Sustainable Eco and Community Tourism Guide:
To ensure we manage our tours in a responsible and sustainable way we follow UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) international guidelines for ethical tourism. You can download this United Nations guide here: Making Tourism More Sustainable
Sustainable tourism can benefit local and often impoverished communities, both economically and socially, raise awareness in support of conservation of the environment, and preserve local culture. It should not be viewed as a clash between economic development and environmental protection, but as a symbiotic partnership, where all stakeholders have an equal voice.
It’s a continuous, evolving process that requires regular monitoring of the social and environmental impacts, and always in consultation with those it effects most.
Sustainable tourism should also build awareness amongst tourists and what they can do to minimise their footprints and how to educate them in sustainable tourism practices.
Thus, sustainable tourism should:
1) Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
2) Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.
3) Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.
In these river villages, Ecotourism and Community tourism are closely linked. The villagers are the guardians of the rainforest and it sustains the well-being of their community. They have lived off the land here for hundreds of years with little impact.
Our village home-stays follow international community tourism objectives as follows:
- They are run with the involvement and consent of local communities: – We had been coming here for many years, and had seen first-hand how there was little sustainable income in the villages. Consequently, before we started this venture we consulted with the village elders, explaining our plan and asking if they wanted to be involved. After consideration they agreed, and we suggested a 3 month trial. At the end of the trial the villagers all agreed that they wanted the tourism to continue, as they want better opportunities for their children, and that can only come about by embracing tourism in a carefully managed and sustainable environment.
- Give a fair share of profits back to the local community: – As well as the cash income they make from the home-stay accommodation, along with others involved in growing, preparing and cooking the food, guiding, etc, we donate US$10 for every tourist to a New Zealand trust that has funded the school in this village, including several others along the river. See Bridging the Gap Mekong Trust. For 1 day tours we donate $3 towards a school book fund we administer, for every tourist on the trip.
- Involve communities rather than individuals: – We have been working with the village elders here for about 8 years and have earned their trust. These village officials who are elected every 3 years administer the village and welcome Mekong Kayaks’ involvement. We plan with them our kayaking tours, their resources and what they need for the school; then purchase the materials and ship them to the village.
- Be environmentally sustainable: – As kayaking is people powered, our impact on the environment is extremely low, apart from transport to get the tourists there. All meals like fish, chicken, pork, eggs, etc along with lots of vegetables and fruit grown in the village are all locally produced. Villagers enjoy taking the tourists for walks and teaching them about the plants, herbs and animals they depend on. Several families generate their own sustainable power in the river from small 80 watt generators.
- Have mechanisms to help communities cope with the impact of western tourists: – The village community decides whether they want tourists and how many. Tour groups are limited in number and frequency of visits. We have regular reviews with the village council and elders to assess the impact of tourism on the village, and what we need to improve to ensure its impact is minimal and it stays as authentic as possible.
- Not make local people perform inappropriate ceremonies, etc: – At no stage have we requested any ceremonies. The bacci is a traditional Lao welcome done on their own initiative, and the villagers approached us with the idea of training a school cultural dance troupe to which we agreed, as it keeps their own culture alive. When tourists arrive the school children line up with bunches of wild flowers to welcome them. Again this was at their own initiative, and is a very warm, sincere welcome.
- Leave communities alone if they don’t want tourism: – The village community and elders are in control at all times and we respect and abide by their wishes.