Responsible tourism: Belarus tour, Forgotten Europe
We spend time exploring the Braslau Lakes National Park, and our guides are careful to brief travelers on appropriate behaviour and the importance of taking all rubbish with us. Belarus contains some of the last wilderness areas within Europe and is home to rare wildlife that cannot easily be found elsewhere, and as such the fees that we pay for visiting the park contribute towards conservation measures aimed at maintaining this important habitat.
We work with our local partners to ensure that they operate in an environmentally friendly manner as much as possible - tourism is in its infancy in countries such as Belarus and thus it is important to introduce such ideas from the very start to ensure that the local industry is based as much as possible on solid ethical foundations.
The village guesthouse that we stay in uses predominantly local produce in the preparation of meals, avoiding as much as possible bringing food from far away and thus reducing carbon footprints.
This trip spends a night staying as guests of a family in the village of Disna. We believe that staying small village guesthouses and family homes not only gives travelers an authentic and very special insight into the lives of Belarusian people, but brings tangible benefits to small communities that may otherwise be overlooked by the tourism industry. Spending time with local hosts enables far more cultural interaction than travelers would experience when staying in large hotels.
Our philosophy is to only use small and locally owned suppliers, meaning that the income remains within the country and creates a real economic contribution. We also feel that the passion inherent within such suppliers means that your experience will be enhanced. We also try to engage with our suppliers on an equal basis – getting the lowest possible price usually isn’t the best outcome for local communities and is ultimately unsustainable. We aim to always treat our suppliers fairly and with respect; they are after all part of the key to our success and to us working together is much more than just a business arrangement, but an ongoing relationship that we aim to ensure truly benefits everyone involved.
We believe that tourism is a double edged sword that needs to be wielded very carefully. Our philosophy is to have a limited amount of departures – usually between one and three a year - for each of our itineraries. By limiting our presence in areas where local culture can be quite fragile, we hope to avoid as much as possible the phenomenon whereby an area changes in character due to repeated and prolonged exposure to tourism. We want to visit an area as friends, not intruders and to ensure that what we see will also be there for others to enjoy for many years to come.
We only employ local staff and unlike many operators we believe that to send a foreign Tour Leader along to accompany your trip is an unnecessary burden on your wallet and our carbon footprint. We believe that locals know best. Our local operators only use locally owned accommodation. This means your money stays in the area to benefit the local community. When possible we use local transport, (i.e. rail or bus) and we always use local restaurants, markets and shops and encourage our clients to interact both financially and socially with the communities that they are passing through. In doing this your travels are supporting and encouraging the development of local services.
We only work with operators who are as committed as we are to putting something back into the communities we visit. This may include giving a percentage of the profits from each tour to a foundation to help street children or local conservation projects. Furthermore, in order to allow our clients to make an informed decision on where a greater proportion of their money should be spent, we avoid including pre-paid full board meals where possible. Local restaurants and cafes then benefit.
Our groups average only six clients, and many tours operate on a private basis with just two travelers. This has much less impact when traveling through rural areas, reducing our environmental and social affects. Finally to emphasis our commitment to Responsible Tourism all clients will receive a copy of our Travelers Code of Conduct with their travel documents.