River Mekong Tours’ Responsible Tourism Policy 2017-2019
River Mekong is an innovative tour operator with a broad focus on sustainable travel.
Our vision is to develop and promote authentic and unique travel experiences which will bring the greatest possible benefit to all the participants – travellers, the host population and the tourist business, whilst minimising our environmental impact and respecting the culture and people in our destinations.
Our Sustainability Mission:
Our company always conducts our business a socially and environmentally responsible and ethical manner. We focus on promoting our country’s tourism with the benefits of protecting the environment, educating the stakeholders of the sustainability and bring economic and social benefits to the local community so that both the branding of our company and the sustainability of the destinations and local communities thrive together.
Responsible Tourism is about “making Better Places for people to live in and Better Places for people to visit“. Responsible Tourism requires that operators, hoteliers, governments, local people and tourists take responsibility, take action to make tourism more sustainable.
The Cape Town Declaration recognises that Responsible Tourism takes a variety of forms, it is characterised by travel and tourism which:
- minimises negative environmental, social and cultural impacts;
- generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the wellbeing of host communities, by improving working conditions and access to the industry;
- involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;
- makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage and to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;
- provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural and environmental issues;
Behaviour can be more or less responsible and what is responsible in a particular place depends upon environment and culture.
Tourism is one of the most important and largest industries on the planet, it accounts for 11% of the world’s GDP and 12% of its exports. It employs more people worldwide than any other, with millions of families relying on tourism for their daily needs. We believe that our type of small group, off-the-beaten track tourism can bring benefits to many communities, help preserve the environments we travel to see, and provide real and positive social exchanges. Even in Europe, tourism can help stabilize rural communities by providing much needed employment and give powerful economic reasons to preserve rapidly shrinking natural environments.
Our focus on sustainable development is a serious business issue, key to our on-going and future success. River Mekong recognizes that climate change is one of the most urgent problems facing our world today and the tourism sector is a growing contributor to the problem.
Travel and tourism are responsible for around 5% of global CO2 emissions. Our challenge is to prepare for a low-carbon society by further reducing our environmental impacts, while ensuring we preserve tourism’s social and economic benefits – both for the host community and our customers.
River Mekong regularly engages with internal and external stakeholders. Communicating with the groups who have an interest in our Company and its activities helps us develop as a business and incorporate respect for the environment and people into the way we work. River Mekong engages with customers, colleagues, industry partners, suppliers, stakeholders in destinations, governments, nongovernmental organisations and experts in sustainable tourism. River Mekong’s management are regular public advocates for sustainable tourism, in the media, at industry and governmental events, and with other audiences.
We cannot improve the sustainability alone, but need to cooperate with all different stakeholders varying from hotels, inbound agencies to tour leaders and local guides.
Engaging our customers, clients and partners in sustainability is a continuous process. We expect each and everyone of us to integrate sustainable thinking into our behaviour.
We have developed guidelines for ourselves and our partners. This document provides specific policies about sustainability. We expect from all our partners to meet the requirements and follow the guidelines below.
The aim of this sustainable tourism policy is:
- to educate staff, local agents, guides, crew, suppliers and clients on the importance of sensitivity to environmental, cultural and economic matters in the countries visited
- to set the example for our clients; tour guides, drivers, cooks and guides play a model role and therefore have to set the example for our clients and they also have to inform the clients
- to give practical guidance on how to achieve these objectives
- to set goals to work towards a sustainable tourism sector
Our sustainable tourism policy is issued to our local representatives in all destinations of Myanmar. This is constantly being reviewed and we welcome feedback from all sources which may enable us to perform better in this field.
We will provide regular and on-going training in the principles and practices of responsible tourism, both to our office staff and those employed directly or indirectly around the world.
We encourage our partners to inform us about new ideas and new tourist products.
We have divided our sustainable development plan in 4 different themes;
- Carbon Management
- Our colleagues
- Our customers
We are aware that wherever we go we are having an impact on the environment. We endeavour to minimise this impact and, where possible, engage in projects and activities that not only make the environment sustainable but contribute to improving it.
We run our office in a responsible manner by using fair-trade products, reducing our energy usage, as well as recycling. By developing our website and electronic literature, we limit the amount of paper materials we produce.
Sustainable waste management works with three objectives: reduce, reuse and recycle. We try to produce as little waste as possible, and separate glass, paper, toner/ink and batteries so it can be recycled.
100% of lightning is energy efficient. All equipment is switched off after office hours (not on ‘standby’).
River Mekong purchases based on following:
- Air and water emissions reduction
- Exclusion / limitation of harmful chemicals.
- Using environmentally friendly products.
- Use of recycled materials.
- Using recyclable materials.
- Reduce power consumption.
- Generating less waste in general.
- Proper management of waste.
- Less packaging.
More efficient logistics and delivery
- Optimizing products lifetime.
- Ensure lasting repair and spare parts.
- Ease of repair.
- More efficient machinery.
- Possession of environmental management systems.
- We will give preference to domestic products, supporting the entrepreneur of our country.
The sustainable management program of River Mekong Tours focuses on responsible consumption of products and services we use in our daily work activity.
- We will give priority to recycled, recyclable, biodegradable and / or reusable products.
- We will avoid materials that damage the ozone layer: aerosols and styrofoam.
- We shall give priority, insofar as possible, to organic products.
- In selecting suppliers, we would provide preference to high quality companies national and local, as part of a corporate social responsibility strategy that allows the incorporation of neighboring communities towards the regional economy.
The mobility of the employees consists of the travel between home and work and for business purposes. We stimulate our employees to use public transport or a bicycle to get to work. Some of our employees work from home part of their time.
Use of Transport
River Mekong tries to ensure that vehicles used on tours should not cause more than average pollution. If measures exist to reduce the existing level of pollution (e.g. by using alternative means of transport or public transport), we will always consider this option.
We try to avoid domestic flights during our trips instead we prefer comfort VIP buses or shuttle boat or in some trip train. We prefer direct flights to reach the destination.
Ground transportation suppliers can promote greater fuel efficiency by ensuring that their fleets are well maintained, and by requiring drivers to switch off engines when vehicles are stationary. River Mekong will not actively offer any activities that are focused on use of quad bikes, super speed boats etc.
We know that the leisure travel industry can have both positive and negative impacts on communities and the natural environment, depending on how these impacts are managed. We are committed to learning more about how our holidays can benefit local livelihoods and protect the environment – putting these insights into practice. This is fundamental to preserving the quality of our product in years to come. River Mekong has an efficient supply chain operating across Myanmar, made up of many different kinds of ground transports, local guides and owner of accommodation, both large and small. These businesses are the gatekeepers to River Mekong’s sustainability performance in our destinations, as each of them plays a significant role in managing our impacts on the local community, economy and environment. By focusing on sustainability, our suppliers are able to achieve cost efficiency savings which ultimately give customers better value for money. Our challenge is to extend the reach of our influence to all suppliers and to monitor their progress.
We have introduced environmental and social contractual standards for local suppliers – please see annex. All our suppliers are required to self-assess its current sustainability performance by registering on the Travelife Sustainability System and completing the on-line questionnaire.
We prefer small scale family hotels which work in a sustainable way and have an independent accreditation.
Sustainable projects we visit during our trips
In every trip we aim to include at least one visit to a project which directly supports the local economy or nature. We encourage our local suppliers to inform us of new initiatives.
Waste management/reducing plastic water bottles.
We advice our clients to limit the amount of waste and dispose of it in a responsible way.
The issue of animals in captivity is a sensitive one for our customers as well as for our Company. Our objective is to encourage suppliers to achieve best practice in animal welfare in the captive and non-captive animal attractions to which we facilitate visits for our customers.
Nature and wildlife are key parts of our tours, yet just the pressure of sheer numbers of visitors can do serious damage to wildlife and sensitive sites. We provide information to our clients so they can experience the natural environment while protecting it for others to enjoy in the future.
Working conditions in tourism sector
Local crew should not be given an unreasonable workload. Working hours should be reasonable and safe within local regulations and not involve dangerous practices in carrying out the job.
Code of Conduct for Porters
We support the guidelines of the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG). Below the guidelines that we want to respect:
- Selection of Porters: guides from the area where the trekking takes place have priority above guides from elsewhere
- Minimum Age: No porters under the age of 16 will be employed. The age will be checked with the porter’s identity card.
- Wages: All staff will receive a fair wage and payment. Tips must be distributed openly and fairly. The wage will be fair and will include porter’s food. All porters will be paid for the duration of the climb.
- Accommodation: Accommodation is provided and climber’s park fees cover this cost. No porter will have to sleep outside; they will either sleep in huts or tents.
- Loads: No porter should be asked to carry a load that is too heavy for their physical abilities (maximum: 20 kg on Kilimanjaro, 25 kg in Peru and 30 kg in Nepal). Weight limits may need to be adjusted for altitude, trail and weather conditions. Our clients will be told that the maximum luggage they can take with them on a trek which is to be carried by porters is 8 kg. A porter will carry the luggage of 2 people.
- Clothing All: staff will have correct clothing, that is sufficient to stand the coldness on mountains.
- Medical Care: All medical bills will be paid for staff taken ill during the climb. Staff will be evacuated from the mountain if they become ill and will nevertheless be paid for the whole climb.
- Client Awareness and Behaviour: Porters and clients will be introduced by name at the start of the trek. Clients will be given advice on how much to tip and the procedure for tipping.
In many countries that we visit, you can find children at work at a young age. We want to work according to the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive. In the tourism sector we have noticed several forms of child labour, that we want eliminate:
- children below 18 years driving cars (also in countries where it is common to drive as a child, it is NOT allowed on Better Places tours)
- children below 16 years that work as porters (heavy loads); we only want to work with adult porters
- children that work many hours in bars, hotels, restaurants
- children that work on a (almost) daily basis in the entertainment industry (dancing, singing etc.).
- children that are working as guides on a (almost) daily basis
Code of Conduct against Child Sex Tourism
We recognise that the sexual exploitation of children is a world-wide problem. In all our activities and operations we actively disagree with all kinds of sexual exploitation of children all over the world.
Our colleagues and local representatives
Our aim is to make sustainable development tangible to each and every colleague/local partner within our business. We communicate regularly about the progress we have made on our journey towards securing a sustainable future for our industry. We have included sustainability into our inductions and training programs.
Tourism is part of the service sector and highly customer focused. This implies that its human capital is of the highest importance to a tour operator. Proper labour conditions can assure a high level of satisfaction and motivation among staff members. Moreover, it has a positive effect on the organisation’s continuity and its competitive strength in the long run.
River Mekong respects elementary human rights such as non-discrimination, freedom of assembly, no forced labour and no child labour.
Communication and training
We actively communicate with our office staff and local partners on environmental and social issues, through team meetings, direct mail, newsletters and social media.
Training is important at all levels, life-long learning and the development of transferable skills are encouraged. All employees receive training and information on social and environmental policies. By offering trainee positions, both a social obligation and the need for future staff recruitment is fulfilled.
All employees have followed the Travelife training.
Payment and labour conditions of employees in tourism sector
- We expect from our agents or hoteliers to pay their workers a fair salary that is at least the minimum wage, preferable more than this. None of the employees from our agents should depend completely on the tips from the tourists.
- We find it important that the employees in tourism will get paid in time according to the contract which is made between the employee and employer. Delay in payment cannot be accepted.
- It is also important that the crew on a tour will get a sufficient amount of money to run the tours (for example to pay for fuel, accommodation etc.), so they will not have trouble of using their own pocket money for these payments that are the responsibility of the agent.
- The employees will get opportunities for skills development training.
We have been proactive in raising awareness of sustainability issues with our customers. On social media we encourage interaction with customers on sustainable travel. To achieve our goals we need customers’ support both through the purchases they make and the personal actions they take. Sustainability is still not the major deciding factor for most people when they choose a holiday, but it is in the interests of our destinations and the environment that it becomes a strong influencing factor. We will therefore continue to engage with customers and aim to become their travel company of choice because of our sustainability approach as well as our quality of product and value for money. We aim to raise awareness, influence choice, change behaviour, and develop and promote new products to encourage responsible holiday choices.
We do carry out (consumer) research on sustainable travel on a regular base.
We provide ample opportunity to contribute to conservation and development projects that bring tangible benefits to local people and the environment. This is done in the following ways:
* Through our website, newsletters and social media: we have a wealth of information about sustainable tourism.
* During the trip: clients are given trip notes which outlines our Responsible Travel policy and tips. guests are invited to contribute to destination projects.
* After our trips: We request feedback from customers on the environmentally and socially responsible aspects of their holiday.
Communicating sustainability during a holiday
Our guides play an important role in informing our customers on responsible travel. At the start of a trip all our customers receive a leaflet with responsible travel tips.
Use of water
Water should ALWAYS be used sparingly. Even in countries with seemingly ample water supply, energy is used in sewage and clean water processing; overuse could be depleting the water table and causing further pollution. ALL should follow the following policy:
- Consider taking a shower rather than a bath
- Consider whether you really need two showers a day or if one would sufficient
- Do not leave water to run (e.g. when brushing your teeth)
- In delicate areas do not take water from springs if not necessary – you may be depriving local people
- Does the provision of hot water for personal washing mean burning more fuel or is it solar generated?
- If using ‘bucket’ showers or similar, turn off water supply whilst soaping up
- Dirty water, e.g. from washing dishes, should be disposed of by scattering over ground at least 30m (100ft) away from water source / river if a drain is not available
- Do not use non-biodegradable soap in lakes or streams. Locate sources selling bio-degradable products where possible and use these products
- Do not pour oily water into streams
- Wash dishes in a bowl / sink rather than running tap as this uses less water
Use of energy
- Advise clients to turn off air-conditioning, lights, TVs and fans when not in room and consider not using air-conditioning, or only when it is very warm.
- Look out for any hotels that use more sustainable resources – e.g. hotels with solar panels.
- Check if hotels recycle any goods and encourage others to adopt the system if it works.
- We do not encourage our drivers to let the cars run the engine for more than three minutes before setting off.
Use of firewood/Campfires
- Try to have only an occasional fire as a treat, as it depletes natural resources / causes smoke pollution / may rob local people of their only fuel source.
- Charcoal is not an environmentally friendly fuel source as you cannot be sure that the wood it is made from is from a sustainable source. Therefore we prefer to minimize the use of charcoal. We encourage our agents and hotels to use gaz or electricity instead of charcoal.
- Wood collected should be dead wood off the ground only. Do not strip branches from trees as what looks dead to you may be just dry or dormant
- Keep the fire small
- Use a pre-existing fire ring where possible or the site of a previous fire
- Only paper goods should be burned on the campfire. Even light plastics generate toxic fumes.
- Be aware of fire hazards and local fire regulations
- On leaving camp, the campfire should be ‘dug in’ so that (i) you can be sure it is out and (ii) it is not an unsightly mess.
Litter and waste disposal and reduction of waste
The following policy should be adhered to when disposing of rubbish from camps at nature areas:
- Items that should be burned: paper & card*
- Items that should be buried: vegetable & food waste*
- Items that should be carried out: plastics, glass & cans. Rubbish should always be disposed of where it is sure to be collected*
*NB in national parks we will have to follow the guidelines of the national parks.
Litter is a huge problem in many countries where there is limited or no infrastructure for waste disposal, let alone recycling facilities. The first step is to ensure that we minimise our use of resources in the first place -in order to generate less waste. Then we try to ensure that waste is disposed of in the most effective way possible.
- Litter should always be disposed of responsibly. It is absolutely forbidden to throw trash out of the window when we are travelling. Therefore the local agent should provide a rubbish bin in the vehicle.
- Cigarette buts should not be dropped on streets / behind bushes / overboard boats etc. but put in a rubbish bin or in pocket until a rubbish bin is available. We recommend smokers carry a receptacle to collect their butts. Plastic film cases are excellent for this and reduce the smell!
- On boats, rubbish must be carried back to facilities on shore and never dumped over the side of the boat or hidden behind rocks.
- Campsites should be checked for all litter before departing, including bottle tops and cigarette ends. Customers and crew should help in this respect.
- Check if any recycling facility exists locally and use it where possible.
Sanitation and toilets
- In some countries toilet paper and sanitary protection cannot be put down the toilet as the sewage system is not able to cope with non-human waste. In these cases we advise clients appropriately and ensure that bins are emptied regularly.
- When we camp at a place where no toilets are available, the tour leader will always point out the area where people can go into the bush for toilet facilities. People can burry their faeces. Therefore the agent should provide the group with a shovel. It is NOT allowed to leave any toilet paper behind. In wet areas people may burn the toilet paper; in dry areas toilet paper should be thrown in a dustbin.
Respecting animal welfare
- Never feed animals/fish. Giving them food other than or additional to what they usually eat is likely to make them ill or makes them dependent, so they cannot survive on their own in the wild
- Do not pursue animals, thus distressing them, for the sake of a photo / better look
- Do not try to touch animals/fish; apart from being dangerous, it can distress them
- Never pick flowers / leaves.
- When snorkelling or diving, do not stand on coral – or even touch it
- Never anchor a boat on a coral reef. Use a mooring buoy / platform, moor on beach or drop anchor on sand. If this is not possible, snorkel or dive elsewhere.
- Where animals are used for transport on tours we try to ensure that animals are well cared for and have no signs of mistreatment, illness or malnourishment
Souvenirs: antique, coral, shells, ivory, butterflies etc.
Be aware of goods that may be manufactured through child labour and local laws regarding purchase and export of antiquities. Do not buy items derived from endangered / fragile species (flora and fauna). Be aware which goods are made from forbidden animals or plants. It is forbidden to take such souvenirs to Europe, and you risk a big fine. Here is a list of examples of products/materials that are forbidden:
- any type of coral and products made of corals
- all big shells
- ivory and products made of ivory
- cactuses or orchids (e.g. rain sticks are made of cactuses and are forbidden)
- Chinese medicines and plasters
- any products made of the skins of tortoises, crocodiles, snakes, big cats
- butterflies and parrots
For more information: www.cites.org
Food and meals
Do not eat food from endangered / fragile species. Ensure game is sourced from a managed cull. As with objects, be aware which goods are from sustainable sources. Besides ‘bush meat’ and meat from endangered species, we also advise not to eat: tortoise eggs, bird nest soup, whale meat and shark fin soup.
Cultural differences: hierarchy, gender etc.
- Crew should be treated as equals socially. Where the crew work with or accompany the group, the tour leaders encourage interaction, whilst respecting the individual’s wishes for privacy. Respect for social and cultural diversity is important.
- When visiting local people, we will always behave according to norms and values in the particular community. Sensitivity to the host culture is important. For example: we ask permission from the village chief to visit the families.
Gifts and presents
- It is not advisable to give any money, sweets, gifts, medicines or presents to children, neither to adults.
- We discourage giving to beggars that are begging to tourists only/ in particular. Whilst in many countries some people depend on begging for their livelihood, we regard giving money as a short-term solution to a more fundamental problem. Better Places tries to find ways we and our customers can offer more long -term support to the communities visited by supporting local charities and projects.
- If people want to assist children, we advise to give some requirements to non-governmental organisations which are focussing on special target groups, such as children, orphans, handicapped persons etc.
- Where possible, we will inform our clients about a development project or organisation within this destination. It is preferable that this organisation is supported by a Dutch foundation and has a website, so clients will have the possibility to give follow-up by contacting this foundation.
Visiting schools, hospitals or development projects
- The tour guide should always ask permission to visit a school, hospital or development project. If they allow the group to visit the spot, we will ask whether somebody from the school, hospital or project can give us a brief explanation while guiding us around.
- After the guidance and explanation it is respectful to hand over a gift for the school, hospital or project. Distinction can be made between a small gift for the person who has been guiding and a present/money for the project itself.
- We do not encourage to give ‘second hand’ medicines to hospital with description in languages that the people in hospital do not understand.
Visiting ancient sites
When visiting ancient sites, the tour guide must inform the clients about certain regulations:
- Do not touch ancient monuments, as oils, acid and dirt from hands can cause erosion.
- Respect laws against flash photography in sites as the bright light can cause damage to frescoes etc.
- Do not pick up stones, fossils or potsherds. These are part of the site!
- Keep to the set paths.
- Never climb on or over ruins / walls.
We inform our clients about photographing. The following general advises is given and besides this, each specific destination might have some specified instructions:
- Always ask permission in advance when making photographs of a person or his property (for example, his house or his cattle).
- Never make photographs secretly; if people do not want to be photographed we have to respect it.
- If people ask money to be photographed, it is good to check out whether this is the norm in this community. We do not encourage to pay for photographing people, except when this is the social norm for tourists like for instance the Ethiopian Orthodox priest in Lalibela or the Masaai in Kenya. In these cases it is advisable to discuss the price in advance. In some cases the prices are quite fixed and the tour leader will inform you about this.
- When visiting certain small villages, schools or compounds (mainly in West Africa), the tour leader will ask permission to make photographs and not until permission is given, clients are allowed to make photographs. It is respectful to meet, listen and talk first, before taking out the cameras of the bags.
- Do not make promises to send the photographs if you are not sure to keep your promises.
We inform our clients about the dress code in our cities, village etc. In the first briefing the tour guide will mention the general dress code and on particular events or visits the tour guide will advise clients how to dress.
- Encourage clients to dress appropriately to the local norm, even if other visitors do not.
- In Buddhist temples and Pagoda areas tourists must dress according to what the local people expect from them. It is respectful to dress properly. When going to temples, women may have to cover their legs and arms, and wearing long trousers and long sleeves or warp around sarong.
Foods and Crafts
We promote local sourcing of food and other local products. We encourage our clients to visit local bars and restaurants and experience local products and cuisine. Our tour guides educate our customers about local food and crafts and encourage their appreciation, this can help to make a real difference to the preservation of local skills and jobs.
Visiting tribal groups
- All advises concerning photographing, begging, dressing etc. should be taken into account very strictly.
- All tourists should realise that they are ‘guests’ in the communities that are visited.
- We have to inform ourselves about the cultural issues, such as the way of greeting, payments, bringing presents, asking questions etc. The tour leader will inform clients about how to show respect to the community. (A good example is that it is polite to take time for greeting a family instead of making photographs quickly.)
- We will always try to find a local guide within the tribal group who can explain about the culture in English/German/Spanish/French.
- Tourists and crew should not take the freedom to walk around on a private compound without asking permission. Realize that this is private property and some areas might be holy and are not allowed to walk.
- Tourists should not give money to individuals. If they want to donate something, it is good to donate to a community project (in some cultures you need to contact the chief).
Clients are advised to give a fair, reasonable tip to the local guides, cleaners, cook, drivers etc. Tipping is very important but we can never force clients to tip, as it is voluntary. We will brief our clients that what tipping means to them is much different from what it means for the crew, so they are aware that tipping is very important.
Contact our Green Team:
For questions and remarks related to our sustainability/CSR policies please contact our Green Team (email@example.com)