Ethical travel is not often the first thought people have when choosing where to take their adventures. When you travel to a country like Peru it’s easy to get caught up in the hunt for the cheapest trek or tour. While “cheap travel” might be well known in Peru, it’s still important to make thoughtful, conscious decisions when choosing a tour agency or trekking and adventure travel company. Finding ethical travel companies takes work, but is worth the effort.
1. Is there proof that they support the community?
A company may say they give back to the community, but search for the proof. If you see a lot of stock photos and vague language that doesn’t mention specific communities, they might not actually be giving back. Call and ask what they are actively doing to avoid exploitation of local communities. If their answers don’t mention specific communities or you can’t easily speak with a manager about their work, it’s time to find a different travel company.
Remember that tourism can put pressure on local communities by buying indigenous people out of their homelands, overtaking spiritual and sacred land and raising the cost of living. Some companies coerce locals to sell their land, offering incentives that never come through or intentionally creating confusing deals. Locals are forced into crowded cities that they are unfamiliar with, away from their homes.
2. Are you able to actually speak with the owner?
An ethical travel company will always let you speak with an actual person. If you are regularly redirected with automated responses and form emails, start looking for someone else. If you do reach a person, but the employees don’t know their mission and can’t easily explain what they do to practice ethical tourism, it’s also time to move on. You should also be able to easily speak with the owner. Ask challenging questions and assess whether or not you’re receiving satisfactory answers. If the person you’re speaking with avoids the tough questions or gives you vague responses, consider traveling with someone else.
3. Does the travel company run operations themselves or just contract with another company?
Some travel companies outsource their operations to different companies. If they do contract out, you should be able to easily find out who they run their operations through and how they vet for that company. Running a company in this way also means there’s a markup for a middleman, and the cost should reflect that. If the price of the trip seems low, someone isn’t getting paid a fair wage. Don’t put up with a company that fails to answer who actually runs the operations and how they pay employees and guides each step of the way.
4. What is the company’s policy on sustainability and eco-consciousness?
Tourism causes a massive impact on the environment. Whether people leave behind waste or deplete local natural resources, sustainability is something every ethical travel company should address. Ask your travel company what they do to minimize their environmental impact and how they address that impact on specific communities. Consider asking questions about the company’s Leave No Trace policy, their use of single-use plastics or how they manage human waste. If the company has no environmental policy or vague responses, it’s time to ditch them.
5. Does the company use local produce, business, guides and staff?
Ask your travel company where they source their food, guides and staff. Also ask about the hotels they’re booking, the restaurants and chefs they’re using and where their staff and guides live. A more ethical company will source as much food, housing and staff as possible from the local area, not just the closest major city. Also, check to make sure the company reports whose land they trek across and how they compensate those families.
6. Are their reviews real?
Unethical travel companies will fake reviews to boost their customer appeal. Watch out for reviews that are very short and few in number. Only one review is a bad sign, but similarly, many reviews for a brand new company could signal fake reviews. Look for long, heartfelt reviews that include lots of details from the trip. If you’re unsure about the reviews, ask the company for previous customers who would be willing to act as references. Most travel companies should have at least a few customers who would be willing to talk with a potential client.
7. Do they respect their staff?
This is the hardest one to prove, but also the most important aspect of an ethical travel company. Claiming respect for the staff relies on honesty from the company as well as the guides. Companies may lie about the wages they pay and guides and staff may lie about what they receive to maintain their jobs. Unethical travel companies have a habit of not paying their employees, not paying them on time or docking their pay for various reasons. The best way to tell if a company is not paying its employees fairly is to look at the price. If the trip seems unbelievably cheap, someone isn’t being paid fairly and food, equipment and transportation may not be safe. Ethical travel and tourism tend to be higher in cost because they do not exploit their staff or the community to lower their prices.
Have questions about Killa Expeditions’ commitment to ethical travel and environmental initiatives? Gives us a call at 1-619-736-8735, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave us a comment. We’d love to talk with you more.
Co-written with Nicole Montes