Friends

What we care about at Follow Alice – besides our clients!

Every company stands for something, and at Follow Alice we want to stand with those who are trying to do adventure tourism right. In this post we talk about the four things (other than our clients) that we really care about as a company.

Sustainable tourism is a big, broad topic. And a very important one. At Follow Alice, it's something we talk about a lot. The reason is that we want to be involved in meaningful, responsible adventure tourism. As a group of travel enthusiasts, we want our company to succeed, but we also care about how we go about doing that. We care about the mark – figurative and literal – that we make on the world!

We want to offer an excellent travel operator service that is part of the solution, not the problem!

More specifically, at Follow Alice we want to ensure we're benefitting the local economy, and helping local entrepreneurs to succeed. We also want to ensure we're protecting the beautiful (and often fragile) places and wildlife we're encouraging people to visit.

Tash and Chris

Tash and Chris in Tanzania – we're an international team, but we try to get together regularly

How do we do that?

Well, first off, we have to say that we don't have all the answers. We're a growing company and are always open to improving and adapting our ideas and methods. That said, we're already making an effort in many ways, and hope to only feel prouder in the future of the further improvements we make to our business model.

So let's discuss sustainable (or responsible) tourism – what we think it involves, and how we're trying to be part of this important movement.

Adventure tourism often means visiting remote people and places, and raises the important question of whether you're benefitting or harming the communities and nature you visit.

Sri Lanka lagoon safari in Pottuvil

Exploring the many gems of Sri Lanka is one of our epic adventure trips

What we care about

We think there are four guiding questions with regards to responsible tourism that should inform our decisions as a travel operator:

  1. Do our services offer employment opportunities for local entrepreneurs?
  2. Does our business benefit the local community and economy?
  3. Do we help to protect – or at least not harm – the visited wildlife?
  4. Do we help to protect – or at least not harm – the visited environment?

Communities, animals, the environment ... sustainability and responsible tourism matter to us.

Reto and local guides in Tanzania having a meeting about the travel ambassador

The very first Follow Alice meeting! It included (from left to right): Chris Sichalwe, Director of Follow Alice Tours (T) Ltd; Reto Bolliger, CEO of Follow Alice; Kazi Katibu, Follow Alice's local leader for Tanzania safaris; and Robert Sichalwe, Director of Follow Alice Tours (T) Ltd

1. Do our services offer employment opportunities to local entrepreneurs?

We're happy to say that this is one of our strengths, baked into the DNA of Follow Alice. In fact, our origin story is one of partnership between a couple of international travellers and a handful of Tanzanian entrepreneurs wanting to start their own company offering Kilimanjaro climbs and Tanzanian safaris.

Today, Follow Alice offers a dozen select adventure trips around the world, from Iceland and Sweden to Uganda and Tanzania, and from Bhutan and Nepal to sunny Sri Lanka. In each country we partner with local tour guides, helping them to establish and grow their own businesses as tour guides. Chris and Robert Sichalwe, for instance, our Kilimanjaro lead trek guides, employ dozens of individuals to make up their mountain crews for each climb.

We hope that as Follow Alice continues to grow, ever more people will be empowered through partnering with us to build thriving tourism-based careers.

Dan and guest in Kampala

Dan is our wonderful and charismatic Uganda local leader. He also employs the services of other Ugandan guides when demand is sufficient. We hope that that demand will only grow in time!

2. Does our business benefit the local community and economy?

Once again we have a big topic on our hands. We feel that benefitting the local community and economy is a multi-pronged endeavour that involves:

Joining ventures and organisations that seek to ensure the well-being of industry employees

A good example here is our membership in the Kilimanjaro Porters' Assistance Project (KPAP), which advocates for the well-being and fair treatment of porters, the backbone of every Kilimanjaro climb. Joining KPAP required us to prove that we're committed to paying and treating the porters on all of our climbs in accordance with industry best practices. We're proud to be a member of such an important NPO.

In keeping with KPAP guidelines, we also work hard to educate clients pre-climb about the important Kilimanjaro tipping ceremony. This is a customary celebration at the end of each climb where there's singing, dancing, some thank-you speeches, and the handing out of tips by climbers to the mountain crew. Climbers need to be prepared financially to participate in this important custom, which helps to supplement the crew's wages and so provide them with liveable incomes.

We also encourage clients in our pre-climb literature to consider donating clothing and trekking equipment like boots, jerseys and backpacks to the mountain crew at the end of the climb. Many are in need of such items (whether because they lack or have worn through them) and cannot afford the purchases themselves. We also suggest ways to donate these items that are both sensitive and fair.

Group photo in forest, Kilimanjaro routes

It takes a village to run a Kilimanjaro climb! It's important to us that we're a company who really looks after its mountain crew.

Offering adventure trips that support under-serviced communities and under-developed areas

A case in point ... when you go trekking in Nepal, you not only hire local guides and porters, but you also stay and eat in locally owned teahouses and lodges. These multiday treks thus provide a steady income for many remote Nepali towns and villages.

Adventure travel is, in fact, one of the more socioeconomically beneficial types of travel. With the treks in Nepal just mentioned, for example, it's largely the local communities themselves who benefit financially from the trekkers' presence and purses.

Adventure travel is happily one of the more responsible forms of travel.

Further, because adventure tourism often takes place in remote, underdeveloped regions, its existence can lead to improved investment, resources and infrastructure being channelled towards these areas and communities. Once again we've hit on a big topic (!), and there isn't the space to go into too much detail. But we're pleased that by offering such trips, we know that we're helping to support meaningful and dignified business opportunities, as well as outside investment, in many remote communities.

Manang-Annapurna-Nepal-RS-1024x682.jpg

The town of Manang on the Annapurna Circuit has really benefitted from trekking tourism, especially as it's used by many as a acclimatisation stopover point

Looking for ways to support marginalised communities

We're all aware that tourism often doesn't benefit a country evenly. This is a euphemistic reference to the fact that most societies have large inequalities, and certain sectors sometimes get a raw deal in the protection and advancement of tourism interests.

Take, for instance, the protection of mountain gorillas in Uganda. The beautiful Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was created in 1991 to protect these critically endangered creatures. While gorilla conservation was – and remains – a vitally important endeavour, sadly the creation of the park led to the expulsion from tribal lands of certain communities. The Batwa – a marginalised people within Ugandan society – were among the local people groups who lost their homeland, and were removed to just outside the park's borders.

We feel it's important to make our travellers aware of this situation and offer those going gorilla trekking in Uganda the opportunity to also support the Batwa community. There are some communities who invite foreigners to visit their village as part of self-organised cultural experiences. The income from these visits helps to generate income, while also raising awareness of their existence and situation. You can also learn more about the Batwa and the difficulties they face here.

Batwa women and children

Batwa women, like many other African women, are able to balance and transport large, heavy items on their heads – a staggering feat to those of us who have ever tried to do the same and come horribly short!

We also love to take visitors to meet and support one the many Maasai communities of northern Tanzania. Clients who go on a Northern Circuit safari or climb Kilimanjaro can pay for a cultural visit, for instance, or hire the services of a Maasai guide to lead them on a guided safari walk or a hike up Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai. (Note that we offer clients guidelines on how to dress and behave in ways that are respectful to this particular culture, such as asking permission before taking photographs and avoiding certain types of clothing.)

One of our clients recently had a meaningful meeting with a remote Maasai community near Lake Natron. You can read the heartwarming story in Romanian traveller keeps his promise to Maasai community.

We're always trying our best to put policies and practices in place that help us to be really proud of what it is that we do and offer.

Maasai jumping dance Tanzania African safari

The Maasai of East Africa have a strong cultural tradition and certain communities welcome visitors to come learn about their traditions and way of life, which include the wildly impressive jumping dance!

Supporting businesses and establishments run by locals (or that have a predominantly local staff body, including in positions of management)

To properly benefit the local people bearing the impact of tourism to their region, it's important to do your best to direct all or most of your money towards their businesses and initiatives, and not those of foreigners.

In this vein, we like to invite and organise for clients to visit and patronise local businesses and markets, as well as go on short tours. We're talking, for example, of buying your food, souvenirs and gifts at local markets, cafés and shops, rather than at the airport.

Sometimes one can also look for other ways to support the local community beyond just the obvious. For instance, we offer clients the chance to go on a Kilimanjaro coffee plantation tour and do a coffee tasting post-trek. In this way visitors not only benefit those directly engaged in servicing Kilimanjaro climbers, but also the broader community.

We've also started doing deeper research into the accommodation options we offer in each location, wanting to build relationships with establishments that benefit the local economy. Our goal, where possible, is to choose establishments that are locally owned, or that employ locals to run and staff the business.

Economic leakage is a problem in the tourism industry, and we're constantly looking for ways to better support the local economy through the business we generate.

David by black hill

David is our Iceland local leader. Covid-19 prevented us from launching our Iceland summer trip for a while, but we're hoping international travel can soon swing for the trees again!

3. Do we help to protect – or at least not harm – the visited wildlife?

Certain adventure activities do, by the nature of their setup, seek to benefit the wildlife of an area. Gorilla trekking, for instance, is an expensive exercise, as the parks need funds for their conservation efforts. These efforts include boundary maintenance, anti-poaching patrols, research, and veterinary services. When you pay your $700 for a gorilla trekking permit in Uganda (or $1,500 for a permit in Rwanda), you know that a chunk of that money is going towards protecting mountain gorillas and preserving their forest habitat. And because both the Ugandans and Rwandans strictly limit and control the human interactions experienced by the gorillas, you can be confident that your visiting them is not hurting them.

Infant gorilla

We love taking clients to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda where they can go on a guided hike to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat

Game park fees

Game parks also of course charge an entrance fee, which is used to fund staff salaries, the running of the park, and so on. We only take our clients to reputable game parks that are concerned with proper conservation. The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda, for instance, is somewhere we like to take clients to support the reintroduction of the black rhino into that country.

It's important to only support parks and reserves that treat their animals well and have their conservation as a priority.

Being respectful of the wildlife

We also can assure our clients that Kazi, our Tanzania local leader for safaris, loves and respects animals, and is a responsible driver and safari guide. We're referring here to him never driving too close to the animals, not honking his horn to get them to react, nor ever engaging in any similarly unscrupulous practices.

Wildebeest herd of the Great Wildlife Migration crossing the Mara River

Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania is the primary location of the Great Wildlife Migration, a truly mesmerising annual migration of millions of wildebeests, zebras and other antelopes

4. Do we help to protect – or at least not harm – the visited environment?

At Follow Alice we're leading people on adventure trips in various ecosystems. Often the very reason we're there is because the environment is unique, beautiful or rare. So this means we all need to tread responsibly (both literally and metaphorically) so as to leave as little evidence as possible that we were there.

With this in mind, we do our best to educate our clients before and during their trips on ways to leave as small a footprint as possible in the visited location. Our primary ways of doing this are:

  • the articles in our knowledge library
  • the PDFs we offer for free download
  • the emails, PDFs and conversations we have with clients when they've booked a trip
  • guidance from our local leader when you're actually on a Follow Alice trip

Occasionally, where we see the opportunity, we also like to provide ways to actually improve the natural environment which we discuss in just a moment.

Leaving no trace

In our Kilimanjaro preparation PDF, for example, which is sent to clients who have signed up to climb the mountain, we run through the rules laid out in Kilimanjaro National Park's 'leave no trace' policy. This includes knowing what items to pack to ensure you leave no litter (not even toilet paper) on the mountain.

Two trekkers stand among giant groundsels on Kilimanjaro

The giant groundsels of Kilimanjaro's moorland band are one of the unique plants that never fail to enchant visitors

Leaving a positive legacy

A relatively new focus for us is looking for ways to actively benefit the environment, rather than just minimise our impact. We want to offer clients activities that allow them to give back to the environment in the visited destination.

As discussed in The 10 best things to do in Kilimanjaro region, for instance, those visiting Rau Forest Reserve can take part in the “One trip – one tree” initiative. This is where you're given a seedling to plant in the forest. The initiative is offered by Rau Eco & Cultural Tourism, a community-based youth tourism enterprise. This means you leave Tanzania knowing your tree is growing and helping to fight climate change.

MTB-in-Rau-Forest-Reserve

Those who go hiking or mountain biking in Tanzania's Rau Forest Reserve can take part in the "One trip – one tree" initiative

Choosing eco-friendly partners

Where possible, we're increasingly looking to partner with accommodation and other businesses that have eco-friendly practices and models.

This focus on eco-friendly partners is, however, a work in progress. We're not yet where we hope to be one day. We're still getting to know certain locations and accommodation options. And as we get to know them better, we're adjusting our choices.

Sometimes the more eco-friendly accommodation options are pricier than the mid-range offerings. If you're keen to only stay at really eco-friendly establishments, please just let us know and we'll happily put forward only such options for you.

Group photo at snowy summit of Kilimanjaro, train for Kilimanjaro

It's vitally important that we all climb Kilimanjaro in a manner that protects the integrity of its precious ecosystems.

Adventure challenges for causes

One final note. We have in the past had a handful of inspiring clients come to us wanting to climb Kilimanjaro as part of an effort to raise funds or awareness for people or organisations close to their hearts. We're always really pleased to be approached by such folks, and have loved helping them to achieve their goals. You might like to read about one of them here: Climbing Kilimanjaro for Down syndrome.

If you're interested in taking on Kilimanjaro – or any of our other treks or adventures – for a cause, please chat to us. We'd love to help you in your efforts. 😀

Kazi and kids having fun in Tanzania,  Tanzania safety

Kazi (wearing shades) is our super lovely Tanzania safari guide. He's a natural, and travellers always fall in love with him. He combines warmth and charm with incredible knowledge of Tanzania's parks and wildlife.

Contact

+44 20 3289 2088

+1 (785) 859-4930

info@followalice.com

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Follow Alice Ltd.

207 Regent Street

London, W1B 3HH

United Kingdom

 

Follow Alice Tours (T) LTD

P.O Box 1923, Moshi

Tanzania, East Africa

 

Follow Alice Tours (T) LTD is registered in Tanzania and holds all the necessary licences to run Kilimanjaro climbs and safaris.

 

Our Credentials

Follow Alice is rated 5/5 stars across all major platforms

We are an approved partner company with the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project

 

 

International Mountain Explorers Connection – IMEC – Partner for Responsible Travel Program.

 

Copyright Follow Alice LTD. 2021, registration number 10374382 (England & Wales)