If you are looking specifically for places with the strongest RT aspects and credentials, then we'd suggest that you first look at places that include time with traditional cultures – as these often have particularly strong community involvement.
In January 2010 AITO, the Association of Independent Tour Operators, awarded Expert Africa its highest possible rating for responsible travel practices, a 5-star award. This is awarded on a point system where “a company fulfils a number of criteria covering the areas of RT policies, implementation of sustainable office practice, communication with customers, environmental practice and practical destination activity with the latter two areas having the most points allocated to them.
Meanwhile, to help we have outlined some of our aims and objectives, in a Responsible Travel Policy. It's not exhaustive; but we feel that it's a start to explaining to those who don't know us how we have always operated. We send this to all of our travellers before they depart, and encourage them to read it and to assist us in achieving these objectives. We would welcome any comments on this from anyone who is interested and committed to the concepts behind RT.
Our missionWe believe that sustainable, sensitive tourism is an invaluable help to developing the communities and preserving the environments of sub-Saharan Africa. We aim to encourage more people to visit Africa by promoting supremely enjoyable and informative trips – whilst maximising the benefits these generate for the local economies, environments and host communities in Africa.
• We will promote the positives of Africa, and encourage more people to visit a subcontinent that we love passionately.
• We will try to minimise our programme's negative impact on local environments, whilst maximising its benefits.
• We'll support and encourage environmentally sound management of accommodation and sensitive, sustainable activities.
• We will continue to create and maintain partnerships with smaller local companies where possible, rather than larger or multinational ones.
• We will encourage local community participation in tourism projects.
• We will continue to encourage and promote conservation projects that have a compatible tourism dimension.
• We will encourage our travellers to improve their knowledge of the destination prior to departure – to enable them to be informed of any cultural or environmental issues arising in their destination.
• We will donate money to charities and projects who are in need of extra funding, which we believe are relevant to the areas we travel to. ( Read more about the charities we've helped recently…)
How we try to make our trips more responsible• We support local community based projects and small-scale businesses and try to ensure that they secure a fair share of the benefits that carefully managed tourism can reap.
• We try to focus on low impact routing of travel around the host country, avoiding destinations that are likely to be adversely affected by our visitors.
• We endeavour to make clear and transparent arrangements with our smaller partners overseas, and make every effort to avoid exploiting them.
• We actively try to support environmentally sound projects with impartial advice, PR coverage and valuable feedback – as well as providing them with business.
• We try to promote suppliers that provide good quality environmentally and culturally sensitive activities.
• We don't feature suppliers that we consider are likely to damaging to the local environment, or to treat the local cultures insensitively.
• We try to ensure that at least one member of our team has visited every place that we send our travellers to.
• We are always honest in our advice to travellers. We try to give our travellers the most realistic picture possible of what their trip will be like – as we believe that matching expectations to the local reality, and then exceeding these expectations, is the way to ensure consistently excellent trips.
• We try to provide our travellers with as much relevant information on the destination, culture, traditions, local economy and sensitive areas as we can – often in the form of a good sensitive guidebook (often written by the Expert Africa team).
• We place great emphasis on informing our visitors through good local guides who can pass on local information and provide an insight into the host destination in a culturally sensitive manner.
• We don't employ UK tour leaders to guide visitors around Africa; we believe that Africans can usually do a better job of this.
• We encourage the employment of local people through the accommodation and projects that we support.
How our travellers can helpLitter: keep all litter in your possession until you find a suitable disposal facility. Do not carelessly discard cigarette stubs as much of southern Africa is very arid and scrub and grasslands can catch light quickly with devastating effects.
Driving and walking: if driving yourself, then stick to roads, tracks and trails, do not venture off these. This helps minimise damage to vegetation and distress to wildlife. Similarly, when approaching animals in your vehicle or on foot, keep a respectful distance from them and don't harass them. Take into consideration your distance and do not attempt to feed or touch any wildlife.
Attempt to use environmentally friendly bathroom products and use them sparingly to minimise pollution of the local water supply. Many of our lodges provide their own complimentary environmentally friendly products. In some areas of southern Africa, (in particular Namibia), water shortage is a serious problem, the severity of this increases during the winter period. Please conserve water where possible - however, it is important to keep oneself hydrated at all times. Please also make every effort to conserve other resources i.e.: remember to switch off lights and air-conditioning when you leave your room.
Also we ask that you:
• Do not purchase products that may endanger the survival of an animal by encouraging the destruction of a species for souvenirs i.e.: ivory, skins or other wildlife products.
• Visit and support local conservation and community projects where possible. This provides valuable funding for projects and enables the local community to improve their standard of living through developing infrastructure and services.
• Do not give money to beggars. Instead make a resolution that you will make a donation to a local school or health project before you leave Africa. (Ask us if you'd like suggestions for this.)
With regard to your own social behaviour, it is important to be aware of the local community's culture and traditions and to respect local etiquette. We would hope that all our clients intend a cultural exchange during their visit to learn more about the host community. We suggest that...
• You ask your local guides about their customs – they're the best ones to advise you in Africa.
• You try to be as inoffensive as possible by taking into consideration dress codes.
• Couples should try not to be over-amorous in public
• You ask before you take photographs of local people and please respect their privacy.
• You try to learn simple words or phrases from the local language to reflect your interest - greetings are vital.
• You maintain a level of respect for all local people and avoid “high-handed foreigner” attitudes.
Considering the local economy, we ask you to try to:
• Purchase local goods rather than imported products. Be adventurous and dine in local restaurants and café's. This helps to support the local economy rather than increasing leakage to other countries through international chains.
• Visit local, small-scale souvenir shops and purchase from these rather than city/hotel tourist shops.
• We recommend that you plan for tipping within your holiday budget. If you feel that you have received good service during your stay at a lodge/guestfarm/camp etc., please make a donation at the end of your visit in the central staff tipping box - tipping differs from place to place, so please ask the management the best way to do it to ensure that the people behind the scenes also benefit.
Finally, we'd again suggest that if you are looking specifically for places that have particularly strong RT aspects to their work, then we'd suggest that you first look at our suggestions for trips that include time with traditional cultures – as these often have particularly strong community involvement.