Sustainable tourism - social enterprise
Our vision has been to run a sustainable tourism business that allows everyone who is involved in providing a holiday to share in the economic benefits.
We know that at a local level tourism can really improve people's lives so we work closely with local people and help them develop a holiday that is well run and provides a high quality experience for our visitors.
A key strategy of ours is to promote the idea of social enterprises in the areas where we work and to develop local social entrepreneurs with the revenue and potential of tourism. We do this by building a long term trust with our partners and investing in a way which reflects the culture of the place and needs of the community. We provide clients and help develop products, and ensure the local company becomes a DMC (destination management company) for other tour operators who are bringing tourists.
When the company began in the early 1990s the name was supposed to describe the alternative model for a travel company, although now it is much more mainstream. The 'alternative' idea for sharing the spoils of tourism and helping create long term sustainable benefits came about because of Gavin's own personal experiences and friendships made during many years of travelling and climbing around the world.
As long as the main tenets of equitable salaries (based on a proper measurement of the cost of living in that country) are upheld and their price is not just determined by what is cheapest, then we will continue to support the local company with training, resources and mentoring.
We firmly believe that local operators should be able to compete equitably, and without having to adopt the lowest price just to get the business. Holiday makers want quality and value for their holiday, and tourism will only be sustainable in developing countries when the tourist dollar is allowed to properly fill the pockets of every one in the supply chain.
Sustainable tourism as social enterprise
All of the companies are run as profit-making ventures but their character is more of a social enterprise. Where possible we try to ensure that every holiday has an identifiable local benefit, and this is connected to Moving Mountains which is a non-profit that Gavin set up to manage many community projects and developmental programmes and complement the revenue that the company was bringing.
The non-profit organisation 'MM' provides capital investment into infrastructure and facilities like electricity, machinery and buildings; the company 'AA' then generates revenue from tourism for the local stakeholders to get an income and build on the business opportunity. Nepal is a great example, this article from scholar Dr Jonathon Day explains why.
We emphatically endeavour to be a socially conscious tour operator, creating long term benefits in social value from our holidays for our local partners and owners. We think of this as 'value' and 'quality' in a holiday, as much as we aim for high standards in guiding and management.
Sustainable tourism - investing in local communities
We have run many successful tourism projects which are a result of community organizations and businesses working together to generate financial and social profit for the entire community. In many cases there was no such environment before we came along, for example in the villages in Nepal and in western Kenya.
Communities love to share what they love about where they live, and of course they also like to make money and develop themselves. In developing countries this has not always been traditionally possible because of exploitative attitudes. We have a model that thinks in terms of social capital as well as financial return, and we think in long term chunks of time. We want to create a vibrant local economy with our holidays, but we also aim to sustain traditional customs and ways of life by committing ourselves for decades. Crucially that means not walking away when times are difficult.
The idea of community led tourism is not new, but it is inherent in our business model. Nowadays there is a lot of interest in sustainable tourism and in how holidays can have a positive impact on the places we visit. The debate is of course dominated by the fact that flights in themselves generate carbon emissions that are harmful to the atmosphere, but clearly holidays will not just stop. At the very least we can mitigate that irreversible fact with our business model and how we can best improve the circumstances of the people who make the holiday happen.
Apart from doing what we think is the right thing to do, which is essentially doing ‘good business’, we also find that it is a lot more enjoyable and has created many friendships along the way, and some great memories of this journey we have all been on together.
Sustainable tourism - investing in small businesses
We are very loyal to small businesses and enterprises such as local hotels we use which compete with the larger chains. Of course we provide clients, but we also help with investment in facilities and helping to raise standards. In some cases we become business partners.
For example we have been working with the Blue Line Hotel on the slopes of Mount Kenya for nearly twenty years now, and a few lodges in the Khumbu and we have invested in the Lupa Masa eco lodge on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu. All these small outlets have really benefitted from us and other companies using their facilities.
In remote areas we helped to set up co-operatives and business enterprises, for example Bumburi in the solu Khumbu was a dying village in an area which had no access to tourism. We worked with the villagers to improve facilities and offered homestays and trekking holidays below the popular areas near Mount Everest. We provided investment and a long term strategy which included oil and flour producing businesses, a tea plantation and IT.
Over a period of years the village has grown through sustained income from tourism and this has led to an increased quality of life. Now it is a thriving area, and the entrepreneurial spirit has established its own momentum. At the same time we still employ local villagers on our treks to ensure that new money is constantly entering the economy.
Sustainable tourism - investing in people
It is a main concern of ours that an employee in any of our satellite offices should have the opportunity to create a long term career out of tourism and receive funding and encouragement to grow within the company. We actively promote this vision of equality in the workforce which has been hugely rewarding as well as a diverse and colourful challenge.
Investing in the training and development of staff has enabled the operation to grow organically. Each company has its own organic growth journey, and our role is to adapt each support package for each organisation and culture. This challenge has given us a lot of great memories and fun over the years. It has also given its fair share of disappointments and failures.
In general the staff are proud that they are taking part in a good model of tourism. With a good salary and long term employment, they can afford a good lifestyle and are keen to provide an authentic holiday for our clients.