Search results for: responsible travel

10 myths about responsible travelling

Most people I speak to haven’t heard of the concept/ approach of Responsible Tourism/ Travelling. Often I ask them what they think it is before I start explaining. Due to the wording many understand it has to do with a more aware travel form.

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Many also seem to have some judgements to the (fortunately increasingly popular) field of ethical consumption and philosophies of ‘making a difference’ somehow in the world. That can stem from various angles and perceptions.

To inform you a bit more about Responsible Travelling, I hereby post this this article from responsibletravel.com

How to become a responsible consumer?

In our times, public awareness about responsible consumption is fortunately increasing. And whether one is looking at the travel – (that I write a lot about), textile -, or food industry, similar points become clear:

In order to combat unethical production practices, it is essential that consumers get aware of the issues and understand their potential to change things for the better by using their purchase power. In this lays the notion that it is essential that consumers don’t expect that private sectors (corporations) and governments alone to take responsibility. The latter factor relates to a common reason for why irresponsible practices continue to thrive: the lack of an all-industry-stakeholders responsible approach.

Thus if consumers understood themselves as a crucially important stakeholder group, perhaps they’d be less passive and more aware of their power to positively impact on the production circle by taking a few aware actions.

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Here are 10 good advices for responsible consumption:

1. Like I wrote about in the previous post, the first action is simply gaining awareness. Get to know a little more about why the system we live in today is like it is. If you really care and wish it would be fairer for all of us, decide to engage somehow. Don’t avoid engaging due to a belief that your small actions won’t count. This is a common misconception that too many of us have, that ironically only benefits the system to continue being unfair.The more awareness you gain, the more you engage one way or another and the more others do too. It’s a lovely good circle to discover. 

2. When you start engaging, let the world know it. Social media platforms are wonderful channels for this purpose.

3. Strongly linked to the above: Discuss and debate the purpose of your engagement. Of course you can be a total fashion slave AND engaged in how the textile producers’ worker conditions. In fact it makes more sense to show that you care about ethical production the more interested you are in a product. This way you show the world that you reflect and understand how things are interrelated.

4. Find out what further engagement you can afford to take. For instance, if you have some favorite designers or tour operators you purchase from, or food chains you love, check out their CSR schemes, and google their names + topics like location of fabrics, production place, social responsibility, transparency etc. If you cant find enough information, email them about your concerns. Trust that your voice has a real impact!

5. Yes, I know. It may be both time-consuming and overwhelming to search for ethical and responsible companies. Therefore the good news are that many organisations and individuals have done a big part of the work for you already. Find out more about civil society organisations and initiatives within the sector you are interested in approaching more responsibly. Despite of being critised as slactivism in the media, believe me on this: It is better to sign online petitions than doing nothing. There are several proofs this has increased improved corporate & government action.

6. Buy ethical. Many (e.g. travel, clothing, food and technology) companies now a days have a well designed CSR scheme or show ethical credentials regarding the environment and local communities they affect. However, when you are now entering the ‘awareness world’ don’t believe everything you read at first glance. Take some time to browse various sources; jointly look at websites, NGO sites and media articles (or blogs) about products/ companies you’re interested in in order to avoid trusting the many wolves in sheep’s clothing out there.

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7. Support companies that are ‘ethical’ based on more than a few environmental credentials. Whatever industry you are purchasing products from, they are produced by human beings, and the sad truth is that most of these workers have few or none worker rights compared to our own. So, think about the environment yes, but look for companies that support workers rights and actively tell you what they assure of goods for their most vulnerable workers.

8. Whenever tragedies like the recent one in Bangladesh happens, get informed by, engage with and support organisations that work hard to teach us about this. Due to some of them and a long time pressure from the media and consumers, H&M, Tesco, Helly Hansen +++ actually just signed new agreements to OPENLY tell where all their production takes place. This means a tremendously lot for many poor workers in the ‘Global South’ and wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for social media and consumers’ engagement on top of civil society’s work. You can learn more about a very active and good organisation called Clean Clothes here

9. Get familiar with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and opinions about fair labour standards, which is the very core of the question of this blog post: Why become a responsible consumer? You can read about ILO here.

10. Lastly. Beware of the manipulative consumption industry and try to purchase less crap in general! 🙂

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Action against orphanage (volun)tourism

 

Oh joy, oh joy! Responsible Travel has chosen to remove orphanages voluntourism trips from its products. Based on the below issues of concern (among others) as taken from their website:

Importance of family setting vs. residential care
There is overwhelming evidence to show the detrimental impacts of residential care on the physical and emotional well being of children (UNICEF). The UN Convention of Rights of Children states that the family must be afforded the necessary assistance so that it can assume its responsibilities (of caring for children). Residential care should be the last resort.

Fuelling demand for orphans
Inadvertently, well intentioned volunteers are fuelling the demand for orphans. In Cambodia 74% of children in orphanages are not orphans. Almost all orphanages are funded by overseas donors, many of whom turn to volunteer tourism and train children to perform and attract donors (http://orphanages.no/). Watch the Al Jazeera documentary on ‘fake’ orphans here.

Volunteers are therefore creating a surge in orphanages, because parents are tempted to give up their children in response to the western ideal of education and upbringing. For example, with a population of less than 100,000, the town of Siem Reap, gateway to the famous ruins of Angkor Wat has 35 orphanages. Watch a documentary on this here. One even parades children late at night behind placards reading ‘Support Our Orphans’ as visitors drink and dine.

This UN report from West Africa identifies the need to protect children from ‘Orphan Dealers.’
“A January 2009 study by the Social Welfare Department – responsible for children’s welfare and supervising orphanages – showed that up to 90 percent of the estimated 4,500 children in orphanages in Ghana are not orphans and 140 of the 148 orphanages around the country are un-licensed.”

Emotional disturbance to children
Reseach from South Africa (‘AIDS orphan tourism: A threat to young children in residential care’) reveals the negative impacts of volunteers on the children.

“Institutionalised children will tend to manifest indiscriminate affection towards volunteers. After a few days or weeks, this attachment is broken when the volunteer leaves and a new attachment forms when the next volunteer arrives…repeated disruptions in attachment are extremely disturbing for children, especially very young children”.

Very few tourists are qualified to interact with traumatised or vulnerable children. Most volunteers do not have these skills or the training required.

This report from the BBC about Bali found that “As tourism has boomed in Bali, it has had a strange side-effect, doubling the number of orphanages on the island in 20 years. Tourists’ donations keep the orphanages going – but some are effectively rackets, exploiting children and holidaymakers alike”.

Displacing local staff from jobs
Volunteers are unintentionally crowding local people out of their jobs. This Human Sciences Research Council report concluded that … “there is a real danger of voluntourists crowding out local workers, especially when people are prepared to pay for the privilege to volunteer.”

Further reading and viewing:
Responsibletravel.com’s blog post
The Replace Campaign
http://orphanages.no/
Save The Children. Keeping Children out of Harmful Institutions
UNICEF Report from Cambodia
Watch a debate on the issues from World Travel Market Responsible Volunteering here.

My first reaction was obviously “it was about time”, maybe because organisations like Tourism Concern and Thinkchildsafe have tried to raise concern over this issue for a long time. Check for example this page:

 

However, I can’t say how glad I’m to finally be able to TAKE MY HAT OFF for Responsible Travel to pioneer as a travel agency on this crucial topic. BRAVO and KUDOS.

Burning Man here we come!

So hold the press motha f’ers: FINALLY IT’S CONFIRMED: WE ARE GOING TO BURNING MAN!

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photo creds: dailymail.co.uk

Oh God, how I’ve wanted this so badly for so long!! And as I wrote about a time ago, my long time beloved, yet distant, thus missed friend, Monika from Canada is FINALLY getting married to her Tom in the US mid September, which gives us the perfect opportunity to do a much wanted West-coast journey prior to the wedding, and maybe some more traveling in the region afterwards. As Burning man happens in the transaction of August / September, we instantly started dreaming about and planning how to for once get there.

Thing is with Burning man, tickets are sold out ages ago, and left overs or second hand tickets aren’t as easy to get for this fest as for many others. However. Thanks to my man’s industry contacts we didn’t even have to suffer much to get the tickets, because yesterday we got two left overs confirmed! I am soooo happy and excited and  just spent the morning reading advices for fresh men, looking at house cars, masks and bikes, temperatures etc.

So. What is so special with Burning man? As said on their official website; “trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind”... Fair enough.

That around 30,000 people leave their homes in order to live for a week or more in the middle of the dessert, far away from cities, shops, traffic and a hectic society, where the day is as hot as the nights are cold, may be weird to some. However, community is the word. The need to escape perhaps, but if so, with a desire of creativity, alternative life style or a more meaningful way of spending time on this planet. With a will to share love and open-mindedness with others. “Burners” as they are called after having been once, will never be the exact same person again, many claim.

Hah! Well, bring it on, I’m ready.

Personally since I discovered the festival through some random Norwegian media articles, I’ve kept an eye on Burning man, dreaming of once attending, mean while getting updated on the fest yearly through blogs, pictures and stories among friends that have been there..

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What happens during Burning man is that “once a year, tens of thousands of participants gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, having left no trace whatsoever”.

I mean, look at this:

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photo creds: festivalfling.com

One of the reasons of its success, as well as its uniqueness is that “Burning Man isn’t your usual festival, with big acts booked to play on massive stages. In fact, it’s more of a city than a festival, wherein almost everything that happens is created entirely by its citizens, who are active participants in the event”.

I like! All sounds very much like Responsible Travel and Consumption to me.

Still keen to learn more?

Here are the festival’s ten principles, as seen on the official website.

Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

Decommodification
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.

Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

Participation
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

Immediacy
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

Ha! To be continued then 😉

Da reiseluksusen ga meg nye perspektiver

For noen uker siden utdypet jeg påstanden om at vi som kommer fra land som Norge, ser på det å reise som et nødvendig og ganske selvsagt gode. Jeg tok opp at reising i nåtiden for de fleste av oss handler om noe mer enn ferie og rekreasjon, at det handler om selvrealisering, utfoldelse og utvikling. En slik situasjon bør i det hele tatt anses som luksuriøs, hevdet jeg, og påstod at det med luksusen kommer et ansvar.

I know. Kjedelig ord det der. Ansvar. I mangelen på et bedre begrep for det engelske konseptet Responsible Tourism, må jeg be dere ta til takke med ansvarlig turisme/reiseliv. Eventuelt etisk turisme/reiseliv. Slik også Ethical Travel beskriver det samme på engelsk.

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Britene har i det hele tatt skjønt poenget med ansvarlig reiseliv lenge før oss nordmenn; som her bekreftet av TV-stjerna Simon Reeve.

La det være sagt først som sist: Selv har jeg (og kanskje noen av de menneskene jeg var inne på i tidligere nevnt artikkel), kommet ut av tellinga hva angår utenlands ferieturer og lengre opphold i utlandet. Flyturene har rett og slett blitt pinlig mange i løpet av mitt voksne liv, og jeg planlegger ikke å stoppe dem i å bli enda flere. Hvorfor? Fordi jeg bare oppleve det verden har å by på!

I stedet for å gå videre inn på selvmotsigelsen om “å ta ansvar for klodens vel og ve selv når man reiser” og samtidig innrømme å fly så mye i det hele tatt, henviser jeg til en selvransakende post fra en stund tilbake om rollen som miljø(aktivist)svin.

I denne posten derimot, vil jeg ta opp hvordan jeg selv fikk øynene opp for dette med ansvarlig reiseliv gjennom egne reiser. Jeg har mange synspunkter om at selve industrien bør ta mer ansvar den også, for at reiseliv skal bidra til mer bærekraftig utvikling enn det gjør i dag – da spesielt i fattige land. De ble publisert i Dagsavisen for litt siden.

Først noen tall som kan sette den utbredte reisingen til oss nordmenn i perspektiv: Det anslås at kun 5% av klodens befolkning, altså 5% av over syv milliarder mennesker, har sittet på et fly én gang. Man kan kanskje tenke seg at det er vanskelig å regne ut verdensbefolkningens gjøremål på den måten, men de som har peiling på det hevder altså det er ganske enkelt å regne omtrentlige tall utifra kunnskap om den ekstremt skjeve fordelingen av rikdom på jorda.

Som påpekt i teksten om reising og selvrealisering, hevdes nordmenn å være blant de som flyr mest i hele verden. Tygg litt på det opp mot påstanden om at kun 5% av klodens befolkning i det hele tatt har sittet på et fly. Jeg vet ikke med dere, men personlig har slike tall – i tillegg til personlige reiseinntrykk og studier om fattigdom – gjort meg veldig ydmyk på mine eldre dager. For ikke å nevne hvor bevisst jeg har blitt på hvor heldig jeg er.

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Cuba, 2004

Jeg husker veldig godt når det sistnevnte skjedde meg for første gang. Det var etter et to måneder langt opphold i Kariben, som – i tråd med det jeg skrev i artikkelen Reising = selvrealisering  – naturligvis var en veldig lærerik og eventyrlig opplevelse.

For meg i alle fall. Og skulle man tro reisemarkedsføring er jo det det viktigste.

Neida. Når sant skal sies fikk tiden på Cuba meg til å stille noen høyst nødvendige spørsmål om verden jeg lever i, og min plass i den. På ganske kort tid ble jeg klar over at jeg nærmest tok for gitt de mulighetene jeg hadde til å realisere det som var en drømmelivsstil for min egen del.

I de utallige unge såkalte vertinnene jeg møtte (hvor i blant mange av dem kjapt viste seg å være prostituerte), så jeg etter hvert meg selv – om også jeg hadde vært født der. Etter å ha blitt veskenappet på åpen gate to ganger, skjønte jeg fort hva jeg ville bedrevet tiden med om jeg var i deres situasjon.

I møtet med meg selv som enda en – for dem– utenkelig velstående turist som trålte Havana gatelangs daglig, skjønte jeg at det overhodet ikke var min rett å overse de som ropte og løp etter meg i håp om å selge meg frukt eller suvenirer. I møtet med utallige flotte kubanere – som etterhvert som vi ble bedre kjent – fortalte meg om problemene sine og ba meg vennligst huske på dem når jeg dro, skjønte jeg hvor arrogant, bortskjemt og heldig jeg var.

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Det hjalp nok også at venninna mi kjente folk som Pedro fra et tidligere besøk på Cuba. Et av hennes mål med turen var å sjekke forholdene til han og familien 10 år etter.

I løpet av oppholdet på Cuba – og senere andre fattige land–, fikk jeg nye perspektiver på mye. I tillegg til plutselig å se meg selv som turist/ reisende gjennom øynene på lokalfolk, begynte jeg å se på turisme som et fenomen med store konsekvenser på lokalsamfunn. Jeg observerte andre turisters fremtredner og studerte lokalfolks oppførsel ovenfor turister. Jeg innså stadig mer av hva turisme kan by på av lærdommer for reisende, og hva den kan gjøre med et samfunn og folkene som bor der. På godt og vondt. Jeg gikk gjennom et tankeskifte fra å mene mye om en fremmed kultur – hvor eurosentrisk nok det meste i min egen var mest rett – og kom hjem med et løfte om å aldri noengang klage på noe som helst i Norge.

Eller, jeg kunne kanskje klage, men i såfall ville det være over de som klager på og irriterer seg over alt av idiotiske og trivielle i-landsproblemer. Temaer relatert til den slags, og problemfikseringen enkelte alltid skal fremme, fikk jeg rett og slett lite til overs for.

Slik har jeg det enda.

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Elleve år etter det løftet, må jeg fortsatt minne meg selv på det i blant – og det er greit. Det vidunderlige på veien hit har uansett vært å kunne selvrealisere meg gjennom reising – både faglig, kreativt og medmenneskelig. Ved å bli bevisst min priviligerte status som globetrotter i en ellers ekstremt urettferdig verden, fant jeg ny mening og videreutviklet en nysgjerrighet ovenfor alt fremmed. Opptatt av å bevege meg utenfor min egen komfortsone, bega jeg meg også tidlig ut på soloreiser, som kjapt representerte noe enda bedre enn en reise til en gitt destinasjon noengang kunne gjort.

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Jovisst. For oss heldige fra nord er reising selvrealiserende, og mange tar det hele for gitt. Utifra historien vår og utviklingen i Nord-Europa å dømme, er det ganske forståelig. Men vårt forhold til kloden, og eget liv på den – hvor enn vi befinner oss – kommer med et ansvar. Både for at det skal smake bedre for vår egen del (et typisk mantra blant folk i i-land), men også for å gjøre det beste ut av det for andre. Det er nemlig ikke slik at vi velger hvor vi er født, eller hvilke liv samfunnet vi er del av har tillatt oss å leve. Og selv om det svir å erkjenne det, vet vi jo at måten vi lever på i verdens mektigere land, går på bekostning av andres lykke.

Derfor mener jeg det gir full mening ikke bare å gjøre sitt beste, men også å sette seg inn i de forhold i verden som vi er med på å påvirke, samt hvorfor vi i det hele tatt lever – og reiser – som vi gjør. Hva vi tenker omkring dét, oss selv og andre.

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Som her da jeg besøkte en township i Sør Afrika for første gang, og ideen om masterforskningen min begynte å ta form.

Igjen kan jeg bare snakke for min egen del – selv om jeg er veldig interessert i andre menneskers syn på saken – og for meg har det å studere meg selv som reisende, samt reiselivs påvirkning fått meg til å innse hvor viktig konseptet ansvarlig turisme er. På lik linje som etisk produksjon er viktig innen tekstilindustrien, kjøtt- og landbruksindustrien.

Som forbrukere handler det derfor om å sette seg inn i hvordan bli en mer ansvarlig forbruker. Så får vi stemme på de politikerne og støtte de organisasjonene som fremmer de verdiene vi tror er best for en mest mulig bærekraftig utvikling her på jorda. Når vi først tar aktive standpunkt til slikt og lærer mer om hvordan ting henger sammen, er min oppfatning at vi opplever en slags mening i dét også.

En ekstra dimensjon av forbrukerlykke om du vil.  😉

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…et av mine slike standpunkt handler om kun å kjøpe varer lokalt som reisende. Som her i en av de utallige kokosnøttkioskene i Mexico. 🙂

Pst! Apropos ansvar innen turisme, og til konkrete forslag til hvordan du kan påvirke mer positivt som reisende. Sjekk ut denne!

Apropos de mer dystre sidene av næringen (kvitre, kvitre): Visste du at den faktisk er ansvarlig for tvangsflytting av lokalbefolkning, elendige arbeidsforhold, utnyttelsen av kvinner og barm, vannmangel og miljødegradering? Lær mer om organisasjonen Tourism Concern som jobber for å bekjempe slikt innen turisme her.

Reising = selvrealisering

For noen år siden ble jeg i overkant opptatt av turismenæringens utvikling og hvordan reiseliv påvirker både oss mennesker som er så heldige å kunne reise, og de som ikke er like heldige, men som er i kontakt med oss reisende hele tiden.

Tidligere har jeg skrevet mye om temaet på engelsk (ta en titt hvis du vil), men etter å ha bodd i hjemlandet i over ett år nå, er det på høy tid å droddle om det på morsmålet også. Det er dessuten ganske vanskelig å oppdrive norske artikler som handler om reiselivnæringens utvikling og dens påvirkning på verden, ulike samfunn og mennesker. I det hele og det brede fokuseres det pinlig lite på viktigheten av ansvarlig/ etisk turisme i norske reisemagasiner, og på nettsidene til store turoperatører.

Før jeg kommer inn på dette med reiselivs påvirkning, og tilbake til hva konseptet ansvarlig reiseliv handler om, vil jeg i denne artikkelen presentere noen ideer om reising og selvrealisering, inkludert littom hvordan reiseliv har utviklet seg frem til i dag.

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Familien på bildet over, reiste i følge Pinterest, land og strand rundt i 1886 på søken etter et hjemsted i det store – den gang ganske så – ubebodde Amerika. Uten å ane hvordan historien endte for dem, kan jeg bare anta at de fant en flekk å bosette seg på, hvor de selvrealiserte seg etter datidens målestokk.

Hopp hundre år frem i tid, og reising betyr noe ganske annet for de fleste av oss. I Nord-Amerika som i store deler av Europa, var det å reise i 1986 forbundet med ferie og rekreasjon, gjerne til solfylte steder i mangelen på eget godt klima.

Hopp tredve år til frem i tid, til dagens Norge og nordlige Europa forøvrig, og vi forbinder reising med et velfortjent – og ganske selvsagt – gode. Det å ta fri fra livet vi vanligvis lever og reise vekk, er noe vi mener vi både fortjener og trenger, og noe mange av oss ser på som nødvendig for vår menneskelige utvikling og utfoldelse.

Med andre ord; reising = selvrealisering. Uten å gå videre inn på en høna og egget-tankerekke, la meg bare nevne at markedsaktørene selvfølgelig har blitt dyktige på å fortelle oss nettopp det.

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Det skal sies at vi nordmenn er havnet i en eksepsjonelt heldig situasjonen ved å ha retten på fem ferieuker (!) i året – samme hvilken sektor vi jobber i. Og enten vi snakker om ferieturer vi tar i løpet av de ukene, helgeturer til europeiske storbyer et par timers flytur unna, eller en lenge etterlengtet permisjon eller ryggsekktur vi har spart til i månedsvis,  så er poenget at mange i dagens Norge ser på reising som nødvendig for at vi skal kunne ha det bra i livet ellers.

En litt fiffig tanke er forøvrig at korte storbyturer ikke engang ses på som ferie lenger; de er bare turer vi tar på søken etter et avbrekk i en ellers hektisk hverdag. Og sånn har det nok vært en stund i land der folks privatøkonomi er god og markedet er tilrettelagt slik at vi kan reise ganske langt på veldig kort tid.

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Etter min oppfatning har altså det å se, oppleve og spise noe annet enn vi gjør her hjemme blitt like selvsagt som det er mulig for oss. Men hvordan kom vi hit?

Reising har naturligvis blitt regnet som viktig for menneskets velvære og selvrealisering i århundrer, men dens internasjonale utfoldelse var kun forbeholdt de rikeste i samfunnet frem til 1950-tallet. Da var oppfinnelsene av såkalte turbovifte-jetfly blitt en realitet; fly som bragte mange mennesker over landegrenser og hav på én og samme flyvning.

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photo credit: http://www.hiwtc.com

På samme tid hadde arbeiderbevegelsens kamper i Nord begynt å gi frukter som bedre lønninger og ferieavløsninger for folk flest, og slik fikk stadig flere råd til å reise på romantiske byferier i Sør-Europa, for ikke å snakke om pakketurer til Syden. I løpet av 70- og 80-tallet fortsatte reisendes muligheter å eksplodere i omfang, og etterhvert dro de litt modigere til og med på lengre ryggsekkturer til mer eksotiske land som India og Thailand, til slektningers store forundring.

Tredve år etter er det heller uvanlig at ikke (nord)europeere har vært utenfor Europa minst én gang i livet. De fleste 25-åringer jeg kjenner – for ikke å nevne 45-åringer – har besøkt mer enn ett sted mormora mi aldri visste fantes. De aller fleste jeg kjenner har til og med tatt seg et halvår eller år fri fra jobb for å tråle Sørøst-Asia rundt på jakt etter slitne bungalower og ville strandfester.

I tillegg har mange jobbet frivillig både i Bolivia og Sri Lanka, forelsket seg minst én gang i en latinamerikaner, ridd kameler i Egypt, danset med Masaier i Kenya, paraglided i Nepal og sist men ikke minst: giftet seg utenlands.

photo credit: nomad.sleepout.com

photo credit: nomad.sleepout.com

Kort oppsummert har min generasjon av nordeuropeere (og mange nordamerikanere), vokst opp med den klokkeklare forestilling om at verden ligger for våre føtter. Og det er sant. For oss. Dagens selvutviklingsvaluta nummer én er reising, atter mer reising og én tur til. Til og med indre reiser bedriver vi stadig nå til dags, fordi vi hele tiden higer etter å utvikle oss som mennesker.

Hvorfor?

Fordi vi kan, og fordi vi blir fortalt at vi kan. I disse sosiale medier- tider har du kanskje lagt merke til at vi i det hele tatt ofte blir fortalt at vi reise…?

The-World-is-a-book

Personlig er jeg skyldig i å ha vokst opp, for ikke å si bygget videre på, den nevnte forestilling. Dette til tross for at de fleste i min familie – med unntak av moren min – ikke har reist stort lenger enn til europeiske destinasjoner, med kanskje én og annen tilbakelagt USA-tur en gang i tiden.

Interessant nok er forresten noen av de jeg kjenner som har reist minst, de som har sterkest meninger om hvordan verden henger sammen; et tema jeg tok opp for en stund siden. Hvorvidt folk som reiser ekstensivt egentlig lærer så veldig mye om verden, kan også i aller høyeste grad diskuteres; noe jeg skriver en tekst om etter mitt nylige møte med backpackere som flokker seg sammen hvor enn man beveger seg i Sørøst-Asia… Mer om det senere en annen dag, altså.

Men tilbake til de som reiser mye. Visste du for eksempel at nordmenn flyr mest i Europa? Jepp. Nordmenn har et særs heldig utgangspunkt samme hvor vi kommer fra i landet, og kanskje nettopp derfor har vi utviklet et spesielt verdensbilde hva økonomiske muligheter angår. Reising som gode – og spesielt med fly – anses nok derfor for mange av oss som kommet for å bli.

Like fullt er det viktig å minnes på at konseptet reising er en usannsynlig luksus for de aller fleste på kloden. Skal man tro organisasjonen Atmosfair, har kun 5% av klodens befolkning vært ombord på et fly, hvilket setter reiseluksusen vi tar helt for gitt i perspektiv.

Og det er her jeg beveger meg inn på temaet ansvarlig reiseliv. For som i andre gigaindustrier vi nyter godt av, bør vi forbrukere innse at vi har et ansvar i å passe på at det vi driver med/ kjøper/ forbruker, ikke ødelegger for verken kloden vår, eller mennesker på den.

Eller hva mener  du?

tourismcritic

Interessert i mer? Les her om hvordan jeg fikk øynene opp for ansvarlig reiseliv.

 

The exploited Long-neck women (II)

In the recent post The exploited Long-neck women in SE Asia (I), I told about my long time interest in the women of the Kayan tribe from Burma. In particular I forwarded concerns from the field of Responsible/ Ethical tourism and Human Rights about the Kayan tribes’ involvement in the tourism industry due to their special tradition of decorating their necks with metal rings. I mentioned that I’m finally going to South East Asia, and that one of the purposes with the trip is to investigate this subject further.

Before embarking on such a trip, I’ve done some research online in order to get a better picture of the situation. Yet, I’ve not fully understood how big this tour product really is, how the tours are conducted, what guides communicate or how involved the Thai government is – despite of human rights organisations’ campaigns against it for years. However, as with other similar issues of concern in the tourism industry; I can only imagine that whatever impression I get through published articles, blogs and Tripadvisor reviews, the situation is a lot more complex than I’ll ever understand.

Still, as mentioned in the previous post; what´s clear is that there exists lots of information about the history of the Kayan people, including their origin, myths about their decoration custom, historical western fascination with them and key to my initial interest: Debates about the exploitation of them as tourist attractions in Thailand.

If the latter isn’t true, the question arises: What’s in it for them? Which clearly is the main reason why human rights organisations like Tourism Concern work on subjects like these.

Before discussing the ethics, lets go through some history.

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Kayan girls visiting London in the 1930s

The origin of the long-neck women is quite known even through tourism nowadays. The so called long-neck women are members of a tribe called Karen (by themselves pronounced as Kayan), out of which many fled from Burma to Thailand in the 1980s after having been one of many harshly oppressed ethnic minorities in the country. Soon after, there were built specific villages in the Chiang Mai region in Northern Thailand for – amongst other fleeing tribes– the Kayan people.

As most of the Kayan women stuck to the old custom of coiling rings around their necks, Thai authorities soon realised their value as tourist attractions, and built separate villages for them to where visitors could pay to come and see them with their own eyes and learn about their tradition.

According to a huge variety of sources the mythical stories and beliefs about why the women coil their necks with heavy metal rings then, seem to be presented and believed in numerous forms, but the three most common mythologies explain that:

  • It’s done to prevent tigers from biting them
  • It was originally done to make the women unattractive so they are less likely to be captured by slave traders.

and the opposite of the latter:

  • That an extra-long neck is considered a sign of great beauty and wealth and that it will attract a better husband. Adultery therefore, is said to be punished by removal of the rings.

As tempted as I am to rabble on about the ways so called “culture tours/ tourism” can develop, and why it often represents an issue of concern within the field of Responsible Tourism – it be visits to tribe people in African countries or the Inuits of Canada or the Samis up North in Norway – I’ll keep to four sentences:

  1. Culture tours/ tourism is B I G business, and it’s increasing in popularity every year as today’s travelers are increasingly keen to discover whatever they see as authentic in a destination.
  2. The very people of interest (when it comes to this tourism form) often represent historically marginalised groups of people due to their status as indigenous/ ethnic minorities.
  3. Due to the longtime oppression of the latter, they often struggle with poverty, stigmatisation and language barriers which make them easy to exploit in industries like tourism.
  4. Additionally and unfortunately, currently existing tribe people often live in areas with poor standards of human rights’ protection.

Back to the Kayan tribe, it’s important to have in mind that the international knowledge about its people – and especially its women’s customs – didn’t actually start with tourism in recent times. The truth is that the long-neck women first got internationally known through Western adventurers and anthropologists that “discovered them” and brought pictures back to Europe from Burma during the Colonial times.

Here’s an example I found when … yeah, googling.

Image

According to content I find on the world wide web about their modern history (meaning from 1900), Kayan women were even taken to England in the 1930s for cultural-educational purposes, which reminds me of what I learned in school about a black man who was displayed in Oslo 150 years ago, and in University about miss Sarah Baartman, that was exhibited in London during the same era.

As for the Kayan women, they were invited to join theater plays (!).

giraffeneck-circus

And invited to drink tea the Brittish way.

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Kayan people in a London tea house Photo creds: Google images

Those were the Oh mighty colonial days, you may be thinking…

Today however, we tend to think that in terms of human values we’ve come much longer since the colonial racist 1930s… It would be seen as completely unacceptable to exhibit people less powerful in a Western country today, right? Besides, think about it: Today we’ve seen it all. One way or another, we know about all kinds of people and ethnic groups that live on the planet. It’s not like it used to be back then when traveling was seen as an extreme luxury even for most Westerners.

Instead, in the increasingly globalised world and with our increasing travel opportunities we are constantly given the chance to learn about real people with other traditions than ours – in their very own habitat. Wherever it is, we just travel there! Where there is a demand  there will be a supply as it works strikingly well in an overly market oriented world. And it’s in this very reality that sightseeing the villages of the long-neck women has become a popular experience for travelers to tick of their lists.

One can start wondering when seeing the above pictures, whether that early display and fascination – and the fact that we even had pictures of them in school books in European countries throughout the 20th century – has fueled the whole concept of the Kayan women as tourist attractions in modern Thailand today? And others alike.

Truth is that for a long time, rather bizarre tour products in which indigenous people are the main attraction, have popped up around the globe replying to the demand among authenticity- seeking tourists. Not seldom are they marketed as beneficial to the attractions themselves, but honestly I’ve yet to see such a concept – developed in a bottom-up, trustworthy and sustainable manner – with my own eyes.

One crucial question however, is whether the Kayan women were more oppressed in Burma before fleeing to Thailand, as opposed to what they are currently putting up with as tourist attractions? Because according to various spokesmen and organisations the treatment and exhibition of the Kayan tribe women is a perfect example of systematic oppression of indigenous people going on around the world. And that oppression grows especially strong in the tourism industry.

Wrapping this up therefore, Ill attempt to give some advices for travelers to be, so to assure they don’t take part in the vicious circle of exploitation of indigenous people, but rather find ways to support initiatives that work for a fairer treatment of them, as well as a fairer tourism industry. That is to say: The problem with organised tourism to marginalised areas we count as interesting, is that we as travelers often don’t know – and we’re certainly not told – in what way the people we visit benefit from, or feel about it. We don’t know how much power the hosting local people actually have themselves over the situation. Thus is it very clever to investigate such matters before visiting places that might be reasonable assuming didn’t plan tourism development in their backyard themselves.

Or simply avoid them, just in case.

The exploited Long-neck women (I)

For over three and a half years now, I’ve been working voluntarily for the UK-based charity Tourism Concern, that through campaigning- and lobbying try to fight exploitation in tourism. The organisation’s vision is that tourism always benefit local people and their work often concerns awareness raising of the sector’s different stakeholders about serious issues in the industry.

If this is the first time you’ve ever heard of such a concept, let me quickly inform you that the tourism industry (part from being a force for good in terms of increasing mutual understanding between people and cultures and a facilitator of peoples’ possibility to enjoy a holiday), also is – like many other industries – notorious when it comes to facilitating powerful actors’ means to earn money in a dirty way.

Feel free to browse Tourism Concern’s webpage, and get to learn more about for example why all-inclusive holidays hardly benefit local communities, and cruise tourism is highly unsustainable.

Personally I’ve given good reasons for why the work for a more ethical/ responsible tourism is so crucial. I’ve written about orphanage tourism, and suggested what it takes of responsibility policies among tour companies and governments to hinder that slum dwellers exist as pure tourist attractions, and I’ve mentioned why I’m so interested in the topic myself.

Today I’ll write about something that’s been on my radar for long, since I first started studying issues within the field of exploitation in tourism.

I still remember the picture in the brochure; of three ladies with Asian features sitting on a bench in traditional colorful clothes and metal rings around their long necks. In front of them was standing a corps of tourists shooting pictures with their massive cameras. The women with the metal rings were of the Kayan tribe, living in Northern Thailand, and the photographing charade was categorised in the brochure as a ‘human zoo’.

In tourism they go under the name “long-neck women” and occasionally also giraffe women, although they refuse to adapt the latter themselves.

giraffewoman1

Since working with Tourism Concern I’ve learned that they’ve – together with other human rights organisations – flagged their concerns about the exploitation of various tribe people in tourism. With regards to the Kayans, Tourism Concern has campaigned against tourism that involves them, and pushed tour operators to stop offering trips to their villages.

From what I’ve understood there are also several organisations that have pushed for governmental actions. But as with other similar stories of exploitation in tourism, it’s very complex. Poverty and means of oppression are complex. So is tourism.

Back in 2011, one of the first in-depth articles I posted on my blog concerned the exploitation of the Kayan people. I called the post the trapped giraffe women, unaware of the Kayan’s own opposition to the Giraffe- reference, so my apologies for that. I also referred to the women and their tribe as both the Kayan and Padaung in that post, but recently learned that Padaung isn’t really what they like to call themselves either. According to new sources I came across Padaung is a Thai-implemented categorisation of the Kayan tribe. Lets thus stick to calling them the Kayan (people).

In the mentioned post, I shared my frustration over not finding more than a few articles online about the Kayan people despite quite a lot of research. I was looking for content concerning the exploitation of them and their current situation, and most of the articles and blog posts I found were typically based on people´s tour experience in a tribe village. Commonly, (uncritical) travel writers seem to retell stories that guides have told them, and write about the situation in supportive manners. This isn’t new at all in tourism of course, nor very illogical, yet it can be dangerous if what people are told isn’t not true at all.

Since the last time I wrote about the long-necks, Ive not investigated much about the topic, but as I’ve just made a dream come true and booked my tickets to South East Asia for 2015, I recently went back to it.

For now my plan is to travel in three countries (Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia) for approximately three months, and I’m of course going to the region where the 1 day sightseeings of the long-neck women’s villages are taking place. I want to find a way to not only see it with my own eyes, but also talk to people involved in the sector and understand more about what is actually going on. How tour companies are marketing it, what the guides say, what tourists think about it and especially what the ladies themselves feel.

The latter is the most difficult part though; also considering I’m not going as a long time researcher with the access to a neutral translator. Nevertheless, Ill do my best in getting a local translator, and who knows: My previous research experiences make me believe Ill be lucky this time too, and that things will fall into place.

So, preparing for my trip, I’ve done some new secondary research in order to renovate my knowledge about the matter, and found out that not only has the subject been flagged again since late 2011 and throughout 2012 and 2013, but the history of Westerners’ fascination of the women that coil their necks with big brass rings is much crazier and longer than I knew of!

Just take a look at this picture! What does it look like to you?

Giraffe-necked-tea-in-England

To keep posts in suitable lengths for reading, I’ve made a new post about the matter. Go here to learn about Westerners longtime facination with the long-neck women from Burma and to get some additional information regarding the reasons behind tourists’ interest in visiting them. I’ll also present some reasons for travelers to think twice about supporting the concept of so called culture tours, as they often include complex issues of exploitation.

How can the tourism industry reduce its water consumption?

The United Nations have declared 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation, arguing that water resource management is crucial as it impacts on almost all aspects of our lives, especially health, food production, water supply and sanitation.

This year’s WTM Responsible Tourism at the World Travel Market wanted to address the questions around the travel and tourism industry’s contribution to the problem and its solution and invited to a debate on whether the tourism industry is doing enough to reduce its water consumption, chaired by professor Harold Goodwin. Mark Watson from Tourism Concern took part in the debate.

The key question was whether the participants (and the audience) believe that the tourism industry will do enough to achieve appropriate reductions in water usage without regulation by national governments.

The debate turned out very educational and several people from the audience had in fact changed their answer to the key question when it was over. Watch it here:

Getting spiritual in San Cristobal

Our relationship is in its early stage and yet, San Cristobal de las Casas fascinates me a lot.

There’s something with the energy. A special, like an increased spiritual one, energy. These things are difficult to define, let alone to explain, but it’s as if you can sense spirituality in the peaceful, awake and smiling local people, and on the streets among the old cars and worn out, colorful houses.

Perhaps indigenous history is responsible, or perhaps it’s the surrounding nature. Maybe even the bohemian expats living here does their share? Either way, it’s been a long time since I sensed so many kind and interesting personalities around me, overall good energy around any corner and knowledge in every wrinkly face passing me on the street.

photo cred: thefamilywithoutborders.com

photo cred: thefamilywithoutborders.com

There is undoubtedly an extra touch of spirituality in the many foreigners here too, many of which seem to be unable to leave this place. Most of the foreigners I’ve met in San Cristobal call themselves artists, yet aren’t interested in talking about anything related to ambitions in that regard. They’re simply into the making love, making art sort of lifestyle, as well as making sure to detach as much as possible from the capitalistic world view out there.

By the way, defining spirituality I like to think that:

 it’s an individual practice that has to do with achieving a sense of peace and purpose. It also relates to the process of developing beliefs around the meaning of life and connection with others.

What’s inspiring with people like this, is that none of them know where they’ll go from here. It’s just not a topic. They rather show you how much they’re in love with this very moment of life, focusing on what happens here and now around them. Which – hands down – isn’t an attitude people overwhelm you with when closer to societies highly impacted by the rat race mentality.

So, why does some places have this effect on people? Or why does some places attract these people? Or even; how do people’s attitude towards life effect a place or society?

Pondering over these questions quickly opens for the chicken and egg argument, I guess. And as always there are several factors to take into consideration when reflecting over subjects like these. Walking around in San Cristobal, and even while writing this, I often ask myself if the ‘spirituality’ is something everyone senses. Like, as something presently stronger than in other places?

When out traveling, I often sense it in places where nature is more present and important to people’s lives. And we all know nature is full of the purest energy. But so are human beings. And personally, I’ve always been more people-oriented than nature and landscape-oriented.

Thus, for some reason I assume the kind and relaxed energy I sense in San Cristobal is put in place by the people living here. But again, it’s obviously also adopted by the many visitors, and perhaps that’s how the place has been shaped over time. Various residents Ive talked to also claim that the mountains surrounding the village represents important spots where influential and spiritual individuals have lived for decades, perhaps centuries.

photo cred: google images

photo cred: google images

Apparently there are a couple of places where people arrange energetic and spiritual events open for all to attend. I’ve always wanted to try something like that so I’ll definitely go up there one of these days, hopefully to find interesting ways to treat whatever topics that concern me. Maybe it can be a good way to find the tools to stop worrying about some things, and be more confident about how I feel. A helpful way to enforce a beautiful inner journey, which I always find equally important as the outer journey we’re constantly on when traveling.

Because although we tend to forget, a journey is much more than seeing things and ticking of destinations. It’s equally much about being on an inner journey, developing as individuals and moving on with more knowledge, reflections and tolerance about the world and people in it. Though that’s not always something all places we visit evoke in us.

When traveling solo I think the above concept is even more predominant. Due to the simple fact that one has to trust strangers even more in addition to learn how to spend time with oneself. Both of which are good lessons for self development.

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one of the main streets of San Cristobal

Honestly, I didn’t expect anything special from this place, but quickly got that wonderful feeling that sneaks up to us when living now and then: that this is the place to be. There is no other place I’d like to be, right here, right now.

It be a coincidence or not, two beautiful souls I’ve met in San Cristobal by now have said things to me about this very topic without even knowing me or whatever I struggle with. Separately they’ve told me they think I’m in the right place to find out of things. Quite randomly they´ve both even claimed that people like me has to confidently live more through the feelings, as opposed to through the thoughts.

Fair enough. But what does that really mean?

I´ll continue thinking about that for a while, and hopefully Ill get more input on the matter as time goes and Ill get to know more people with more views on it. Right now Ill run out to grab some tortillas in my spiritual neighbourhood. 😉

Peace, J

Edit two months later: If you started reflecting about the advice the two men had given me as mentioned above (regarding living more through our feelings), I´ve now written something about it here.