We recently printed the Ayana Journeys Charter on our office wall to add motivation (and colour!), as well as keep us focused on our values and the impact our tours should aim to achieve. The Charter is a set of components we seek to include in everything we do, as part of our commitment to socially ethical tourism.
- Authentic: Offering opportunities for genuine connection; not ‘observing’, but engaging, interactive experiences. Providing background info and stories for a fuller picture.
- Transformative: Travellers feel that their life has been improved by this experience; lasting memories have been created and travellers feel more connected to and empathetic towards a global community.
- Creative: Always aiming to be ‘different’ from other tour providers by offering unique experiences that are one step ahead in both content and methodology.
- Learning journeys: Travel experiences that challenge preconceptions, teach new things, encourage open-mindedness, and contribute towards personal development
- Enrich: For host communities and/or social impact projects this could be supplementary income, job creation, support (financial/exposure), encouraging sense of pride in location and heritage, and training and personal/career development opportunities. For travellers this could be a sense of empathy, global citizenship, cross-cultural connections, or personal development.
- Host community: People, organisations, and places that we connect our visitors to. This includes individuals, small communities, wider communities, and host countries as a whole.
The term ‘authentic’ got our team chatting. We frankly both love it and hate it! We love it because the meaning is to seek genuine connections, to experience realness, and to gain a true sense of place. Yet, we dislike it, because ‘authentic tourism’ is somewhat a contradiction of terms. Once the traveller is placed in a remote location, in a culture foreign to their own, the entire scene is no longer authentic. We agree with the concerns of sceptical travel writers who have suggested seeking the ‘authentic’ can open the floodgates to tourism, forever changing the ‘untouched’ landscapes the guest originally sought. So, we thought we’d write about it!
Ways in which we commit to authenticity (whatever that is!)
- Low impact visits – We aim to strike the balance of both visiting offbeat locations, whilst not burdening communities with too many guests. Our business is small, and for us growth is in the positive impact we have on the communities we work within. We are not interested in increasing group sizes beyond control, nor do we mass market fragile destinations under-prepared for managing tourism responsibly.
- ‘Real’ life interactions – Tourism often creates inauthentic experiences by turning culture into a commodity. This can be seen through things such as dances or staged rituals, and many other performances of this kind. We believe in showing things as they are, and that might mean at times guests are ‘disappointed’ (“But the monk has a mobile phone! I didn’t expect that!”), but we’re dealing with real people and encourage our guests to embrace this, even if it doesn’t always match expectations.
- Local storytellers – We proudly promote local guides, and a majority of our trip leading team comes from the locations we work in. We believe the story of Cambodia should be told by Cambodians themselves. The content is more accurate, guests gain local perspectives, and for sensitive topics like genocide, we believe it is more respectful to discuss this with someone personally touched by the story.
- Going with the flow – We value your trip with us is a holiday, but we encourage you to adopt a flexible attitude and accept things don’t always go to plan. We have observed some holiday designers create staged experiences to disguise when things go wrong. Things sometimes do go wrong, and we embrace a very Cambodian approach to the situation, and go with the flow! We tend to find the fun is in the unexpected anyway.
- Engaging in development – Educational travel is at the heart of our work, and we love learning and critically thinking about development, as well as encouraging our guests to do so too. We think it’s important to remember that Cambodia is not just a tourist destination; there is a lot going on behind the scenes. World over, tourists become disappointed when that remote beach gets a new Burger King – and whilst we may share the same disappointment sometimes, we must remember – who are we to prevent Cambodian people progress their country in a way in which they want?