How to Research Perfect Holiday Tours
Going away has become more than a status symbol; it has become a hallmark of life and a near necessity for many, whether that’s going on a road trip or spending two days on a plane to some far off destination. And while overseas holidays are exciting, we must always be conscious of the impact of our travels on the local people. One of the biggest mistakes people make when travelling is falling into exploitative tourist traps and supporting disingenuous tourism operators. Inauthentic tour companies that underpay staff in horrible conditions, products made using sweatshop labour, and ‘voluntourism experiences’ such as helping at an orphanage, are often riddled with corrupt practices. These activities, shops or ‘experiences’ are targeted at tourists who assume they are seeing a taste of genuine local life, but instead they are contributing (often unknowingly) to cruelty. For Western people with superior education, health care and infrastructure, the idea of helping out an impoverished Third World country is attractive. However, we must make sure that the very practices we hope are helping are not in fact harming local people. So how can you ensure you don’t make these mistakes? Research. We have said that many times on this blog, but in all honesty the internet is your greatest ally in combating dodgy practices. First, decide what kind of trip you’re making – is it a relaxing beach holiday, or a trekking tour through rugged mountain ranges? Are you going for a week, or for several months? And who are you travelling with; yourself, a group, or a tour company? If you have the basics set down you can better tailor your research to your own travel needs. Once you have an idea of your holiday, there are a number of things you can do to make sure your practices are fair and ethical.
Check that volunteer/welfare organisations offering volunteer places are reputable. Search their accreditation or any accolades they have received from international organisations. Even looking up travel reviews online can give an indication as to a company’s quality and what to expect from them. For example, Seven Women operates our tour company Hands on Development in partnership with Intrepid, a leader in Australian adventure travel planning, so our tour groups know they are in good hands. Many countries also have tour operator organisations which require membership and oversight. Look these up too. Knowledge is power, so make sure you know as much as you can before any money changes hands.
Also make sure that the skills you’re offering are needed. The most corruption we see occurs in places where there is a lot of turnover – where do-gooders come and go every few weeks and there is no accountability. The biggest example is overseas orphanages, which are often established as money-making businesses for unscrupulous investors, and which harm children without providing any necessary care. Don’t make the mistake of unwittingly helping these operators; do some digging and find out which organisations or industries are in actual need and which do not require your help. If you have a trade skill, why not look up Habitat for Humanity or another multinational aid organisation to work with, rather than go it alone. Teach building skills to the locals instead of just building the house yourself; make sure the structure keeps standing after you’re gone. If you’ve just finished a teaching degree and want to apply those skills, enquire with your university for a place overseas in need of your specific skill set. If you’re a medical professional then apply with Doctors Without Borders. There are lots of ways you can assist existing volunteer and welfare organisations with good reputations, and the best place to start is at a local level where they can accurately assess and utilise your time and efforts.
Ensure the products you are buying are made Fair Trade and the produce is sourced locally. While this is not always easy at street level (there is really no way to know where things come from in a bustling marketplace), when making any purchases in a store or online there are some steps you can take. Check for the Fair Trade Labeling Organisation label, the oldest and most reputable accreditation for ethical trade practices. Avoid cheap and nasty products, especially clothes that were probably made in sweat shops. And look up the brands you buy on sites such as Ethical Clothing Australia, who research where our clothes come from. And if you’re buying food from a market, buy direct from the farmer. Small local markets are perfect, and even side-of-the-road stops are probably going to be local grown.
And finally, be sure to check the payment and/or tipping culture of other countries to ensure fair pay for fair work. This is especially important for Australians, who are not used to tipping (or even bribing) culture at all. In many parts of the world these extra little payments on the side are still an important part of their economy. Make sure you are aware of anything like it so you don’t accidentally underpay staff or insult workers along the way. Being a mindful and informed tourist can change the world for people in the destination country, and it can mean the difference between contributing to abusive practices and having a genuine travel experience.