Responsible tourism: Painting vacation in Atlas Mountains, Morocco
In common with many parts of the world, both developed and developing, single-use plastic is a real issue in Morocco as plastic bags are routinely given with every purchase in shops and from street food vendors. For many years I have been trying to lead by example and always refuse carrier bags. I make every effort to minimise the occasions where they would be necessary and make sure my guets follow on this. When I refuse a plastic bag I always explain why I am doing so, often generating a lively conversation. Moreover these plastic bags often end up flying around the desert as litter, in a country with inadequate rubbish collection. When I visit beautiful and remote locations with and without my clients I aim to leave them cleaner than I found them in terms of litter and would not allow any client to drop litter, either intentionally or otherwise.
In most countries, education is key when it comes to the environment and where education is poor, leading by example is sometimes the most effective tool and can lead to small changes in local behaviour.
In Marrakech, the riad we stay in is a tastefully and sympathetically restored traditional old house which retains original features such as old tiles, fountains and mosaics. The hotels and auberges we use in the desert regions are made of adobe, a local and sustainable material which is warm in winter and cool in summer. They are built in traditional local style and decorated with locally produced handicrafts such as rugs and ceramics, many of which are very old.
While the accommodation is 'comfortable' and 'sumptious' in terms of decor it is not 'luxury' and I actively avoid hotels and rooms with air-con. Where necessary a fan is always my preference.
Travel in Morocco is always about the people, and it is usually a pretty full-on, absorbing cultural experience. From the beginning I make it very clear to my clients that we guests in a fascinating country whose customs and traditions might differ from ours. An open mind, tolerance, curiosity and respect are paramount on these trips, to enjoy them to the full and foster good relations with the people we meet.
We use a local, self-employed driver and stay in locally owned and run accommodation, employing local people. We eat from local restaurants and cafes,and buy food from local sellers and markets.
The small group size facilitates approachability and interaction with the locals, with mutual benefit. Conversations are encouraged where appropriate, as is purchasing from small establishments or individuals rather than bigger shops.
There is usually the option to visit both a handicraft co-operative and a cultural music experience during the trip as well as employing young locals as guides to show us around the kasbahs.