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Last Updated on 13/06/2021
Tours are a wonderfully hassle-free way to see the world. Whether it’s a big trek or a small excursion, your itinerary is, for the most part, sorted and all you need to do is turn up. Tours make the world a more accessible place, but they can also exploit the countries they operate in, and it’s the environment and poorer communities that suffer the most.
Travel should never be about suffering. The only impact a tourist should make on a country is a positive one, which is why choosing a responsible tour operator is so important. Responsible tour operators are sensitive to the needs of the community and environment they visit and work accordingly to benefit them.
These travel companies immerse you in the culture by employing local staff and services. Money is then fed into the local economy and it creates business opportunities at a grassroots level. Sustainability is also a core value of every responsible tour operator with most choosing to go low impact or carbon-neutral to protect the environment. In a nutshell, these companies are all about responsible tourism.
How to ensure the tour operator is responsible
Travelling with responsible tour operators is a rewarding experience as they care about people and planet!
Here are some key steps you can take when choosing a responsible travel company:
- Research the tour company. Spend time going through their website and policies. A responsible and ethical tour operator will tell you about their accreditations.
- Their policies should reflect the World Tourism Organisation on sustainable tourism. If you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to contact the company and ask for some more clarity about their business model.
- Read reviews about the tour operator and find out what other people have been saying about them. Reviews can give you a little bit of outsider knowledge about who they are, what to expect and how they handle criticism.
- Observe what kind of tours the company is offering. Are there any elephant rides or lion walks? If so, it’s not a responsible tour operator.
- Observe how the local communities are being portrayed. Instead of excursions to schools and orphanages, do they advertise social enterprise programs that keep families together?
- Don’t take anything at face value. Responsible tourism sells because tourists want to put their money into something good. Unfortunately, this has created a rise in greenwashing. Any tour operator can say they’re responsible when they’re not because they know it will put money in their pockets!
Key practices of a responsible tour operator
- Favouring programs that work to keep families together over the exploitation of vulnerable people, including children.
- Making use of locally run and sustainable accommodation.
- Avoiding the use of wild animals for human entertainment.
- Employing local staff who are appropriately paid and trained.
- Taking measures to minimise its environmental impact.
- Supporting social enterprises and environmental programs.
11 of the best responsible tour operators in the world
Without further ado, here are some of the best travel companies that are making travel a force for good around the world. Check them out:
1. Intrepid Travel
Intrepid Travel was the first global tour operator to remove elephant rides from their trips. A carbon-neutral travel company, they have invested more than £2.5m into global grassroots projects addressing issues such as healthcare, education, community development and animal welfare.
As part of their Namaste Nepal campaign, Intrepid donated 100% of their profits from a Nepal trip to help rebuild the country’s economy after the earthquake in 2016.
Leaders in child protection and gender equality; they have removed school and orphanage visit from their tours and set a goal to double their number of female tour guides by 2020. They exceeded their target six months early in 2019!
All Intrepid Travel tours come in a variety of different themes from walking to cycling and even family. Take a 20-day tour of Antarctica from £8,900 GBP per person or trek through Madagascar for 13 days from £1,863 GBP per person!
Did you know Nepal is one of the world’s most sustainable destinations? You can find out why here!
2. Byway Travel
Photo credit: Connor Mollison
Byway is a UK-Based tour operator that specialises in tailored, self-guided trips around the UK and parts of Europe. It’s particularly unique in that it only focuses on slow travel experiences and avoids trips that involve flying. Byway’s tours allow you to find enjoyment in travelling overland via train or boat. All their trips take you off-the-beaten-path to lesser-known attractions and hidden gems.
On top of their no-fly holiday ethos, Byway aims to be as sustainable as they can by booking accommodation that’s kind to the community and environment. Their dedicated team will also help you organise activities with a more positive environmental impact.
This sustainable travel company is also on track to become a Certified B Corporation. B Corps are businesses that balance purpose and profit. They work to ensure that their impact on staff, suppliers, community and environment is a positive one.
All Byway Travel tours are completely customisable to your preferences. You can build a holiday that’s tailored to you or you can find an existing one you like the sound of and tweak it how you like. A popular tour is their 10-Day Scottish Highlands & Islands Itinerary which costs about GBP£1,257 per person.
3. G Adventures
G Adventures work with The Planeterra Foundation a non-profit organisation committed to helping communities earn an income from tourism. Partnering with Planeterra, G Adventures helped fund Women on Wheels, a project in India to get more women to become self-sustaining professional drivers.
Wanting to get a better understanding of how their tours were impacting the communities they visited, they created The Ripple Score. Each trip is evaluated on how much it provides for the local economy and monitored for improvements.
The travel company collaborated with the International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University to develop a set of international guidelines for interacting with indigenous communities.
They also work with The Jane Goodall Institute running ethical nature-based tours and wildlife experiences.
G Adventures has got a small group tour to suit every interest and style. Do a 28-day Australia/Pacific tour from £3,699 GBP per person or keep it short and sweet with a 7-day Iceland tour from £1,479 GBP per person. You can discover their latest travel deals here.
4. Much Better Adventures
Much Better Adventures ensure that at least 80% of the cost of a trip is given back to the local economy. Working with the climate change charity Cool Earth, the company helps protect threatened primary rainforest through carbon mitigation. To date, they’ve saved 83 acres of rainforest which amounts to 19,920 trees in total.
Backing important conservation initiatives is a strong part of their core values and they work with non-profits, NGO’s, conservationists and activists to raise awareness of important issues.
One such project led them on a rafting trip down the Vjosa, Europe’s last free-flowing river to raise awareness of the controversial plan to dam it up!
Much Better Adventures have 126 trips to choose from spanning Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. Kayak and Wild Camp for two nights in the Norwegian Fjords from £371 GBP per person or trek the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia for 8 nights from £1,109 per person.
5. Rickshaw Travel
Rickshaw Travel pride themselves on ensuring that all trips have a positive and meaningful impact on the traveller and local communities alike. Just some of their incredible experiences include a visit to the Elephant Nature Park, a proudly ethical elephant sanctuary near Chiang Mai in Thailand.
Another trip includes an excursion deep into the Sumatran jungle in Indonesia. The tour was originally created out of concern for the impact that illegal logging was having on the jungle.
Many loggers were local and trying to earn a living so bringing tourists into the area created employment opportunities and improved the local economy. A prime example of ecotourism and travel being a force for good.
Rickshaw Travel offer holidays in Asia and Southeast Asia, North, Central and South America. Join a 12-day Taste of India tour from £1,425 GBP per person or discover Bhutan and The Land of the Thunder Dragon for 7 days from £1,598 GBP per person. All trips are flexible and can be tailored to your needs.
6. Undiscovered Mountains
Undiscovered Mountains is a small tour operator that specialises in sustainable trips to the Alps using local tour guides, businesses and accommodation. Travellers can take part in their winter eco-challenge in which they build and sleep in an igloo for a night.
Commonly known as the ‘igloo expedition’, it’s bookable as an activity on any of their winter holidays in the Southern French Alps. The challenge was launched to promote a more sustainable focus on winter tourism outside of ski resorts.
For every challenge completed, 50€ is given to the charity, Tourism Concern.
Specialising in the Alps, Undiscovered Mountains do a range of adventure holidays from wildlife, walking and cycling tours. Choose from guided or self-guided including a Gourmet Alpine Walking Holiday from 1162€ per person.
7. Adventure Alternative
Based in Northern Ireland, Adventure Alternative leads travellers up some of the most iconic mountains in the world. Promoting responsible travel across the globe, they work to bring the benefits of tourism to the local community by employing and training local guides with the possibility of career progression.
‘Alternative’ refers to their business model – they run their own operations instead of outsourcing clients. As part of their initiative to help disadvantaged communities, the company set up their own sister NGO, Moving Mountains, which offers grants to remote and struggling villages.
Adventure Alternative offers a range of adventure holiday experiences including treks, mountain climbs, volunteering and safari expeditions. Do a 15-day Wild Borneo trek and visit the Sarawak tribes, Mulu Park and Batang Ai all for just £1,815 GBP per person.
Tailor-made luxury travel company, Aracari, specialises in trips to Peru, Bolivia and the Galapagos. Conscious travel is at the heart of their business and they work to create a luxury experience that is sensitive to the needs of both the environment and local communities.
Their trips focus on educating travellers about cultural best practices, promoting community-run projects and supporting non-profits such as tree planting programs.
Serious about their environmental responsibility, Aracari provides all their guests with reusable water bottles and any brochures and leaflets are printed on FSC certified and recycled paper.
Do a 15-day Galapagos Luxury Trip and Peru from US$12,014 per person or a Classic Luxury Trip to Peru for US$5,245 per person. All trips and itineraries are fully customisable to you!
9. Better Places Travel
Better Places Travel is one of the best sustainable travel companies because it creates personalised travel experiences that are also carbon neutral. This Netherlands-based tour operator works to minimise the environmental impact not only on the destination you travel to but also by offsetting your flight emissions to get there.
It’s a social enterprise that is committed to making a positive impact above making a profit. Working with local tour guides and travel agents, the company offers their guests an authentic cultural experience. Accommodation is family-run and ecolodges are used whenever possible (you can read about the best ecolodges in the world here).
Reducing plastic is a big part of their values and they are committed to running trips that are single-use plastic bottle free. They encourage all travellers to pledge the same and only pack eco-friendly travel gear.
100% tailor-made tour operators, Better Places Travel allows you to create your perfect bespoke trip. Favourite trips include a 20-day Jordan Impact Trip and a 20-day Cuba Impact Trip. Contact a travel agent and receive a tailor-made proposal.
Explore is a small-group tour company that operates in 130 destinations across the globe. They work with the local community to create an authentic experience for their guests that is both ethical and eco-friendly.
Their passion for people and animal welfare has led them to support a number of charities including Cool Earth, Send a Cow, Water-to-Go and Toilet Twinning.
Proud recipients of The Responsible Tourism Awards, British Travel Awards and Travel Trade Awards, they’re deeply committed to proving that responsible travel is both a rich and rewarding experience for all.
Explore offers a variety of trips and experiences including African Safari Holidays. Popular African safari tours feature a South Africa and Swaziland tour for 10 days from £1,260 GBP per person.
11. Sumak Travel
Sumak Travel is a social enterprise that puts people and the environment first. Specialising in community-based ecotourism trips (CBET) around Latin America, Sumak Travel’s mission is to establish a fair trade logic that benefits both guests and locals.
Guests pay a fair price to be given a tailored and high-quality experience while their hosts benefit from revenue and decent jobs.
Sumak works with grassroots organisations that offer accommodation, culture tours, authentic cooking and visits to local attractions. This business model provides communities with an additional source of revenue to complement their livelihoods.
Trips include a 16-day Journey to the End of the World Patagonia Tour starting from £2,395 GBP per person. All Sumak Travel tours can be tailored to your time and requirements to create the perfect trip for you.
Recap, how to find responsible travel companies (Video)
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