Using a tour operator is a great way to travel the globe. It takes away all of the guess work on where to go, how to get there, and where to stay. Tour operators will most likely provide a guide as well, who can interpret a foreign language and generally organize the entire itinerary for you. It’s also an amazing way to meet new friends, and stay safe while traveling throughout an unknown country.
I had the immense pleasure of working for a few tour operators myself in a number of capacities, including sales, customer service and even as a guide. I can truly vouch for the benefits of travelling as part of a group organized by a tour operator.
Before signing up for a trip with a tour operator, keep in mind the following things to ensure your tour operator is as socially and environmentally responsible as possible.
The first thing you want to look for is whether or not the tour operator has some form of sustainability policy. This is a great sign, as they care enough about making a positive contribution to the local people, economy and environment that they’re willing to put it in writing. Related to this, a tour operator should have an animal welfare policy if they operate within an environment where viewing wildlife (wild or captive) is an essential part of their business. Making sure that the interactions with the animals are not exploitative, but rather, educates and help fund conservation efforts is an essential part of sustainable tourism. By travelling with tour operators with sustainability and animal welfare policies, you’re doing your part towards building a sustainable holiday.
The concept of sustainable tourism is centralized on its ability to stay local and ensuring your travel dollars stay within the country. This means tour operators should hire local guides over foreigners and pays them a fair wage. It also means the tour operator are using locally owned hotels (or possibly even community homestays and guesthouses). In doing so, you are choosing tour operators that benefits locals and contribute to the destination’s economy.
Giving back to local communities is another huge part of sustainable travel. Whenever possible, look for tour operators that find ways to positively contribute to local communities and use tourism as a way of elevating the lives of locals. A good example of this is with G Adventures. In addition to hiring local guides and using locally owned accommodation on their trips, they’ve also set up a non-profit foundation called Planeterra. The purpose of Planeterra is to support community projects across the globe through self-sustaining initiatives (meaning, they are not 100% reliant on donations for survival). For example, Planeterra helps fund community restaurants in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Uganda (as well as many others). G Adventures then takes its travellers to these restaurants, ensuring a steady flow of customers that the restaurant would otherwise find difficult to attract. Other projects include helping beaten and battered women in India by giving them an opportunity to make a living by organizing airport transfers in Delhi. In Nepal, they help victims of illegal sex trafficking by supporting an organization that helps these victims become paralegals. G Adventures and Planeterra have an aggressive target of establishing 50 new projects in 5 years (since 2015). I highly recommend you check out Planeterra’s website at www.planeterra.org, and read their impact reports.
Finally, if you can find a tour operator that has some form of third-party accreditation or endorsements, that’s a great sign. For example, Sustainable Travel International as well as the U.N. Environment Programme both work with tour operators to help green their operations to ensure their trips are in fact mitigating any negative impacts of travel, or perhaps even create positive ones.
From my experiences, both as a guide as well as a guest on trips organized by tour operators, travelling in groups is one of the most enriching ways to travel. Depending on who you choose to lead you, you can get up close to local communities, benefit from an authentic experience, live like a local, and truly have your eyes opened to the way travel should be. I’ve made countless friends from across the globe that I wouldn’t have gotten the pleasure of knowing if I had not traveled with a tour operator. Here at FairAway Travel, we are continuing to look for wonderful sustainable tour operators, and you can bet that any tour operators you find here in fact meet our criteria for sustainable travel.