It’s that time of year again. 27 September is World Tourism Day, where we celebrate everything to do with travel. Things are a little different this year, but that won’t stop us. We live in an everchanging world, where issues of sustainable travel and animal welfare are becoming important factors in customers choosing who to travel with and where to travel to. And rightly so. In this article, we’ll explain what On The Go Tours does to leave as small a footprint as possible in the destinations we visit, and to help both people and wildlife thrive.
Many of our destinations are home to some of the most fragile ecosystems and threatened wildlife on the planet. Tourism is often the lifeline for these ecosystems. It gives the local people a reason to preserve them, so they can earn a living from the tourism industry. We take our responsibilities to wildlife very seriously and have implemented a number of steps to protect these precious habitats and the species that call them home. We also avoid using local companies which exploit captive animals, such as “tiger temples” in Thailand and elephant rides in India.
One of the biggest draws to India is the chance to see a tiger in the wild. India has done a remarkable job at bringing tigers back from the brink of extinction, and numbers are actually on the rise in many parts of the country. But the tiger is still at risk from poachers, as well as habitat loss and population fragmentation.
That’s why we’re proud to be a member of Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFTigers). This organization advocates for better protection for the tiger and its forest home, partly through sustainable travel. TOFTigers “work as a changemaker with governments, communities and the private sector, to advocate, plan, support and fund the protection, conservation and rewilding of natural wilderness”. For every traveller that joins our Shere Khan India tour, which visits the tigers at Ranthambore National Park, we pledge a donation to TOFTigers. These funds are helping to ensure that these majestic animals have a secure future in India.
Trunks & Leaves
The Asian elephant is a stalwart of any trip to Sri Lanka. Yala National Park is home to the highest density of wild Asian elephants in the world. Across the country, Udawalawe, Bundala and many other national parks are also home to healthy wild populations. And this is how the elephant should be seen, in the wild, living free. Unfortunately, the lives of many Asian elephants in Sri Lanka, Thailand and India are not as free. Elephant rides remain commonplace at places such as Amber Fort in Jaipur, India. Captive elephants are still paraded through the streets of Kandy during the annual Kandy Festival in Sri Lanka. And many so called “sanctuaries” actually mistreat their animals, keeping them in chains.
This is why we have recently partnered with the organisation Trunks & Leaves. We have taken a pledge to ensure we only engage in ethical elephant experiences. We were one of the first tour operators to end elephant rides and we no longer run group tours to the Kandy Festival. The only places you’ll see elephants on tour with us are in national parks, where the animals are free and safe from human persecution. The funding from our visits to these national parks also helps to protect them from future development, ensuring ethical tourism thrives in Sri Lanka.
For many travellers to Egypt, Morocco and other places, camel trekking is a bucket list activity. Camels have been domesticated by people in these countries for hundreds of years. We still offer camel rides in some of our destinations, but we have strict criteria to ensure the welfare of the animals.
In Morocco, we use a local supplier who meets our stringent animal welfare requirements. The camels only carry our travellers a short distance to our Sahara Desert camp and they are fed and watered at each end. On our longer trekking adventures in the country, the camels are not ridden by our travellers. They only carry supplies and one camel without any baggage always accompanies the party, in case bags need to be swapped between animals. In Egypt we no longer include camel rides on the majority of our Signature tours, although they are still offered by local businesspeople at the Pyramids.
In both countries, the camels are generally the sole livelihood of their owners. Therefore, it is in their own interests that the animals are well looked after. This ensures the camels remain healthy and able to earn their owners a living.
Helping local communities
As well as the wildlife, we also work hard to ensure that local communities benefit from our tours. When you travel on any Signature tour with us, you can be comfortable in the knowledge that 70% of your holiday money stays in the destination you visit.
Where possible, we always use locally-owned hotels and restaurants. This puts money into the pockets of local people, helping them to support their families. All of our guides are also English-speaking locals. This is good for you because they know their destination inside out, and it’s good for them because they get to earn a wage by showing you around the places they love. We also operate several destination specific programmes to help local people.
Cambodia tree planting
All our Signature tours in Cambodia visit the small village of Preak Dak, located around eight kilometres from Siem Reap. The majority of the villagers here are on low incomes, so we plant fruit trees such as mango and jack fruit in the local vicinity. This gives our travellers a chance to experience rural Cambodian life, whilst also giving the local people a source of food and produce that they can sell. The saplings we plant are sourced from local growers, further benefiting the rural economy. As these trees grow, they also take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This helps to reduce our carbon footprint and contributes to the battle against climate change. Our aim is to plant around 3,000 trees, covering an area of 20 hectares.
Change for Children
Anyone who has travelled to India with us will know about our Change for Children programme. We encourage our travellers to donate unwanted rupees, which we then put to use helping two schools in Rajasthan. On many of our trips we actually pay a visit to one of these schools. Here, our travellers can meet the students and see where their money is going. We also encourage travellers to bring educational items such as crayons and paper to donate during their visit. At the Abhaneri Primary School, female students now have their own toilet block thanks to the generous donations from On The Go Tours travellers.
As a tour operator, we have a responsibility to ensure that local people and wildlife thrive in the destinations we visit. We are always looking for new ways to help. If you’d like more information about the issues discussed in this article, then please head to our Sustainable Travel page.