Kalpak Travel: Our commitment to sustainable, responsible tourism
2017 is the UN’s international year of sustainable tourism for development (#IY2017). It’s an opportunity for all of us — tourists and tour operators alike — to think about how we can travel in a way which not only minimises the damage we cause to the environment, but we can also positively contribute to realising the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs).
So what does that mean in practice? We want to share with you a few of the things we’re doing at Kalpak Travel to make the world a better place, one Central Asia tour at a time.
The UN’s #1 SDG is No poverty: to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. The UNWTO has proven that tourism has a significant role to play in poverty alleviation, and we’re doing our part by employing local guides and drivers, using local hotels and restaurants, and shopping in local stores and markets. All of these things contribute positively to the local economy at a grass roots level. In Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, two of our most popular destinations, more than 30% of the population lives below the national poverty line. But through the efforts of Kalpak Travel and other companies, we can create jobs, increase earnings, and steadily lift people out of poverty.
SDG #4 is Quality education, and like the UN we believe that education is something which should be life-long. In Central Asia, literacy levels are generally high, but state-provided vocational training is lacking. We are therefore investing ourselves in the training of local guides so that they have the practical and communication skills they need to meet the expectations of tourists.
SGD #5 is Gender equality: Empowering all women and girls. At Kalpak Travel we lead by example: one of our two co-founders is fearless female Aijan Lässer! It’s very important for us that our customers and our in-country colleagues see that men and women both have equally important roles to play in leadership, and bring important experience to the table. Particularly in more conservative communities, seeing a female tour leader, a female guide, and even independent female travellers can be an inspiration for young girls. We all need positive female role models.
Clean water and sanitation is SDG #6. We are fortunate that safe, clean drinking water is readily available in most parts of Central Asia, but that doesn’t mean that we take it for granted. We encourage our guests to be responsible about water usage, not to leave the taps running, and to use a water filter or tablets rather than endless plastic bottles of mineral water when trekking in mountain areas. Our trekking guides also have an educational role to play, ensuring that trekkers and porters alike don’t go to the toilet near potential drinking water sources, and that they understand the importance of always washing their hands.
It’s not always easy to be green in our energy consumption, but SDG #7 is our commitment to affordable and clean energy. When we’re trekking we often use no electricity at all, and we’re also careful to ensure that the energy sources we use for campsite cooking are sustainable as well. Mini solar panels are now readily available and we encourage guests to use these for charging their cell phones, cameras, and other battery-powered devices.
Poorly managed tourism creates a great deal of waste: plastic bottles, packaging, and other disposable items. At Kalpak Travel we take to heart SDG #12: Responsible consumption and production. To cut pollution, we reuse and recycle, and we want our guests to do likewise. We want to set up recycling schemes in Kyrgyzstan, where none are available locally, so that we can dispose of waste in more sustainable ways. You’ll see our tour leaders and guides carrying reusable fabric shopping bags rather than disposable plastic ones; and wherever possible we take our guests to restaurants which have reusable plates, cups, and cutlery rather than plastic, paper, and polystyrene ones which are used once then thrown away.
The last SDG we want to talk about is #16: Peace, justice, and strong institutions. For us this means building effective, accountable relationships which cross international borders. Kalpak Travel is based in Switzerland, a country known for its neutrality and for hosting the headquarters of numerous international organisations. Our founders are Swiss and Kyrgyz, and we operate tours in five different countries, so cross-border cooperation is at the very heart of what we do. Tourism flourishes in peaceful environments and actively contributes to the building and maintenance of a peaceful society as it enables us to meet, talk with, and better understand one another.