2013 Inspiring Stories from Destinations

LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001Congratulations to our 2013 Top 10 WINNERS of our Inspiring Stories from Destinations competition. This is our third year running this competition, and time after time, Wild Asia and our panel of judges (from the Green Circuit and Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia) are inspired and impressed by the level of commitment towards responsible tourism taking place in our region.

On Thursday 24th October 2013, we were delighted to host our Top 3 winners at ITB Asia as part of our responsible tourism series. And here, we would love to congratulate our Top 10 winners for their achievements in making the tourism industry a sector that strives to make positive social impact.

Each year, our judges look for stories that are unique, inspiring, able to encourage others to ‘copy’, and have a good reach in their impact. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to be wowed!

Top 3 Winners

(in alphabetical order)

Top 10 Winners

(in alphabetical order)

Melhua the Fern Ecotel’s Mission for Waste Management in Mumbai

LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001There has been a significant increase in municipal solid waste generation in India in the last few decades. This is largely because of the rapid population and economic development. Solid Waste Management has become a major issue and to reduce its impact on health and the environment, Melhua the Fern has come up with the formation of the ALM (Advance Locality Management) program with partnership between citizens for sustainable and environment management.

ALM has been formed by Meluha the Fern in 2011 in Hiranandani Township for the segregation of Solid Waste Management at source where the ALM members and citizens are involved directly. Well publicized eco events, initiative, campaigns, information, and resources are organized from time to time to the city’scitizens to enable the practice of more environmentally conscious and socially responsible lifestyles. Monthly BMC ward meetings are being held and the staff presents at the BMC-Community meetings on several environment issues and discussions learn from the same. These meetings act as appropriate platform to one and all to discuss the urban issue with transparency.

Looking forward to working on many projects in the future for the welfare of Powai and the city the dedication of NGOs, like Stree Mukti Sanghatan workers, prompted Melhua to get involved with them in this ALMs project. They can work with housekeeping in each building to take away free of cost all dry garbage.

“It will lead us to not only a cleaner city, but eventually to a cleaner country”

Presentations and guideline are being presented to the local community, schools, colleges and co-operative housing societies for better understanding of garbage segregation. An interactive curriculum has been developed, targeting environmental sustainability as it relates to the business world for the college and school student studying environment practices thus truly enhancing their in-house programmes to the community outside successfully, adding value to the learning programs on how to implement practices in the world of sustainability which will help for the next generation too.

01_JVP0205Melhua’s efforts are aiming at reaching a zero garbage zone in Powai. They are also helping the B.M.C cut costs by saving on trucks coming to collect garbage. They invite other housing society buildings and corporates to join in making the area a garbage free Powai and look forward to a green collaboration with all business sectors. Waste management focuses on minimization and the 3R’s (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle). Melhua are fully committed to their sustainability policy by integrating innovation into environmental actions. Minimizing their carbon footprint by everyday activities and building in an environmental-friendly culture and communicating it to their local community, staff and guests is the right way to make sustainability.

Meluha is now a certified Ecotel and has the distinction of achieving Ecotel’s highest possible rating: Tier 1 with its average resource consumption reduction of 71%.

Some achievements include:

  • Approx. 39 to 45 kg of wet waste is converted into vermicompost per day and the rest is taken to piggeries.
  • 6 pits + 2 Nirmalaya pits (flowers) where wet garbage is treated and about 1500 kgs vermi compost is recovered per month.
  • All the other dry waste (non-recyclable garbage) is taken and recycled by Shah trading Co.
  • Car Free Day: Creating awareness to save petrol and pollution
  • Imparting knowledge in Ecotel practices to school students
  • Plant a sapling
  • Creating awareness by involving team members and guests in eco sensitive competitions


Homestays at the Bamboo Village – a rendezvous with nature and host community

LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001Subini Nair, an agri-engineering graduate and management consultant based in Kozhikode, Kerala, made a visit to the Bamboo Village in Wayanad. Inspired by what she experienced, she has joined the ethical-tourism NGO behind the homestay initiative. Here is her story…

My dream about India was more filled with the noisy crowded streets, festivals, wedding bands, political party processions blocking traffic, cows though praised to be holy found wandering around the upper class garbage heaps… But quite forgotten were those images seen in my childhood of the picturesque hilly landscapes and widespread green paddy fields.

622554_273536542750612_21655615_o (1)Coming up the narrow winding rugged roads up the Western Ghats as the Kerala Transport Bus grinded its engine, I was finally able to breathe the crisp and clean mountain air. Had I been blindfolded, I still could have guessed that I am in Wayanad. 2100 meters high above the sea level, braced by mountains and blending beautifully with lush green tea and coffee plantations, lies this kingdom of greens. Plenty of palm trees (‘Kera ‘as in Malayalam- the language of the state) where in Kerala derives its name from, the unending rice fields and the undivided plantain gardens took away all my weary air of the long haul.  The richness of resources, the refreshing climate, the biodiversity and the rural location makes Wayanad a perfect place to stay.

The name ‘Wayanad’ derives from ‘Wayal – Nadu’ (the land of paddy field in vernacular language) and reveals this piece of paradise’s agri-culture.  But here I spotted trouble in this paradise. Though nature has blessed here with abundance, the markets declined the prices of every crop from these hills which led to the devastating and seemingly hopeless situation for the farmer families eventually leading to many suicides.

The Bamboo Village – tiding the other direction

As we say: nature always shows a new direction during each crisis , it seems to be proven true for Wayanad. To flow the other direction as the river Kabani does unlike other major rivers of the state that flows westwards in Kerala. The “Bamboo Village” in Thrikkaipetta, no longer s much for the crop markets to decide their fate, but with the support of the organizations Uravu and Kabani,  today a village that was once never spotted on local tourist maps, has today become one the  much cited locations on the global tourist map.

Community driven initiatives

It is purely the love and livelihood of the community that is bringing tourists to visit this place, and even refers their friends to this village. Today there are seven homestays, with the number gradually expanding as the community imbibes tourism as an additional income for their families. A set of principles evolved with the values of the community including the clear understanding of waste management and effective utilization of village resources, makes the Bamboo Village shower harmony and becomes an example to the neighboring villages. KABANI – the other direction, an organization focusing on sustainable socio-economic development of villages and the conservation of natural resources, continues to share this philosophy by promoting more villages at different locations across India , in tune with their vision  of tourism always benefiting the local people, whilst neither diluting their culture nor harming the environment.

The meeting point of two worlds

DSC_0526The project caters for travellers who look for a very personal and ethical way to stay. The travellers are accommodated in family homes, sharing their hosts’ daily routine, getting to learn about their lives first hand, and tasting the wonderful flavours of home-cooked Keralite dishes. Your host welcomes you into their homes. Here I experienced a hospitality that does not begin and end merely with food being served to you and a room provided; but with families sharing their time and lives with you with no intrusion to privacies.

For the locals, this is a way to decentralize tourism and directly benefit from guests’ holiday budgets. As their homes can cater for a few additional guests, the initial investment is very low. In addition, a benefit sharing scheme makes sure that the entire village has its fair share: Half of the income from accommodation stays with the host families, another 30% goes to a village fund to provide professional trainings, support youth and the elderly, development of village level entrepreneurship, the annual jackfruit festival, and ongoing tourism development. The remaining 20% covers the expenses of the organization KABANI and its sustainable tourism activities.

A record of traditional knowledge – recapturing diluting culture

I met them!  Faces old and wrinkled eyes keen, bright and sharp.  Its anger and anguish, but hope. They see irresponsibility towards nature and living. The elders of this village were thrilled to talk about their times and traditions which offered me the best tips which I think can be solutions to our bigger problems.

Here they made a few tiny steps towards rebuilding a sustainable world from sustainable communities. Don’t you feel like being invited?!  They would love to know you.

India’s first ever reversal of a local extinction

&Beyond’s pioneering Gaur translocation project in Bandhavgarh National Park

LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001&Beyond’s pioneering model of low-impact, high-yield wildlife tourism is based on our ethic of Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife, Care of the People. Tried and tested for more than twenty years, we believe in sharing the skills we have gained through the implementation of this model to benefit the preservation of wildlife not only in Africa but further afield. Our passion to ensure that we protect the great wildlife areas of the world, leaving a legacy for the next generation, has driven us to partner with conservation authorities in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to carry out a ground-breaking translocation. Aimed at reversing the local extinction of the gaur in Bandhavgarh National Park, an additional goal of this public-private partnership was to carry out training and create the capability for Indian wildlife officials to complete subsequent relocations of other species on their own.

andBeyond_Gaur Translocation image 2v2For years, Indian conservation policy had focussed solely on the preservation of protected areas, with limited wildlife management. Indian forestry officials were aware that gaur had gone extinct in Bandhavgarh National Park, but were not sure how to reverse this extinction. While working with Madhya Pradesh Forest Department (MPFD) on establishing our circuit of four jungle lodges in India, &Beyond became aware of this situation. We immediately saw this as an opportunity not only to help restore a species to its natural habitat but to share our knowledge of translocation techniques and develop this capacity in the MPFD.

As a pioneer in responsible sustainable travel, &Beyond’s model of restoring and conserving regional biodiversity has often required animal translocations and re-introductions. As a result, the company has considerable experience in this area and Group Conservation Manager Les Carlisle has planned and implemented the translocation of more than 40,000 heads of wildlife in several African countries.

With &Beyond providing the expertise for the project, the initiative required five years of meticulous collaboration and planning with the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, which oversees some of India’s largest tracts of protected land, and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which is responsible for the research that is used to help identify priorities and formulate guidelines for wildlife conservation in the country.

In the words of Dr HS Pabla, then the Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh, “Other than retrieving the lost biodiversity of Bandhavgarh, the project was aimed at building the capacity of the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department and the Wildlife Institute of India in the field of the capture and translocation of large animals. It was also meant to show what public-private partnerships could accomplish. Mridula Tangirala, Director of Operations at Taj Safari Lodges, and Les Carlisle, Group Conservation manager at &Beyond, worked tirelessly to obtain the approvals of their companies expeditiously. Les made several trips to India just to ensure that the construction of bomas and modification of trucks was exactly as required.”

The transfer of skills was a vital part of the project. Recognising the need to share Africa’s unique conservation skills, Indian conservation officials were invited to &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve to learn the techniques of darting and loading buffalo. During the planning phase, some of the best buffalo specialists in the world focused on teaching and re-creating their skills base in India. KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife staff took the Indian officials to inspect holding bomas and they were also given the opportunity to take part in animal capture exercises at Hluhluwe Game Reserve. The designs for animal capture trucks and stretchers were shared with the Indian team, who arranged for them to be adapted and re-created by an Indian company so that all the required equipment could be manufactured on the spot.

With the initial phase complete, the &Beyond team travelled to India to begin full scale training with the MPFD and WII teams. This stage included a few vital adaptations to the Indian national parks infrastructure. Reserves in India are not fenced, however Les Carlisle argued strongly for the need to build reinforced reintroduction bomas to contain and protect the gaur after translocation. As a result, a holding boma was constructed for the animals at Bandhavgarh National Park, where they were to be released. This would allow the gaur to become habituated to their new home and would keep tigers out of the newly reintroduced population until the animals had settled in.

The next phase of the project included &Beyond’s experts working with Indian officials to obtain the correct permits to import the drugs required and to translocate the animals. It took nearly a year to get the import permits into place and have the drugs sent to India. With a narrow window during the Indian winter when it is cool enough to subject animals to the stresses of the move, the translocation was planned for January 2011.

The total operation team consisted of more than thirty field rangers and another thirty senior officers. The field staff made up two stretcher teams of twelve to fifteen men. Ten days before the operation was due to begin, Les Carlisle began to practice each move of the procedure with the Indian teams. This training was crucial as it ensured that, once the operation began, every member of the team understood exactly what they were to do.

andBeyond_Les Carlisle_Gaur Translocation image 1v2As the operation moved into full swing, it became obvious that the training had paid off. As animal after animal was tracked, darted and then loaded in the translocation trucks, the longest it took for this process to be completed for one animal was 38 minutes. With recovery time after giving the antidote to the drug between one and five minutes, no animal took longer than 50 minutes from the time it was darted to until it was awake and standing in the holding boma, a time really difficult to achieve within the norms of animal translocation.

With the Indian teams rapidly becoming more experienced at what they were doing, after the first 14 animals &Beyond’s experts stood back, allowing them to dart and translocate the last five gaur on their own. Everything proceeded as planned and the relocation was a huge success, with 19 gaur safely darted and transported during the first test phase. A breakthrough achievement in Indian conservation, this translocation was followed by the subsequent movement of another 31 gaur in January 2012, this time carried out mainly by Indian wildlife authorities. This brought the total number of gaur moved to the recommended number of 50.

With the success of reversing a local extinction measured by how well the new population does in its environment, the gaur herd in Bandhavgarh has grown steadily over the years. Despite tiger-inflicted mortalities, the herd is thriving in its new home, with the recent birth of the 19th calf since the reintroduction.

The first partnership between a wildlife tourism operator and the Forestry Department in India, the translocation has cleared the way for the implementation of other conservation initiatives in Madhya Pradesh state and in all of India.

“Encouraged by the success of this project, the state has already proposed the translocation of several other species to reverse local extinctions in Madhya Pradesh. The barasingha is set to return to Bori Sanctuary and the blackbuck is going to return to Kanha. We can even dream of creating whole new wildlife assemblages from scratch if secure space is available, through the translocation of prey and predators from other sources, rather than waiting for ages to let it happen on its own. Let us hope that this project will prove to be a harbinger of change in our approach to conservation, which it was always meant to be. Perhaps we will no longer just wring our hands when the extinction of a particular species looms in front of us. We can now prevent or reverse such local extinctions, thanks to the Gaur Project,” sums up Dr Pabla.


Joining forces to save Kalawa Forest

Three friends from Kalimantan Tour Destinations share their journey towards their dream of ecotourism in Central Kalimantan’s rainforest…

LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001It was the beginning of 2008 and we were at last open for business!  The three of us shared a dream to develop and promote ecotourism to protect the important areas of rainforest in Central Kalimantan whilst improving the livelihoods of local communities. Our vision was a simple one, to enable our guests to experience the natural environment and the Dayak communities in a eco-friendly way.

Developing our vision took patience and perseverance; we developed a business plan that was chosen In September 2006 as a winner in the Business in Development Challenge sponsored by the Netherlands government.  This provided KTD with €6,000 prize money, important advice from a number of entrepreneurs, a network of contacts and a business plan that was able to attract additional investment from our own private funds.

Rehabilitation of a boat began in 2006 with a team of local boat builders, the demands of creating a boat with comfortable cabins, electricity, flushing toilets and flowing water proved to be too challenging. We suspended work on the boat and searched for a qualified boat designer and architect. By the end of 2006 we had found a British boat builder who was teaching boat building at the Surabaya Technical University and a local carpenter, who was contracted to complete the redesign.

pitcher plantIn 2007, we chose the occasion of Central Kalimantan’s 50-year anniversary celebrations to name our boat and the Rahai’i Pangun was formally named in a Dayak Kaharingan ceremony. We wanted our boat to have a Dayak name that would resonate with local people so we approached Bapak Lewis, an elder of the Dayak Kaharingan religion for advice, who proposed the name ‘Rahai’i Pangun’. Rahai’i Pangun literally translates into English as ‘big development’ and was the name of the boat of a former prince (bandar) who sailed to China and other countries bringing many great treasures to Kalimantan from his travels. Bapak Lewis hoped that the new Rahai’i Pangun would also bring prosperity to the villages she visits.

Final work on the boat was completed and the Rahai’i Pangun was moved from Kereng Bangkirai on the Sebangau River, where she was remodelled and constructed, travelling out to sea and back up the Kahayan River for a final fit out ready to start operating.

In February 2008 the Rahai’i Pangun was launched by the Governor of Central Kalimantan, Bpk. A.Teras Narang, and embarked on her first overnight maiden voyage.

We worked with the community to establish self-managed community entrepreneur groups to work with providing host services to visitors.  This helped to create alternative incomes and support the life and growth of the local culture. We also worked closely with our local stakeholders to share our learning (government, private sector, NGOs and communities) to promote ecotourism as a way of protecting the environment and creating alternative livelihoods.

Our eco-tourism business was taking off and we were invited to share our experiences, our capacity building approach to build boats paid off as we renovated our second boat the Spirit of Kalimantan and built another boat the Ruhui Rahayu, and two more boats were built by the government by the boat builder we had trained, in two different districts.

Kalwa Forest

G0030298This Forest known as Kalawa has an area of about 7,025 hectares and is under serious threat from oil palm interests and seasonal fires. Within the villages that have rights to the forest, the communities are split into different interest groups. Some want to log it before it is lost to forest fires. A palm oil company trying to gain rights to the land surrounding the forest is creating a further threat of encroachment. Some welcomed the oil palm and others were firmly against it.

We partnered up with local NGO YCI Yayasan Cakrawala Indonesia and a local adventure company Jurang Batu to work together with the villagers in developing a plan. An initial survey was carried out with the villagers to survey the forest, the team came across orangutan nests, evidence of the honey bear and interesting bird life but the forest was already under severe threat with many trees marked for felling.

The villages had plenty to interest the traveller, a long house and sandungs or bone houses used as a part of an elaborate ritual for the dead to be released to travel to the next world. The earliest missionaries came into Kalimantan and the twin graves of a husband and wife demonstrated how in those early days the missionaries risked losing their heads.

Buntoi chosen as a REDD+ (Reducing Emissions through Avoiding Deforestation and Devastation) demonstration village will shortly celebrate the opening of The Climate Communication Centre for  information and learning on environmental conservation and enhancement.

IMG_0303v2We facilitated a 3 day workshop to raise the awareness of the participants about the potential of managing their forest in a sustainable way and the consequences of the loss of the forest to their way of life.  The workshop had been a great success with the different factions united under a shared vision  to become an example of conservation and sustainability and to attract outsiders to share learning in the continuing challenge of climate change by regaining their  cultural wisdom that once kept the balance between the need to sustain their lives and the forest life.

In September the villagers will have their first guests, a group of six from Switzerland providing them with a real experience to try out their planned itineraries. This is a first step on a long road and we aim to keep building on this enthusiasm by continuing to work with them on implementing their plans and attracting tourists to be part of their challenge in saving a small bit of forest that means so much for these 4 villages.

The Dusun – from family retreat to nature resort

LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001It began as a simple retreat from the city for a family. In 1984, Helen put an ad in the Malay Mail to purchase a rural lot. Walking through a rubber smallholding in Negeri Sembilan, she looked out to the Mantin hills and fell in love…

All the rubber trees were removed and durian seedlings were planted by Helen, David and their five children. Lovingly developed over the years, the family always referred to their home as the Dusun, or the Orchard. When it became apparent that others love the Dusun as much as they did, Helen and David decided to turn it into a nature resort in 2009.

So being environmentally friendly and socially fair was never a business decision, it has always been the way in which they nurture our land and environment. It has always been the way we treat our neighbours and friends.

IMG_0238The Dusun honours sustainable development in farming and building, which has created a beautiful and healthy environment. Starting with two houses, the Dusun expanded one house at a time to only five houses. Each house is unique, studying the use of different locally found materials and building techniques. All houses are placed to catch the winds that come down the valley and up the little hill. Ventilation and placement of doors, windows, carvings and fans ensure comfort without the use of air-conditioning.

Committed to supporting the local community, the family has maintained a good relationship with their neighbours. The business only hires from nearby kampungs, and are careful about staff hours and pay fair wages that increase with increasing skill, responsibility or time with us. Employees can benefit from support with official matters like banking and EPF etc. There are also interest free loans available for motorbikes and computers.

Our staff are like our family – we trust them, respect them and do what we can to build their confidence.

IMG_0454Despite a small team, purchases impact the community too. As much as possible purchases are made in the local kampong; most of the food shopping is from the wet market and cleaning detergents are from other responsible businesses.

Activities are designed to raise awareness of Malaysia’s beautiful natural heritage and support local traditions, communities and NGOs. The jungle is guided by a neighbor who has been a hunter gatherer all his life, and all proceeds are kept by the guide. Guests can also enjoy a Bird Discovery Walk, whose proceeds go to Bird Conservation Council at Malaysian Nature Society. on the Dusun is surprising to some, but it is designed for those who enjoy fresh air, lush greenery, jungle views, lingering meals with loved ones, peaceful strolls and the wonderfully uncoordinated orchestra of the birds, crickets and frogs.

Call for Inspiring Stories 2013

Do you want your responsible tourism story heard at Asia’s biggest business-to-business travel trade show?

Well, we want to hear from you! LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001

Every year, we invite inspirational tourism businesses and projects from across Asia to submit their inspiring story. Have you empowered local people? Saved a rare wildlife species? Protected an area’s cultural heritage? All through the power of using tourism as a force for good? Get in touch.

Inspiring Stories from Destinations is an annual competition providing an international platform for tourism players to get their story heard at ITB Asia. We seek exciting stories from organisations and individuals who have found in themselves a passion to make a difference in the travel industry and leave a legacy for the next generation.

Check out our 2011 and 2012 Inspiring Stories.

What we’re looking for?

The selection of successful stories is based on the authenticity of the story, creative and innovative elements and the power to inspire others towards making responsible tourism a reality. (Terms below)

What’s in it for you?

  • Top 3 Winners will receive complimentary tickets to ITB Asia and 5 minutes each to share their story on the Responsible Tourism stage to an audience of likeminded tourism professionals and potential customers
  • Top 10 Winners will have their story published on the Wild Asia website
  • Top 10 Winners will benefit from international PR via our array of travel media partners

How to enter

Submit your stories in any of the following form:

  • In words; no more than 1,500 words
  • Video; no more than 5 minutes
  • Slideshow; no more than 20 slides
  • Podcast; no more than 5 minutes

Email your entries to rt@wildasia.org by 30th August, 2013 (Friday). Please title your email “RT Stories for RT Event at ITB Asia 2013″ and include your Name, Email, Organization and Destination in your email. Successful applicants will be notified via email by 13th September, 2013.

Mulberry Learning CentreKecapiPlayersBeyond Unique Escapes (3)factory man





Inspiring Stories is part of the annual Responsible Tourism networking events that started in 2009. Organised and supported by ITB Asia, Wild AsiaThe Blue Yonder Associates and The Green Circuit, this annual event hopes to bring together sustainable tourism practitioners to share, engage, learn and be inspired to make a difference.

Terms & Conditions

  • Previous winners of Inspiring Stories (Top 3 or Top 10) cannot apply
  • 2013 Finalists of the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards cannot apply
  • Past Winners of the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards cannot apply
  • Businesses or projects that are part of The Blue Yonder Associates or The Green Circuit cannot apply
  • Business or project must be based in Asia
  • Free entry to ITB Asia for Top 3 Winners on the day of the Inspiring Stories event (TBC) only (travel to and from Singapore or accommodation to attend the event is not included)
  • Stories are judged by a panel of responsible tourism experts and their decision is final
  • Applicants acknowledge that the Top 10 Winners of Inspiring Stories 2013 will have their story, images, (presentation of Top 3) published on the Wild Asia website

Child Safe Tourism – spotlight on orphanages

by Amy McLoughlin

Orphanage Tourism

What is Orphanage Tourism? It can be most commonly found in Cambodia, where tourists may be approached by children, asking them to make a visit to their orphanage in exchange for a small donation towards the upkeep of their home (Friends-International). Controversially, an entire tourism industry has grown around this and now represents thousands of tourist visits.

Orphanage tourism is a burgeoning industry and attracting attention for a whole host of reasons. Most commonly because the children in question are exposed to exploitation and the begging culture does not equate to a sustainable future of the centre or its inhabitants. Shockingly, there have also been reports of some establishments where children have been bought from families to be placed into ‘fake’ orphanages to work in heartstring-tugging roles to generate money.
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Some things you should know about orphanages in Cambodia:

  1. According to the Alternative Care Report (2008) 75% of children living in orphanages, are not orphans.
  2. Many orphanages exploit children to raise money. They can be scams to attract donations, tourists and volunteers.
  3. Most orphanages do not have child protection policies in place and therefore are unsafe environments for children.

It doesn’t end with orphanages. Visitors across the world can be found visiting schools, slums or dump-sites  The Child Safe Network provides travellers with advice about visiting such sites; they suggest visiting these situations only further enforces inequality and poor living environments can often be maintained to trigger emotional giving from tourists.

Children are not Tourist Attractions

Children-are-not-tourist-attractions1In the late 2000′s, orphanage tourism had increased greatly, as had the number of orphanages across Cambodia. Friends-International had identified orphanage tourism as a growing concern for several years. As a result, in 2011 they launched the ‘Children are not Tourist Attractions’ campaign.

Expert in the field Luke Gracie from Friends-International, works with a network of NGOs to provide family based care to children living outside their families and to prevent abandonment of children. He shares his insights into this industry and its implications…

Orphanage tourism places a huge number of risks on kids, so reducing the number of tourists visiting orphanages will reduce the chances of child protection violations to kids, as well as contribute to breaking the business model of the orphanages that see kids as profit making entities.

There are a lot of negative impacts of people visiting orphanages. I find the process ethically offensive. Placing vulnerable children as a type of commodity that people pay money to visit and play with is a pretty poor foundation for a child centre to be working from.

With no checks on the people who are visiting many orphanages, it is an unacceptable risk to children that predators could potentially see where they live and interact with the kids. People shouldn’t support orphanages or child centres that place children at that level of risk.

It can be traumatising for children living in orphanages to make attachments to visitors and for them to leave after a short amount of time. It’s important for children to make attachments to care givers, a conveyer belt of people arriving and giving them attention is not a healthy experience for children.

We gave Luke the following scenario: I am a tourist being offered the chance to visit an orphanage and I really want to help. What shall I do? Can there be positive impacts of orphanage tourism? In a nutshell, he replies: “not really”. Luke suggests that visiting an orphanage is much like the temptation to give in to begging. Whilst he admits, the sensation of making a vulnerable child smile is tempting after giving them money in the street, people should be aware of what the longer term impact of giving or visiting an orphanage is. It can create a lifecycle of poor child care and can fund pro-longed dangerous living environments.

Orphanage Volunteers

Similar to visiting an orphanage as part of a holiday, those volunteering their time to help out in an orphanage are also gaining attention from the media. Under much criticism, ‘voluntourism’ in general has been put under the spotlight with many asking ‘a help of hindrance?’.

No child benefits from spending intimate time with a total stranger, especially those who are uneducated in social work and education
- Tessa Boudrie, a qualified social worker *

Some professionals in the sector have criticised volunteer opportunities for a lack of purpose and that many volunteers don’t possess the relevant skills or time commitment needed to make a real difference. Orphanages can often be desperate for help and will open their doors unwittingly to dangerous characters, putting children’s safety at risk. Children in orphanages can also be susceptible to emotional loss from the ever changing conveyor belt of volunteers.

On the other hand, volunteers are also open to exploitation and many volunteers engage with orphanages with a genuine desire to bring positive benefits yet are greeted by ‘fake’ or unethical establishments out to make a buck from willing foreigners.

Luke stresses that:

Volunteering can be a great thing and provide fantastic benefits to organisations. People increasingly see the injustice of the world, how it’s not a fair world and they want to do something to prevent or mitigate that in some small way. That’s a really great mind-set to have.

Kate JordanKate Jordan from the USA has spent two four month stints volunteering in orphanages in Nepal and Guatemala. She was motivated to volunteer in orphanages because she loves working with children, with a dream of a career in international social welfare.

Kate pursued working with paid volunteer opportunities to be assured that she was travelling with a reputable organisation. Generally, she felt confident that this money was being spent to support the projects where she was working, such as supplies needed by the orphanage. However, at the orphanage in a rural Nepali village, Kate reports it was very evident that the owner of the orphanage was selling these supplies in order to fund her own comparatively lavish life style.

It was extremely difficult to see that [children] living at the orphanage were being neglected…my supervisor conveyed to me that it was better that they were receiving the care of volunteers, albeit while being denied their rightful resources, rather than receiving no care from volunteers at all. My inability to affect large changes was especially frustrating when I felt that the children were being treated in an unjust manner.

The campaign ‘Orphanages: Not the Solution’ states that “few tourists or volunteers are qualified to interact with traumatized or vulnerable children”. Kate agrees, and when applying to work with children, the only major requirement was that she was over eighteen years. Whilst her education is in social care, Kate believes that there should definitely be more of a screening process for potential volunteers. In general Kate’s experiences were life-changing and heart-warming yet she expressed how difficult it was dealing with children who had experienced hardship at such a young age.

Whilst she admits she will never know if she made a lasting impact on the lives of the children she worked with, the children have made an indelible impact on her life. For Kate, it was important that her time spent in those communities was more long lasting than just the four months spent there. Inspirationally, she recently succeeded in fundraising $10,000 to purchase an ambulance for the rural Nepali village where she worked. She did this in response to the challenges the children faced due to a fluid population of volunteers in orphanages.

[Children] have grown used to the constant coming and going of volunteers and tend to see new volunteers as little more than deliverers of gifts, sweets, and constant attention. I frequently felt that the benefit of having foreign volunteers was outweighed by the negative impact that over-attachment has on the lives of children without parents or families.

We asked Luke what he would recommend to anyone considering visiting or volunteering at an orphanage.

Think…is it really necessary and what help are they actually providing to the children in the centre? Are they actually orphans? If not, why not support an organisation that is helping kids get back with their families or is helping families remain strong so the whole issue of kids being removed from their families never happens in the first place.

If you’d like to make a donation to support the work of Friends-International, you can contribute online here.

Useful Links

  • Wild Asia – We’re proud supporters of the Child Safe Network and share guidelines on our website: link
  • Al-Jazeera - Documentary about ‘Cambodia’s orphan business’ for more information: link 
  • Child Safe Network - Child safe tourism tips for travellers and tourism businesses: link
  • Orphanages No - Discover why supporting orphanages as a ‘solution’ fuels the ‘problem’: link
  • Good Intentions - Learn more about ‘smart aid’: link
  • PEPY – Learning Service volunteer guidelines for those seeking to make a real difference: link 

* Quote taken from Expat Living article “Should you or shouldn’t you volunteer at a Cambodian orphanage?” 

(Photographs provided by Kate Jordan)

Unique Ubud – authentic homestays

Responsible Tourism Travel Story

Agata Zborowska, Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Intern shares her Balinese travel diary with us.

My experiences from Bali

Visiting wonderful Bali – where beautiful landscapes meet architectural treasures, rich history and mystical atmosphere, is many travellers’ dream.

First stop – Ubud, a small town surrounded by picturesque rice terraces peacefully located in the centre of the island.

Despite being firmly on the tourist path for years and gaining notoriety since being featured as the backdrop for the movie Eat Pray Love, Ubud still manages to keep its charm.

Yuliati House HomestayBy luck of chance I found a cozy homestay called Yuliati House which gave me an opportunity to observe the daily life of a Balinese family. Initially, I was not completely convinced it was the right choice as details online were scarce with rather blurry pictures (plus, my late night arrival there in pitch black middle of the night did not help). However when I woke up the following morning, all my doubts were completely gone and here is why…

The homestay’s inhabitants were not only extremely welcoming and helpful with any requests we made, but also managed, in spite of the regular stream of tourists they receive, to keep the place running as a typical Balinese home. From the build of the house to the furniture made from the locally supplied bamboo, from the garden with its lush green vegetation to the rituals practiced by the family such as the tradition of making daily Hindu offerings from flowers and food, everything is, as far as we knew, traditionally maintained.

Yuliati House HomestayBalinese culture was all around me, the owner practiced daily on a traditional Balinese bamboo music instrument for relaxation and one of the daughters, a traditional Bali dancer, prepared her outfit and colorful makeup for the show every evening. She later became a teacher to my friend who as a professional dancer could not miss an opportunity for a one-to-one Balinese dancing class in those beautiful surroundings.

I had originally scheduled to stay there for 2-3 nights, but since it was such a marvelous experience, I ended up extending my stay to 10 days and I was not the only one!

Our presence there did not interrupt or interfere with their daily lifestyle.  The homestay’s family visit was a true testimony that tourism and local community/lifestyle can co-exist and benefit both the visitor and the indigenous inhabitant. It did not feel commercialized in any way; responsible tourism seemed to be a realistic and natural practice here. It was implemented by using simple measures, such as asking us daily if we needed our towels and sheets changed in order to avoid unnecessary use of water and electricity for washing, all outside lights were turned off at night, organic waste was composted.

Homestay’s residents along with many other locals, whom I had a pleasure meeting while in Ubud, won my heart as the friendliest, most genuine and spiritual people I have met during all of my travels.

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Staying true to your culture for authentic experiences…

Wild Asia is delighted to learn about this business that stays true to their culture which provides guests’ with memorable authentic experiences. Tourism can often result in a loss of cultural identity of destinations, so we are thrilled to hear about examples like this that uses tourism as a powerful tool to keep culture alive. Homestays like this one proves that even small efforts made by its owners can help to preserve local culture and the original lifestyle true to the natives for centuries. The tourists, who often travel in search for such deep cultural experiences, learn to respect the heritage of indigenous people and become educated about the value of local culture by simply being engaged in the daily lifestyle on such a personal level.


(Photos: credit Agata Zborowska)

Do you have a story?

Have you witnessed something on your holiday that has disturbed you or amazed you? We’d love to hear your own experiences. If you’ve been exposed to travel experiences that have left you feeling something’s not quite right here, get in touch. Equally, we love hearing about inspirational tourism that’s doing wonders for local communities. Share your travel story by emailing it to, rt@wildasia.org

Koh Rong gone Wrong?

Our Responsible Tourism Intern Iwona Grala (Poland/UK) shares her experiences of tourism that tarnishes natural beauty of destinations from her latest adventure in Cambodia.

Stories from the Field

My name is Iwona and I am a travelholic. My desire for adventure has taken me around the world, giving me a chance to taste the thousands of flavours it has to offer. Sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter ones.

Cambodia_Island_Koh_RongA case study from Koh Rong, Cambodia

I want to tell you about my experience in Koh Rong, the second largest island of Cambodia, located about 25 kilometres off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Tempted by my friend with the vision of an unspoiled island getaway with turquoise-green waters, white beaches, endless palm trees, and only a handful of beachfront bungalows I followed her footsteps and in February 2013 I have arrived to Koh Rong. Leaving behind the hub of nightlife in busy Sihanoukville, I was hoping to live out my Robinson Crusoe fantasy for a few days.

Sadly, the reality of Koh Rong disappointed me rather than amazed me.

Despite the fact that the number of bungalows has increased significantly since my friend last visited the island in 2009, I had a lot of trouble finding a place for the night, which only confirmed that the island is struggling under the weight of its own popularity.

Research reveals that between 2011 and 2013 a number of new operations have opened and even with increased boat service to the island the ferries are struggling to keep up with demand.

Koh Rong C Iwona GralaKoh Touch beach on the island is very popular with backpackers and its popularity has resulted into the loss of ‘desert island’ feeling. For example, I viewed piles of decomposing litter with chickens, dogs, and even children running around it. Plastic bottles and bags, even glass, were littered across the beach and in the water. The white sand was dotted with litter that the locals threw off boats and debris washed up on the beach every day.

Most concerning, numerous pipes from the stilted wooden houses deposited directly to the sea which was supposed to indicate a working sewerage system.

I recently discovered that in 2010 the Cambodian government sold Koh Rong to an investment group based in Cambodia, whose goal is to change Koh Rong into the world’s premier eco resort island armed with an airport, a casino and several five-star resorts. Apparently sustainability will be at the forefront of design and development.

Nevertheless, this much is certain: Koh Rong is still a stunning island that could be the highlight of your trip to Cambodia. How long it will stay this way is another question. If you want to experience it as it is, do so sooner rather than later.

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Take Action on your Holidays

For many years Wild Asia has been championing responsible tourism in destinations across Asia. We do this by recognising leaders and providing an international platform to inspire businesses through our annual Responsible Tourism Awards. We also support tourism operators through dynamic training programmes to improve sustainability practices.

But guests can play their part too! Here are some tips to help you have a responsible holiday:

  • Follow local cultural etiquette by discovering appropriate ‘do’s and don’ts’ for your destination – here’s a great example for Cambodia
  • Search for responsible accommodation providers – stay with one of our past Award winners or look for certified hotels, such as Travelife accredited businesses
  • If you see something you don’t like, don’t stay quiet. Speak to the business that’s upsetting you and point them in the direction of a more responsible approach.


(Photos: header and lower, credit Iwona Grala; centre image taken from kohrong-islandtravel.com)

Do you have a story?

Have you witnessed something on your holiday that has disturbed you or amazed you? We’d love to hear your own experiences. If you’ve been exposed to travel experiences that have left you feeling something’s not quite right here, get in touch. Equally, we love hearing about inspirational tourism that’s doing wonders for local communities. Share your travel story by emailing it to, rt@wildasia.org