Responsible tourism: Painting vacation in Sri Lanka, 10 days
Environmental and wildlife concerns are my passion and I travel as sensitively and sustainably as I can, with and without clients. The small group size helps to limit our environmental and cultural impact.
On joining a sketching vacation I provide my clients with a sustainably-produced sketchbook from Khadi paper imported (and fairly traded) from India.
Littering is a particular bugbear of mine and can be a problem in developing countries. I come down very heavily on any client or driver who litters in front of me. I am currently seeking local anti-litter organisations/campaigns to become involved with and the recent appearance of recycling facilities in Sri Lanka is a welcome sight which I go out of my way to use and support.
I drink tap water whenever and wherever it is safe to do so in a concerted effort to avoid plastic bottles and I encourage my clients to do the same. Where this is not possible I discourage the buying of small size bottles and advise the use of reusable water carriers into which we can decant from a large vessel.
On Sri Lankan trips a visit to a sea turtle project is part of the itinerary. The project is in a beach settlement called Kosgoda. It is very small and run with the help of volunteers, donations and the entrance fee. The staff and helpers rescue turtles which could not survive in the wild (eg those that have become blinded or badly injured) along with hatching and releasing eggs. Despite being badly damaged by the tsunami in 2004 this small project trundles on and is always keen and proud to show visitors the good work they do.
Many of the hotels we use are attempting to reduce their environmental footprint and have their own policies. Most of the accommodations used have fan cooled rooms as opposed to air conditioning and one produces its own organic vegetables.
Where whale watching is offered I carefully vet the operators to ensure they are behaving in a responsible and sustainable way and make sure they are aware of the reasons they have been chosen.
All clients are issued with a 'Facts about the country' information sheet at or before the time of booking which outlines cultural considerations such as what to wear and how to handle the inevitable attention received while painting. I am always quick to point out whose country we are visiting and that we have a responsibility to adapt as far as possible to the culture of the host country and not expect them to adapt to us (beyond common politeness and decency of course!) Cultural differences are very much part of the fun and interaction is always encouraged. This is pointed out in the pre-booking literature and traveling with an open mind is always emphasised.
Visits to local craft co-operatives and small art-related businesses are always included where possible. I always encourage buying items such as souvenirs and snacks from the smallest establishments and neediest people whilst emphatically discouraging donating to child-beggars which is nearly always perpetrating an undesirable and unnecessary lifestyle in the places we visit. I would always suggest giving an endearing child onlooker a quick sketch rather than a pen!
All the accommodation we use and restaurants we eat in are locally owned, locally run and employ local staff. They are all small establishments and not part of a large chain or franchise. The food is local in style and uses home-grown produce, cooked in the traditional style.
i use only local, self-employed drivers and guides and like to support new enterprises started by young people struggling to raise themselves out of poverty. These enterprises are emerging all the time and I aim to identify them as they appear and where possible, incorporate them into the itineraries.