Responsible Tourism

We have strong responsible tourism values, and believe that travel should always benefit the local community.

Some of our tours directly finance grass-root development projects in rural Cambodia (e.g. providing education and youth empowerment projects for disadvantaged young people). Rather than starting our own foundation, we would rather contribute to community development by channeling funds to and providing exposure for existing projects. In doing this we aim to create a network of small-scale, grass-roots tourism and cultural offerings that may currently struggle to access the tourism market.

Social Impact

Each year, we deliver a Social Impact Review to monitor and celebrate how tourism can bring positive differences to the people and places we visit. Read our years in review here:

Responsible Tourism

Our values on…

Elephants & animal tourism

Ayana Journeys does not coordinate or encourage elephant riding. This policy has been implemented since inception of our company, and is the result of the evidence available that:

  • Riding can cause stress and exhaustion to the animal
  • Exchanging money for riding an elephant can encourage centre owners to exploit how many hours elephants work for
  • Sometimes elephants are kept in terrible conditions and are restrained
  • To make elephants perform for tourists, they are often beaten and separated from their mother to break their spirits

This said, as critical thinking is very important to Ayana Journeys’ philosophy, we do not promote a black and white message of elephant tourism (e.g. “all elephant tourism is bad” or “tourists should never visit elephant sanctuaries”). We acknowledge that the situation is complex, and that an industry-wide ban on elephant riding may not have the intended positive impact on the welfare of the elephants. As a result, we encourage our guests to read this article to read between the lines of animal tourism. 

If Ayana Journeys is considering visiting an animal tourism attraction, such as a sanctuary, our team must follow an in-house checklist we have developed to assess the destination. The criteria of this checklist has been based on our core values, understanding of the Cambodian-context, and the ABTA standards of Animal Welfare.

Child protection

Child protection is particularly important to Ayana Journeys – many of our customers are indeed children or young people, participating in our educational tours for students, and our itineraries often include activities where possible interaction with children exist (e.g. visits to NGOs or homestay experiences); we have a duty to protect them both.

We are proud to be a ChildSafe Certified tour operator. As part of our commitment to being a ChildSafe business, there are certain activities we would never facilitate or participate in due to the risks or harms they pose to vulnerable local children:

  • Support child labour
    • This can be a complex area because we aim to support family-owned businesses and it is common in Cambodia (and indeed the region) for minors to help out during out-of-school hours. We take the view that so long as any labour does not interfere with the child’s ability to attend school nor is either unsuitable (e.g. working in a beer garden) or forced in any way, then we may adopt some flexibility. 
      • Cambodian Labour Law stipulates that the minimum working age in Cambodia is 15. Minors aged 12 – 15 years may be hired to do light work provided that the work is not hazardous to their health or mental and physical development, and that it will not affect their attendance at school or training programs.
  • Attend dances and performances by children
    • We believe this generally entails children serving as entertainment or tourist attractions, and often involves working in age-inappropriate environments or at age-inappropriate hours.
    • Such dances and performances are also often arranged and used by NGOs and a way of parading their beneficiaries to solicit donations, which Ayana does not support.
  • Visit children at schools or orphanages as a tour or a volunteering activity 
    • Sometimes our trips do include a visit to a school for educational purposes, but these visits should never be with the intention to interact with or observe children, or disturb their teaching in any way. Such visits must be conducted in a manner that is educational about school systems or learning from local teaching staff etc, preferably out of classroom hours to prevent any disturbance to students. 

Our team receives annual training on child protection, and we are passionate advocates of communicating the ChildSafe Tips for Travellers are part of our responsible tourism mission. 

Orphanages

Ayana Journeys does not support any orphanages nor facilitates visits to or volunteering at such institutions. We believe that orphanage tourism is harmful to children, and should be avoided. Our stance on orphanages is one of our strictest policies, and is non-negotiable with our guests. The key reasons for this policy are that orphanage visits or volunteering (Rethink Orphanages):

  • Contribute to a global industry which separates children from their families – 8 million children are thought to be living in orphanages worldwide, yet over 80% of children in orphanages are not actually orphans and have parents or families who could care for them.
  • Pose huge child protection risks – often very little is known about the people visiting these children, and whilst many may have good intentions, some do exploit and harm children through this medium 
  • Can contribute to attachment disorders and other social and emotional development issues
  • Violate a child’s right to privacy under the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child

We are passionate about contributing to the global movement of educating travellers and (would-be) donors on the complexities of institutional care of children, and the shift towards family-based care as an alternative. Please visit our Advocacy page for more details on our partners in this space and to learn more about this complex issue.

As part of our mission to raise awareness about the potential harms of orphanage tourism and to promote responsible alternatives, we regularly facilitate critical thinking activities for our guests. Facilitators are particularly encouraged to include these activities as part of our educational tours for young travellers. 

Service learning & volunteering

In short, Ayana Journeys is not a service learning activity provider. This is because our experience in Cambodia leads us to believe that many short-term volunteering programs have limited positive long-term impacts, and in many cases can even be harmful, albeit unintentionally. In addition, such trips can significantly oversimplify the complexities of development work for their participants, and propagate a false message that foreign volunteers are better placed to support a community ’s development than the community itself.

We are the Cambodia implementing partner of the Learning Service movement. This is an international campaign to rethink volunteering abroad, prioritising a ‘learn first’ approach to service learning.

There are some volunteering projects Ayana Journeys would never associate itself with:

  • Teaching children
  • Visits to and/or volunteering in orphanages
  • Painting walls or playgrounds at schools

With the right framework, we believe the following volunteering activities can be mutually beneficial:

  • Teacher training and other skill sharing or professional development programs
  • Peer to peer student exchange

From time to time we facilitate activities that may be regarded as a ‘service project’. When doing so, it is our policy that:

  • The activity cannot exist alone and must include an opportunity to learn and think critically about our role as travellers in volunteering abroad.
  • The project is identified, designed, and facilitated by and in collaboration with a local expert(s) and representatives from the community / beneficiary group.
  • Any monetary exchange related to the activity is transparently channelled to community partners (directly where possible), and avoids profit-making businesses that coordinate such activities.
  • The activity concludes with an opportunity for reflection and debrief. This gives students an opportunity to contemplate what they have learned, what impact they may have had, appreciate the strengths of the community / NGO they have engaged with, and consider impacts moving forward. 

Environment & plastics

Based on our current (small!) operations we admit that we have not set environmental management as a key priority for us at the moment, but on-going measures do take place across our operations. Under environmental management we have decided to focus our efforts on (reducing) plastic use, which is a critical issue for Cambodia.

Ayana Journeys strives to minimise, and where possible eliminate, single-use plastics. Unlike many tourism businesses we do not claim to be plastic-free – plastics exist in textiles, office equipment, and various tour resources that we currently cannot avoid using. We have explored various purchasing alternatives to help reduce plastic use further but after weighing up the significant additional environmental impacts of transportation from overseas, we currently prioritise purchasing durable items from local suppliers to support the Cambodian economy too.

Some ways we are reducing single-use plastic include:

  • Using hard-wearing picnic / ice boxes over polystyrene ones which break quickly and need replacing often.
  • Supplying drinking water to day tour guests in sterilised reusable drinking bottles, to discourage the purchase of single-use water bottles.
  • Advising all guests travelling with us on longer journeys to bring their own refillable bottle, and ensuring we have a constant supply of refill stations available for them (e.g. carrying large drums of potable water on buses, and working with hotels that support this mission).
  • Requesting all hotel rooms are cleared of single-use water bottles and miniature toiletries which encourage guests to use small quantities of soaps in small throw-away plastic containers.
  • Carrying metallic or hard-wearing plastic food containers with us for takeaway foods, to prevent the use of styrofoam takeaway boxes which are commonly used at markets and restaurants.
  • Supplying textile tote bags to guests travelling with us on longer trips to help minimise their use of single-use plastic bags when shopping.
  • Replacing plastic waste bags in our office and operations to locally-sourced plant-based ones.
  • Holding a small supply of reusable takeaway coffee cups in our office for our team to use, preventing the use of single-use plastic takeaway cups or bags.
  • Requesting Facilitators be vigilant on tour and find ways to communicate with local suppliers or service staff to help remove single-use plastics from our supply chain, e.g. do not provide single-use straws to guests, request jugs of potable water instead of individual single-use bottles, etc. 

Development, donating, & NGOs

As a company we are passionate about helping our guests learn about development in Cambodia and beyond, but it is important two things are clear – we are not a development organisation ourselves, and we do not claim to be the experts. We have no ‘development agenda’ and like you are still on a learning journey of what makes ‘good’ or ‘bad’ development – if such things exist!

Because many of our tours (especially those for students) are specifically designed to create learning opportunities around the theme of development, we often visit NGOs as part of our itineraries. We make financial contributions or pay fixed service fees to these organisations (depending on their preference) in exchange for their time. We prioritise supporting NGOs in this way that are aligned with our values and meet the following standards:

  • Financial transparency – e.g. annual reports, financial reports, breakdown of budgets, sharing of specific costs on certain projects, etc. 
  • Local leadership – e.g. registered within Cambodia, majority local team, amplifies local and community voices, inspirational local spokesperson, grassroot movement, etc. 
  • Educational value – i.e. the visit creates a valuable learning and critical thinking opportunity for our guests. 

On longer educational tours our students often visit many NGOs. We strongly believe it is important that we provide a balanced and varied view of the development landscape, and as such may meet with organisations whose work some participants – and even members of the Ayana team – may not agree with. We would never intentionally support or connect our guests with an organisation we believe to be a corrupt or problematic, but feel it is useful in the interest of neutrality and the development of both compassion and critical thinking skills to learn from those who do not share our viewpoints all the time. We will still make financial contributions to such organisations in exchange for their time.

After a great deal consideration we do not have a defined tick-list to determine which organisations we will and will not collaborate with. This may seem counter intuitive, but feel reflects the complexities of development itself, where we have learnt that very little is clear cut. As said above – we are not a development organisation or grant-giving organisation nor claim to be an authority in this arena; our goal is to support learning about development, not teach our own opinions on it.

That being said we take our duty of care very seriously, and therefore do have some hard and fast ‘nos’, as well as a list of factors that require serious consideration prior to arranging visits:

  • Definite nos:
    • Orphanages (see our notes above)
    • Animal attractions designed to entertain guests (see our notes above)
    • Any organisation that has links to a negative public track record – we often refer to the APLE website to cross-reference previous or on-going investigations into NGOs’ staff or operations 
    • Faith-based organisations actively seeking to convert beneficiaries in exchange for support or services 
  • Things for serious consideration:
    • Organisations that are very proactive in encouraging guests to directly connect the beneficiaries in situations where their anonymity, dignity and / or privacy is compromised (e.g. meeting vulnerable beneficiaries who have been asked to recount traumatic life experiences etc)
    • Concern that the visit may detract or distract from the organisation’s primary work
    • Any obvious financial corruption or inconsistencies 
    • Concern over founder or leadership team, including questionable motivations or using emotive topics (e.g. trafficking) primarily to attract donors
    • Lack of or confusing mission and related projects, and / or seeming lack of monitoring and evaluation of impacts
    • Overtly emotive communication styles used in organisation’s resources that do not respect the dignity of specific beneficiaries or the wider community / country – e.g. poverty porn, victim shaming, or derogatory language to evoke shock or pity for the benefit of the NGO

Communications & imagery 

We believe that language and imagery are extremely powerful in influencing perceptions and opinions, and have taken a great deal of time working on the way we communicate our work and Cambodia. Our goal is that the information and media we create and share should:

  • Echo the warm, vibrant, spirit of Cambodia
  • Show people in a positive, dignified way (and taken / shared only with their permission)
  • Create a sense of place that celebrates the unique beauty and features of Cambodia 

We would never publish or promote images or language that:

  • Celebrates ‘white saviours’ – i.e. foreigners ‘helping’ or even ‘saving’ Cambodia
  • Include and exploit vulnerable, local children
  • Portray poverty porn – i.e. showing Cambodia in a desperate, degrading, or undignified light 

As such, we commit to the following guidelines with our own photography, and encourage our guests to do the same:

  • YES
    • Subjects in photos should always be asked for their permission first. If the subject in the photo is a child, a parent or guardian should be asked for permission 
    • Parents or guardians of young guests (e.g. student travellers) have submitted their consent in writing to the Ayana office so we have permission to take photos and share these in marketing materials (this is usually done as part of pre-departure administration by the office team)
    • Be conscious of communicating a ‘single story’ through photos (we recommend watching the TED Talk on The Dangers of a Single Story)
  • NO
    • Never take photos of partially clothed or naked children, exploitative or sensationalised images (‘a poor child’)
    • Never post images of anyone without the right consent – best to avoid images of children in general

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