on both. A highlight of the 11-day trip, which includes hiking on Mount Mulanje, a tea plantation stay, and a night spent on a Lake Malawi island: the Entrepreneurs Business Workshops in Blantyre where a dozen or so travelers and locals share their skill sets—accounting, marketing, and more. Trinitas Kunashe is one woman who benefited from the experience. She’s the CEO and founder of Tina Pads, which makes and provides reusable cloth menstrual pads to schoolgirls who would otherwise be unable to attend school once a month. “I’ve attended seven workshops with Orbis and learned everything from financial management and bookkeeping skills to social media and how to refine our elevator pitch,” Kunashe says. Thanks to the events, she has been able to expand production and get donor communities on board. In 2022, Orbis’s Impact Expeditions will take travelers to Malawi, Bali, Colombia, and Jordan.
India, and Nepal
Truly responsible tourism should always be on a community’s terms. One organization that knows this better than most is tour operator Village Ways, which has partnered with villages across the rural Himalayas to establish village guesthouses for more than ten years.
Having identified villages struggling with urban migration that are happy to welcome low-impact tourism, Village Ways helps them develop village guesthouses with advice and funding for building, sustainability, and administration. A measured approach ensures that tourism is supplementary to other income streams, like agriculture, to avoid disrupting community balance and traditional village life. The outcome is a tourism product owned and run by the community that gives guests access to an unrivalled slice of authentic rural Himalayan life—days off hiking between villages are spent on wildlife and cultural excursions, helping harvesting food, learning to cook Indian dishes and soaking up the slower pace with a cup of chai on verandas with epic Himalayan views.
Deepak Joshi from Dalar village within Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary says that Village Ways has improved local life: “Women are now actively taking part in tourism and other activities and are much more confident. Also, more villagers have been getting back to farming and keeping livestock as guests appreciate the local food and our culture.”
Intrepid Travel’s In Focus Tours
U.K. and worldwide
In 2021, Intrepid Travel’s launched a series of In Focus tours addressing real-life issues in partnership with nonprofits and social enterprises all over the world. In London, three new day tours have been designed with Women in Travel, a community interest company that upskills unemployed and often immigrant women around the UK.
The tours provide steady employment for the women and offer Londoners the chance to understand immigrant communities in the city better. Sefanit Mengiste’s Ethiopian tour explores the tastes and smells of her beloved birth country around Shepherd’s Bush Market, while Ella Hoxhaj explores Balkan kofte and baklava shops, stalls, and restaurants in the Borough Market area.
For Sefanit, the benefits extend beyond financial support. “I have been given the opportunity to meet a lot of strong women from different backgrounds. I feel now that I have my own network of support that has brought me out of my comfort zone and empowered me,” she says. “I truly believe that this tour breaks stereotypes in the Ethiopian community that women cannot be tour guides. Additionally, I love that my tour supports independently owned businesses, such as Osman’s Market, in Shepherd’s Bush Market.” Fifteen per cent of the price of each tour goes straight back into Women in Travel to widen opportunities.
Sustainable Travel: The Essential Guide to Positive-Impact Adventures by Holly Tuppen covers everything from reducing your carbon footprint and protecting nature to supporting those that need our tourism dollars the most.