Responsible tourism isn’t just something we talk about here on the Buffalo Tours blog but something we practice in all that we do as a company. We sat down with Regional Product Manager, Ed Pettitt, to discuss how responsible travel practices are considered when creating our unique range of tours across Asia.
As both a long-term expat of Asia and Buffalo Tours Product Manager, what does responsible tourism mean for you?
For me and my colleagues, both locals and expats, Asia is home. We live in our destinations and so for us it’s not just work. When we talk about responsible tourism, it’s a little bit closer to home for us. We want to make sure the communities, and our friends, family and those we work with, are all protected. We want to make sure they are protected for the next generation.
And we want to protect the places that we love, that we chosen to live in. So responsible tourism is a bit of a no brainer. I think sometimes it can be overcomplicated but all tourism, if done right, should be responsible tourism.
At Buffalo Tours we are incredibly proud of our responsible tourism initiatives. Can you tell us about the importance of it within the product department?
In the product team we are always trying to create new experiences for our clients. We are trying to give them something truly authentic and unique to add to their holiday. We know that there is a lot of competition out there and we know that people can do a lot of things on their own. What we can give is that deeper level of interaction and give people the opportunity to make a positive impact on their holiday.
The importance of that in developing products is that it is easier to make something unique, easier to give back and easier to add in that interaction if we make our products responsible. It’s easy to make a point of difference if you are going to go and speak with young monks over a cup of tea in Luang Probang, and when we are sourcing bakery items from an NGO in Siem Reap. By adding in these points of difference, that are inherently responsible, we are creating a win for ourselves, a win for the community and a win for the client.
How does responsible tourism fit into your decision making process when creating new tours?
It allows us to be creative, not run of the mill. We have a 10 step guide for every product that we go through before launching, developed by Graham Harper who is our responsible travel director. So, when we are looking to launch a new homestay or a walking route through a local village, we go through all sorts of questions.
For example, could we use local transport? Could we include a local meal at a street food joint? Could we include a tea or coffee at a local stand to talk with someone? What simple ways can we put money back into the local community?
We also have more focused questions: are there any animals on this tour? Will there be an elephant encounter? If the answer is yes, has this supplier passed our elephant audit? There are questions that relate to the community too. Namely, are we impacting the community in a positive way? Based on the answers to these questions, we will go back and check every aspect of the tour and whether we can make it more responsible.
We work with a number of local NGOs across Asia. How do you go about finding these great enterprises?
Every one of our product team members has been introduced to the importance of responsible travel and based on the connections we already have with local NGOs or otherwise, they know to look out for more. We keep our eye out all the time and do our research. We read articles and we link up with people, asking them how best we can align our goals. Can we bring our clients through their enterprise? Or maybe we can simply make a donation. We’ve definitely fostered an atmosphere of sharing ideas and people will come into the office all the time saying ‘I met this guy’ or ‘we should talk to this organisation’.
How do you fit these responsible travel focuses seamlessly into the overall experience?
We understand that there is probably only a small demographic who are actively seeking out solely responsible travel tours and we try not to label anything too strongly. We want to add these elements in so that we can introduce ideas to clients without lecturing or making it the sole focus of the trip. We want them to learn something but we also want them to ultimately enjoy themselves and the destination they are in. We want to make cool products, products that focus on interaction. If our clients go back home with a better understanding of what positive impact means, then we have done our job.
Tell us about a tour that you think exemplifies this.
In the Chau Long district of Saigon, the oldest part of the city, you’ll find these beautiful old communal houses from the Chinese community who moved over in the late 17th and 18th century. When considering a responsible focus for this tour, we didn’t just walk into any of the houses but found a communal house that is actually in need of repair and has a custodian whose family has been the custodians of the house since it was built. This guy has a passion for talking about the history of the houses and has a connection to the Communal House Protection Fund, which we give a donation to on our visit. We try and not choose the simplest route, but the one that leads to a better interaction for all people involved.
Is responsible tourism something you see clients caring a lot about prior to arriving in Asia?
I think the answer here is that no one wants to be practicing irresponsible tourism and in that respect, yes, everybody hopes to be a responsible traveller. The difference between hopes and actions is in the knowledge that our clients have of what is appropriate, of what the history and issues are facing the culture they are seeking. That’s where we try and step in. We do the hard work for our clients, by doing the research and seeking out the best initiatives and organisations. They may not be passionate about it before they arrive, but when they leave they are. Many clients express how pleased they are that they chose us for this very reason.
How do you share this knowledge and passion with our clients?
We do so by talking about it, online and offline, directly with our clients. It’s a huge part of our branding and our guides live and breath responsible tourism. We are confident in the fact that our clients are being led through their trip by someone truly passionate about protecting their country and culture.
And finally, what do you see as the next step in responsible tourism for Buffalo Tours?
This year was the inaugural Buffalo Tours Travel Awards and the two winners came up with ideas that will change tourism within their destinations for years to come. We hope that each year hereafter, our community will continue to find bigger and better ways to change our company and the industry as a whole.
Continue reading about responsible tourism on the blog and have your say in the comments below.