Local tours & responsible tourism


At Responsible Travel, we work with operators big and small, between them covering just about every country in the world. You don’t have to book with a local operator to ensure that you support local communities; just about all of our vacation companies employ local guides and many also use local tour leaders. They will often stay in locally run accommodation and eat at local restaurants. And many of our UK-based companies actually hire local tour operators – also known as ground handlers – to run the vacation for them, so in many ways the final experience for the traveler will be very similar.

However, by booking directly with a local tour operator, not only are you paying less, but a much greater percentage of your money will be staying in the country, funding local salaries and paying for local goods and services.

It also ensures that you are supporting not just local employees – such as guides and drivers – but local entrepreneurs and businesses. Tourism is a fantastic industry for creating jobs in places with high unemployment, in developing countries and in rural areas – but so often these jobs can be unskilled, and local people often fail to find work as managers or company directors. With a local operator, you are supporting these tourism entrepreneurs, and showing local people that they can make that jump in their careers.
“If people travel with a local tour company, they are dealing with a person who lives there and who belongs there. And the communities that they visit – they feel a sense of ‘belongingness’ to the business. They have a say, they have power, they have authority on what they are providing to the tourists, and this means they will also protect their environment. They will not think it belongs to someone else.”

– Eskinder Hailu, from Highway Tours, our local operator in Ethiopia
Another important point to consider is what happens when things go wrong – not for travelers, but for local people. In recent years the Caribbean island of Dominica has been virtually flattened hurricane, Nepal has suffered a devastating earthquake and the whole of Africa has been crossed off many travelers wish lists due to the perceived threat of Ebola. Many UK-based travel companies will have suffered as a result of these disasters, but they can choose to promote different regions, move staff elsewhere, and recoup their losses in other ways. A Nepal-based trekking company has no choice but to sit it out – waiting for trails to reopen, hoping the negative publicity doesn’t deter future travelers and trying to rebuild their own homes and lives at the same time as their business is struggling.
“Really, in this time after the earthquake we need more responsible travelers to Nepal. They benefit local people, buy local products, create jobs, and allow us to rebuild the earthquake damaged houses. They play a lot of vital roles.”

– Keshav Karki, from our Nepal-based supplier, Manakamana Treks
However, it is also important to note that many of our larger, UK-based operators also employ local companies. In the case of Nepal, they were able to act as vital middlemen following the 2015 earthquake, booking trips for the following season while the local people were far too busy dealing with the day-to-day traumas and devastation, so that once the next trekking season rolled around and the trails opened once again, they were able to continue trading, local guides and porters still had work, and essential income was not lost. Several companies also started collecting donations, and supported Nepalese people they worked with directly in rebuilding their homes.

Local operators, too, may have set up community or environmental initiatives – and as people who live and may have grown up in these areas, you can be sure that they are worthwhile and needed by the community – rather than being developed as someone overseas thought it sounded like a good idea.

Responsible tourism in our reviews


“People in Nepal count a lot on tips which in this time is a great help for people. After the earthquake and with the border being closed from India's side Nepal really needs people to come and visit. A lot of hotels were empty and you coming to visit plays a great role. Nepal is very conscious about plastic which I find great. I kept filling up my water bottle and tried to make sure I dispose of all plastic appropriately.” Endija Skopane, on a Nepal trekking vacation in January 2016

“Our operator incorporated where ever possible that local people would benefit from the tour. At all times precautions were taken to conserve and reduce impact to the environment. I am a frequent traveler and have done many overland and organize trip in the past, by far these were the best I have used. The countries visited were more than I could have ever imagined and the people I met along the way will always stay with me. It's a 10 out of 10.”Jennifer Rousseau, on safari in Namibia and Botswana

“It was clear that the Itinerance walking vacations were very important to the local economy, yet at the same time organised in a way that was very friendly to the local environment.”

Nick Lampert, Mercantour family walking vacation, France
“The hospitality and friendliness of the staff... We were looked after so well. I really liked the way the tourism contributed to the community and had provided amenities such as ambulance and refuse collection and also ran a charity to help older girls get a high school education funded.”James Osborn, Kasbah du Toukbal

“We were delighted that all the guides and staff were local and not brought in from elsewhere. They were passionate about their country and had strong and thoughtful views about how tourism should develop in Croatia. It was noticeable that the staff had been with the local company for years and it was giving them a sustainable living… and they always used very good local family restaurants. Where possible, both tourists and staff used the most environmentally method of travel. One even commuting to work each day only by bike and canoe.” Daniel Banghamon a kayaking vacation in Croatia

“The evidence of their successful projects is displayed on the dining room wall and the booklet in the rooms lets you know how you can help, without being too pushy. The Berber culture is not only respected but enhances your stay.”Nicola and Chris, on a walking vacation in the Atlas Mountains
Photo credits: [Ethiopia, making a basket: Rod Waddington] [Nepal, quote: SCILLA KIM] [Mercantour, donkey trek: Itinerance Trekking] [Help desk box: Ninara]
Written by Vicki Brown
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