New guidelines seek to protect indigenous communities

New guidelines seek to protect indigenous communities

Indigenous tourism guidelines

An excerpt of some of the principles that are meant to serve as the basis for responsibly developing tourism products and experiences involving indigenous communities. Read More

A new set of indigenous tourism guidelines aims to ensure that tour operators and travel companies engage responsibly and sustainably with destinations so that visitors and locals alike can benefit from the growing interest among travelers in digging deeper into native cultures.

Seleni Matus, executive director of the International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University, said, “One of the things that was very important in our approach in developing these guidelines was that we sought to get first-hand feedback from indigenous suppliers.”

The institute partnered with G Adventures to research and publish the newly released Indigenous Tourism Guidelines, which is intended to serve as a guide for tour operators and travel companies that work with communities throughout the world.

G Adventures developed a tour that helps put clean stoves in the homes of Masai families in Tanzania.

Matus said that while there are plenty of responsible tourism guides for travelers, prior to the release of the Indigenous Tourism Guidelines report, there was nothing in the way of a guide or manual for tour operators.

“I think it’s important to recognize that these engagements between indigenous communities and travel companies are often not equitable,” she said. “One party is much more prepared than the other party. You are coming into a situation in which indigenous communities might not be treated as equal business partners.”

The concern, Matus said, is the potential for indigenous communities to be exploited. But, she said, if tour operators work to better incorporate those communities in the entrepreneurial process, offering them sustainable business opportunities, and if they work to better understand those communities’ priorities and values, the result will be improved relationships that will benefit all parties involved.

Peter Worthing

Peter Worthing

The reason there is a crucial need for such guidelines now, according to Peter Worthing, vice president of sales, USA, for G Adventures, is because there is such a growing demand from travelers to engage with indigenous communities. As a result, those communities could either benefit from tourism revenue or could be taken advantage of by travel companies.

G Adventures, together with its nonprofit arm, the Planeterra Foundation, sponsored the guidelines.

“As we, as travel companies, look for more and more unique experiences, it’s very dangerous and very easy to forget about who are providing these experiences,” Worthing said. “If we forget about that, we are going to stomp on all these wonderful things they have to offer.”

G Adventures sees the guidelines as part of a larger mission to address tourism-related issues and challenges. The company has already published an animal-welfare initiative, focused on encouraging more humane animal encounters. Following the indigenous communities outreach, the company plans on tackling the issue of children in tourism.

Now that the guidelines have been released, G Adventures and the George Washington University institute will be conducting a pilot testing period to see how the guidelines hold up in the field. The findings from the pilot are expected to be released later this year.

Matus said interest in the guidelines has been very high, with numerous operators and representatives of indigenous communities already having approached the authors about how to use the publication as a policy tool.

In Morocco, G Adventures helped develop the Meknes Community Lunch to foster women’s rights.

In Morocco, G Adventures helped develop the Meknes Community Lunch to foster women’s rights.

Worthing said, “In general, if the industry isn’t more aware of [this issue], they need to become so rapidly,” adding that he hopes the guidelines will be the catalyst for starting to have more serious conversations about the issue. 

“Companies are realizing that tourism needs to be for the betterment of everybody involved,” Worthing said. “Not just the travelers, not just the company that’s making the profit but for the world in general. At the end of the day, we have the greatest opportunity for the redistribution of wealth in the world through travel. It really can be a complete change for the better for everybody involved.”

The full Indigenous Tourism Guidelines report can be found online.

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