Adventure Alternative contributes to the local economy and spreads that income throughout the community by choosing carefully the people we work with and making agreements beforehand about how many clients we will bring and how much money the community will get from the visit. Our leader makes regular visits to the villages in order to ensure that we are not making unfair demands on the community and that our presence is both wanted and enjoyed.

In the Penan villages we spent years preparing the ground and building trust with the villagers before discussing the concept of bringing tourism to the area in order to help fund the projects they most wanted, those being education and forest enrichment to tackle the effects of logging. With Adventure Alternative, Moving Mountains Trust, is supporting the Penan people with these projects. Tourism is a completely new concept to them. The local benefits are to some extent unknown, we simply have to treat everything with great care and respect. We don’t condone exploitative tourism at all, we fundamentally believe that the community needs to extract more out of the tourism ‘contract’ than the visitor. Therefore, on one level the financial benefit is easy to quantify, but on another level we are exposing these people to a new way of life which we want to promote as a way in which to protect their heritage and culture. We have been successful with this in remote areas of the Himalaya and even Africa, but clearly this is a long term commitment and one that must combine all the theory surrounding community tourism and the practicality of bringing visitors to such a special area. If their habitat had never been endangered by the logging companies cutting down all the trees, then you could say that there would never be a need for tourism, but in this case tourism could in fact offer them a source of cash income as an alternative to being forced into the need to cut down trees for money.

The travel programme associated with these projects is our Picnic with the Penan trip which is supported by Adventure Alternative and run by the Penan people in Sarawak. Some of our other trips, such as BorneoCamp or University Adventure Borneo, include a visit to stay with the Penan as part of the itinerary, however with all other trips to Borneo we can schedule additional add-on expeditions, including a stay with the Penan.

We also ask leaders to work with a social impact questionnaire, which is mostly conducted in a verbal way and tries to keep a check on how the tourism is being accepted. If we felt that the impact was negative then we would stop the trips and work on how to improve the relationship with the indigenous tribes, but obviously this is always going to be an action in progress as things change.

This trip has been entirely thought out in terms of the local people and the impact upon them, and the benefit they can gain from having visitors. It’s not just a tourist trail, it really is an unusual adventure and one that we hope will help to transform the lives of these remarkable people. In that respect the trip falls within all the categories of the FairTrade Volunteering trademark, even if you are not actually volunteering to do some work in the jungle; the visit is still about making a positive impact on the people who live there.

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