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The Effects of Tourism on Local Communities

A Tour Operator’s Conundrum, by Kate Ward

Working in the sustainable tourism industry, we find ourselves constantly critiquing our practices to ensure that what we are doing is both sustainable and responsible. As a company, our core aims at The Responsible Safari Company are to ensure that the benefits of tourism reach local communities within Malawi and Zambia through combining the fields of tourism and development. We strongly believe that being a tour operator in Africa holds certain responsibilities, and that to achieve sustainability within the tourism industry, key questions need to be asked. Can tourism truly be ‘eco’ and if so what are the actual impacts on rural communities? Are we trying to sell something that exists only as a Western concept, and if so what are the responsibilities in doing that?

Through development, there is often a potential loss of the very image that attracts people to Africa: the search for people who are living simple, self-sufficient lives. The ‘sustainable tourism’ model has been criticized by some and dubbed ‘a new form of colonialism’, but does it really lead to a new form of dependency or is it truly an opportunity for some to break out of the cycle of poverty? It is not yet clear whether the tourism industry as a whole has the ability to make a considerable impact on poverty alleviation. Perhaps to achieve a real impact there needs to be a synergy between the differing stakeholders and the dictates of environmentalism. The first step would be to look at the motivations of these stakeholders.

Our company has chosen to work with a small number of established community led projects and by having less stakeholders and treating each one independently, our model has thus far remained sustainable. We remain aware that the field of sustainable travel is yet to be fully understood and we want to make sure we always question our own motivations, seek new knowledge and search for better working practices from the within the tourism and development fields. As much as our safaris educate our guests, we too are constantly gaining new knowledge and meeting new people who are influencing the way we look at the field of responsible travel. Although it is a conundrum, we have moved forward knowing it is healthy to question, knowing we are ourselves visitors and realizing that education is the key to sustainable tourism.

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The Responsible Safari Company is the first company in Africa to receive a 2 star eco-certification rating from Sustainable Travel International. They offer classic safaris, special interest tours, education group trips and corporate social responsibility opportunities throughout Malawi and Zambia.

To learn more, email them at, or visit

This article is quoted from the Responsible Travel Report The Sustainable Tourism e-Newsletter Vol. 7 No. 11, November 2009 published by STI.

This article is uploaded by Majbritt Thomsen, administrator on ‘Views On Tourism’.

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Posted in Africa, Best practice, Performance and management, Sustainability.

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