Archive for Responsible Tourism

New Responsible Tourism Policy for Responsible Tourism Day 2016

“Making better places to live in, and better places to visit”- Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism

Today marks the 10th anniversary of World Tourism Day at the World Travel Market, so we thought it would be the perfect time to launch our new Responsible Tourism policy.

We think that responsible tourism should be more than just a long list of Do’s and Don’ts. We want our responsible tourism policy to inspire you to take up one of our challenges. We work tirelessly with our local in-country teams to find ways to introduce extra special details that will make your challenge even more memorable. That can mean training up our local leaders or working with local youth projects to produce souvenirs to mark completing your challenge. These little extras, connecting you as closely as possible to local people and cultures, make the difference between having a great challenge and having a life changing moment.

Over the last few months Charity Challenge staff have been working hard to review and update our responsible tourism policy so that we can continue to ensure that we deliver on providing you with these life-changing moments on our challenges.

Within Charity Challenge, our Operations Team boasts not one, but two members of staff who are working towards a Masters degree in Responsible Tourism Management. Both Mireia and Andy care passionately about this new policy and are working tirelessly to make sure that Charity Challenge remain at the cutting edge of Responsible Tourism.

Our new Responsible Tourism policy aims to:

  • Use local owned services whenever possible.
  • Encourage transparency with our ground teams about what we DO and what we DON’T that is responsible on each challenge.
  • Support projects in the countries in which we operate, empowering local people, developing skills in a way that enhances the challenge experience.
  • Move towards using local leaders on all overseas challenges rather than UK or western leaders in destinations where we can maintain the same high safety standards and customer service.
  • Support the International Porters guidelines
  • Support internationally recognised best practice for animal welfare
  • Protect children’s rights

To see the full policy please click here.

The return of the Classic Inca Trail!

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Set your faces to excited, because after almost 10 years, our Classic Inca Trail Challenge is making a much awaited return – September 2016!

Without doubt the most famous trek in South America, The Inca trail, consists of an incredible 4 days trekking 26 miles in the footsteps of the Incas, along the route traditionally used to travel from Cusco city to Machu Picchu.
This amazing trek is coming back to our wide portfolio of challenges in September 2016!

Machu Picchu

So why did we stop trekking the Inca trail?

Up until a couple of years ago, the Inca trail had gained a very bad reputation, it was overcrowded, dirty, with unprofessional tour operators mistreating porters! Charity Challenge, did not want to be part of this, hence the decision to stop operating the Classic Inca Trail challenge for an alternative, more responsible route.

Over the past few years, the Peruvian Government has realized the importance of protecting this world cultural and historical heritage site and consequently decided to implement strict measures in order to preserve this important route:
• Limiting the number of people entering the Inca trail to 500 a day including guides, cooks, porters, etc. with Inca passes issued under the clients name using full passport details. Passes are non-refundable and non transferable.
• Group sizes should not exceed 16 participants, and they should have at least 22 porters and 2 guides.

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• Tour operators, who want to send their clients on the Inca trail, need to undertake a tough application process in which inspectors will go unannounced to the company’s premises to check the equipment (tents, tables, sleeping bags, etc.) are in a suitable condition and that they provide all their porters with all the necessary equipment to do their job. After this checking process they will be issued with a license.
• Guides need to undertake a one week course (additional to the 5 years they have already spent in university) where they learn more about evacuation techniques, how to identify symptoms of hypothermia and AMS and immediate treatment.

Copy of Inca Trail - Clouds in Haze (Sonya Bell)

• The Peruvian government also carries out unannounced audits where they ensure porters are not being forced to carry any weight above the limit imposed by them (20kgs+ 5kgs personal belongings).
• The rubbish should be recycled and carried all the back to the city for proper disposal. Only biodegradable detergents can be used on the Inca trail.
• If a tour operator is found to not comply with any of the above rules, they get fined and their license could get cancelled.
On top of these regulations, responsible tour operators are taking a step forward, doing a bit extra for their porter’s welfare and responsible operation of the Inca trail.

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So why are we re-introducing the Inca Trail?
During the time we were not operating the Classic Inca trail, we put together a beautiful alternative trek through the Lares valley, which still includes one day walking through the last section of the Inca trail, where it is not necessary to have a full team of cooks and porters to go in as you only walk for a few hours. This trek is as demanding as the Inca trail if not a bit more as it goes higher, you have the beautiful scenery of the Andes surrounding you and get to trek through local villages.

Sylvana, our operations manager for our entire South America portfolio, was born and bred in Peru and has done both treks herself on various occasions during her tour leading days! She thought it would be good to offer our participants both options as she believes each trek has “its own charm.”

 

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Sylvana – Operations Manager in her beautiful homeland – Peru!

“Some people love the remoteness of the Lares trek, the fact that they are trekking with hardly any one else apart from their support team, and the fact that they go through local villages while trekking. For others, the fact that they are walking the actual route the Inca’s did while visiting the various archaeological sites on the route, understanding the way they lived and thought at the time, seems a little bit like travelling back in time! People also have the chance to interact with their porters during the Inca trail. I strongly believe both treks are amazingly challenging and they both have enough highlights to attract different kinds of travelers.”

Denise and Fearne's Charity Trek for Breast Cancer - Day 2

What are we doing to operate this trek responsibly and minimise the impact?
As part of our ground handler’s selection process, we always look to work with trusted, reputable and responsible local operators. Amazonas Explorer, our ground handler for the Classic Inca Trail challenge in 2016, is a company who have been working in Peru for over 30 years. They currently run our Cycle Machu Picchu to the Amazon challenge, and they currently have a clean Inca Trail license.

As part of their Responsible Tourism policy they:

  • Joined the 1% for the Planet Program and currently are the only Peruvian Tour Operator who is a member.
  • They donate 1% of their turnover each year to help reforest the Lares area with native trees, where most of their porter’s villages are.
  • Pay porters more than the wage stipulated by the authorities. We pay them at the end of the trek. They do not have to come to Cusco, or wait to collect their money.

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  • Provide a large communal tent with carry mat floor for porters to sleep in, it is not the clients’ dining tent.
  • Provide their porters with plenty of good food. This is not the same menu given to the passengers, but it is nutritious, abundant and what they are used to eating. They have their own cooking facilities so do not have to wait for the clients to finish eating before they get their food.
  • Only use registered Inca trail porters (as Inca trail rules stipulate) – these have to pass several forms of ID, character reference and a letter of good health and to have attended an Inca Trail Porter Awareness course.
  • Provide accident insurance and work contracts for each period of work porters do for us. They are all freelance.
  • Amazonas Explorer holds an annual, end-of-season, and porters’ party and football tournament, amongst other good things!!
  • Our groups will only be of a maximum of 15 participants, the doctor will take place number 16.

Machu Picchu

We will only run this challenge twice in 2016, once in September and once in October and will evaluate the feedback and review for 2017!

If you want to take part in this awesome challenge, just click here!

Discover the Great Wall – Revamped!

No we haven’t painted it cream, but we have switched up our Great Wall itinerary in order to ensure it’s more challenging, more responsible and even more interesting whilst avoiding the overcrowded tourist areas to showcase the very BEST of the Great Wall!

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To those of you who have been following Charity Challenge for a while, you will know that our Great Wall itinerary is one of our oldest, but most popular, treks. In recent years we have seen many renovations and improvements to the structure of the Wall, as well as the addition of toilets, shops and other modern amenities (of dubious quality it has to be said!!). The knock on effect of these renovations has meant that certain areas of the Wall around Beijing are becoming very touristy, mainly Chinese tourists who want to see their beautiful country. It also means that some days of our current challenge have become a lot easier, with people knocking off as much as 2 hours in their completion… not ideal for a Charity Challenge!

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So for the last 6 months we have been looking into new areas of the Wall that could replace certain days in our current itinerary. This has been an exciting development and research phase, with our Senior Operations Manager, Carmel out in China this month with one of our groups, to inspect some of the amendments that we have already made.
The new areas are just as challenging, but quieter, more remote, and offer a more ‘authentic’ experience of China. So we hope you like them!!
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Huanghuacheng: The Huanghuacheng area of the Wall is new for 2015, and has replaced one of the other areas that was becoming a bit touristy. As one leader said it was like “Disneyland goes to China!” Huanghuacheng is possibly the most remote and rural part of the Wall in our new itinerary – you will find yourself scrambling up to the watchtowers across overgrown paths, crumbling, stony terrain and steep steps.

“It was totally amazing. Each day was so different in terms of scenery and terrain. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but loved every minute.”

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It has received rave reviews as ‘the most exciting day’. With many steep ascents and descents, it’s certainly a challenge but our participants are rewarded by the incredible scenery and the knowledge that you won’t see another soul!

“A truly amazing experience”

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Mutianyu: 2015 challengers are again the first to experience the change to the final day, at Mutianyu. When our 2014 groups trekked up the Heavenly Staircase to celebrate their achievement at the final watchtower, they were surprised to see another watchtower lurking on the horizon… this seemed a bit of a cop out to many of the group, who felt that there was still some of the climb left to do. They then turned around and trekked back down in the same way as they came, which, although an amazing achievement, seemed like a bit of an anticlimax. And that is alongside the rest of the tourists getting the cable car!! Now that the route up to this new watchtower has been repaired and inspected, we have been researching new ways to get there, and we are excited to be launching a complete route, which is set to be a spectacular improvement on the norm.

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The day now begins not at a busy carpark next to Subway, but at a remote village below the wall. You will trek for around 3 hours to reach the Wall itself, up a steep, narrow path amid the overgrowth, through which a watchtower looms about 200m above you in the distance. Comments from this year include ‘we’re not going up there, are we?!’… the watchtower actually represents the final climb and the pinnacle of the day, with a long (2.5 hr) trek down to the original carpark. After 3 hours of trekking amid the overgrowth, the views of the rest of the Wall stretching down in front of participants has provoked some emotional reactions… including a surprise proposal!!

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Carmel also went to discover a brand new section of the Wall in May, but has made the decision, as it stands, NOT to replace any of our current itinerary with that day, although it gives us options in the future when China becomes more and more visited by tourists.

“Life changing, after this trip I now feel there is nothing I cannot conquer. Bring on my next trip”

GreatWall8The itinerary as it stands provides an amazing overview of old and new, renovated and un-renovated, remote and touristed. We hope that this trek is one that will never get old, and to prove it here’s what they thought!

“It was an amazing adventure with an amazing team back in the UK and in China – Charity Challenge has done themselves proud again – Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”

Click here to discover the Great Wall!

 

Vote now and help us raise an additional £50m for our charity partners!

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Charity Challenge have been entered into the high profile ‘Pitch to Rich’ Awards, run by Virgin Media!

Winning will enable us to raise an additional £50m for our charity partners!!

If you would like to help us be in with a chance of winning, please click here to vote now, it will take no more than 10 seconds, but hurry, voting closes this coming Tue 05 May!

If you want some inspiration as to why we deserve your vote, please read on:

Charity Challenge has helped thousands of people step outside their comfort zones, get fit and push themselves to their limits on incredible challenges worldwide, while raising over £47,000,000 for charity! But we want to do more!

We have supported over 1,700 UK, Irish and Canadian registered charities, facilitated challenges for scores of corporates, as well as multiple high profRich-Pics-2ile celebrity events.

The funds raised have helped to provide protection for vulnerable children, shelter for the homeless and funding for cancer research.

Our work involves helping incredible people to find the courage to overcome their fears, achieve amazing personal goals and inspire their friends and family with theiraccomplishments, all while supporting causes they care about.

We have an enthusiastic and motivated team, an inspiring range of challenges and a great vision for the future.

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We have been honoured and recognised by the British Citizens Awards for Business, the Institute of Fundraising Partners in Fundraising Awards (for two years running), the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development, Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards, the Queen and numerous foreign governments.

We hope to be recognised by these awards for 16 years of hard work, inspiring others, and making a real and positive difference to the world!

Rich-Pics-4Many thanks for your support!

Best Regards,

Simon Albert

Director

Meet the Locals!

At Charity Challenge we are lucky enough to have friends in some of the most remote corners of the globe. We pride ourselves on promoting responsible tourism though supporting and working with nomadic communities, in particular by employing local guides and support teams. The challenges are not only physical but can be emotionally challenging and it is often the generous, welcoming nature and knowledge of the local people that really makes the experience.

Below are some of our friends and where you can find them…Maasai

Mingle with the Maasai communities of Africa on our African Bush Trek

The Maasai, known as the fiercest of warriors and perhaps the most revered of the great African nomadic tribes originated in the Nile basin and migrated south through Ethiopia to Kenya and Tanzania in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, today they struggle to retain their modest lifestyle.

Our African Bush Trek takes you to the foothills of the 2,590m tall Mt. Longido, a sacred Maasai mountain, you can trek across the floor of the Great Rift Valley right to the foothills of the visually stunning Crater Highlands with the Maasai as your guides.

En route, you will also have the chance to visit Mt. Kitumbeine, the game-filled plains of Nagarirat, Gelai Village, and the escarpment of the Great African Rift Valley. Expect to be captivated by the beauty of this region, which is known as “the Cradle of Mankind”.

Get your Poncho on with the Andean communities of Peru – Trek Machu Picchu 

This unique alternative to the extremely busy Inca Trail is far off the beaten track, and you will see diverse and spectacular scenery as you glimpse a way of Peruvian life that has remained untouched for centuries. As you walk through these endless stunning valleys, youAndean community will meet Andean farmers dressed in their traditional brightly coloured ponchos tending herds of Llamas and Alpacas. You will get to meet the local communities and visit a local school supported by Charity Challenge.

The region is also home to the Baños Del Inca, probably the best hot springs in southern Peru. Situated at an altitude of 2,667m, the springs offer spectacular views of snowy peaks and glaciers such as Mounts Veronica, Chicon and Pumahaunca. As you continue along your route, you will also take in the dazzling sights of glacial blue lakes. You will eventually have some time to explore the ruins at Machu Picchu, the ‘lost City of the Incas’. These breathtaking pre Columbian ruins are nestled high in the Andes between two peaks. The ruins were rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham and are one of the most beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites in the world.

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Bunk with the Buddhists in Burma on our Burma Trek

Famed for its regal history, unique culture and magnificent temples, Burma (Myanmar) remains one of the last unexplored countries in Southeast Asia. This challenge will take you to the beautiful Inle Lake through the Shan Hills where you will trek for five days through mountainous tribal villages staying in Buddhists monasteries on route.Buddhists Burma

The route will take you from the modern, bustling city of Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon with its colonial architecture and the golden Shwedagon Paya (pagoda and stupa) the most sacred site in the country for Burmese Buddhists. You will have a full day to explore the city with its fabulous mix of architecture and religious sites. The streets are filled with historical buildings many of which have a faded colonial charm not seen elsewhere in Asia.

Burma lakeAbsorb yourself in the life of the tribe’s people still practicing the same traditions as their forefathers finishing the challenge at Inle Lake, Burma’s most beautiful site. You will spend a day exploring the lake on a private boat, and pass villages built on stilts over the lake, inhabited by the local Intha people. Observe the leg-rowing fishermen and see their floating gardens built up from strips of water hyacinth and mud and anchored to the bottom with bamboo poles.

Make like the Mongolian’s on our Mongolian Horse Trek

Ride like a Mongolian, your challenge begins in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar where you will spend a day visiting the Gandan Monastery and Bogd Khan Palace before heading to the homeland of Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan was the founder and Great Khan (emperor) of the Mongol Empire. He came to power by uniting many of the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia. After founding the Mongol Empire and being proclaimed “Genghis Khan”, he started the Mongol invasions that mongolian horsesresulted in the conquest of most of Eurasia. By the end of his life, the Mongol Empire occupied a substantial portion of Central Asia and China.  Mongolian horses are renowned for their speed, strength and dexterity. This outstanding challenge will take you through partly forested, partly mountainous landscapes, interrupted by streams and rivers, being crystal clear, if not swollen from the summer rains.

Your horse riding adventure heads out to an engirdled and secluded region, for the most part untrodden as yet by tourists, though still within a few hours’ journey from the capital. You will ride along with your pack horses, starting from the Baga Khentii Mountains and ending at the Bogd Khan Mountain just south east of Ulaanbaatar. On the way you will see nomadic life at its finest. Being “Nomads” ourselves, we will experience their hospitality and mongolian childrenlearn about their lives.

You can hike along the forested hillsides or visit a local village to find out about traditional ways of life. A stranger is immediately a friend and the comfort of the ger is remarkable, making Mongolia a true gem for the intrepid traveler.

 

Share secrets with the Sapa Hill Tribes in Vietnam

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Trek into one of the most densely populated hill tribe areas of the country, with a natural, wild feel about the region.  Sapa is a typical rugged northern Vietnamese area with lots of terraces, large rolling hills, deep valleys and rice fields.  Your trek takes you along scenic trails and off the beaten path, through remote hill tribe villages of Nam Ket, Red Dao Village of Sin Chai, Nam Cum village, Thanh Phu and  Seo Mi Ty village of the Black H’mong.

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Live life like a local in Little Tibet

Isolated for many months of the year by snow, Ladakh remains one of the best places to experience the unique culture of the high Himalaya.  With its snow covered peaks, remote villages, and ancient Buddhist monasteries, Ladakh truly is like being transported to another world!

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Your flight from Delhi to Leh, or ‘Little Tibet’ as it is commonly known, takes in many of the Himalayan peaks. The peak of Stok Kangri stands out in the mountains as it turns from crimson to sparkling white on the skyline of Leh. Leh is the product of various cultural influences, today it is a Buddhist refuge, and in the past a trading post on the ancient silk route.

A walk to the Shanti Stupa will give you fantastic views of Leh, the Indus Valley and River, and the beautiful surrounding snow-capped peaks. You will be invited for tea at the Lingshed Area Project, a children’s home project based in Ladakh.

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This wildly beautiful desert region high in the Western Himalayas is a place of few resources and an extreme climate, yet it has been home to a thriving culture for more than a thousand years. Trek through picturesque and ancient villages with a lifestyle unchanged for centuries.

This trek is one of the most varied and beautiful treks that we offer, the route passes through terrain which changes from incredibly narrow valleys to wide-open vast expanses! It is made all the more interesting by the ancient form of Buddhism that flourishes in the many monasteries that dot the landscape.

Test Thai hospitality in our Thai Jungle Trek

This expedition takes place in western Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Province, location of

thai jungle trek 1 the infamous Death Railway and Bridge over the River Kwai. Kanchanaburi is inhabited by a mixture of Burmese, Karen, Mon and Thai peoples. The challenge will take you through the rugged jungles in remote parts of the province close to the border with Burma.

You will spend six days trekking, rafting and kayaking through the forests and mountains of the Thung Yai Nareusan Wildlife Sanctuary. The Thung Yai area is home to the Karen people who traditionally live in small villages and forest communities. They know the region better than anybody else and will be your hosts and guides for the challenge. You will stay overnight in a Karen village consisting of bamboo stilt houses and at a campsite on the banks of the river. Once the challenge is complete, you will return to Bangkok, home to the Royal Palace and Wat Po.

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Spread smiles for miles in our Saigon to Angkor Wat Cycle

This challenge entails cycling 450kms past plantations, across waterways and through villages deep in the heart of the lush Mekong Delta in Vietnam, to the dry lands and contrasting sights of ancient Cambodia.

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You will pass temples and countless colourful pagodas, havens of calm and tranquility and bustling markets. Few locals will have seen foreigners cycling past, and their interest and hospitality will spur on even the most tired cyclist.

Your final destination is the town of Siem Reap, from which you can explore the ancient city of Angkor. Built from 879-1191AD by the Khmer civilization, Angkor represents one of humankind’s most astonishing architectural achievements, becoming a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

If all this has got you in the mood to make some new friends, head to the Charity Challenge website and begin your challenge now!

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Kamal Bhandari, our Nepalese Challenge Leader had a secret urge to visit the Great Wall of China…

KamalKamal has been leading Charity Challenge Everest Base Camp Treks for over ten years. He has weathered some of the most rugged terrain on Earth and has never hesitated to go the extra mile for his team and those trekking with him.  Many of you reading this will have shared some memorable moments in the Himalayas with him and know how passionate he is about making the trips a wonderful experience for his clients.

We found out that a lifelong dream of Kamal’s was to visit the Great Wall of China and as he has been a truly wonderful guide and advocate of Charity Challenge over the years, we set plans in motion to try and make a trip for him as memorable…  Here’s what he has to say:

“My journey to Great Wall has been a memorable one. A dream come true. A Big THANK YOU and the credit goes to Charity Challenge for helping and sorting my trip. It really makes me proud working with them.

This trip was different from my usual treks in Nepal. It is not correct to say that it was easy compared with my trips in the Himalayas. We had to walk lots of ups and downs, half of which was natural and half renovated – some of them were killers! But I loved it.

I was given the chance from Charity Challenge to be with a trekking team from Royal Marsden Hospital of 24 trekkers. I felt lucky to be with them. Even though I was a stranger for everyone before the trip, I was never given a chance to think back. The care, love and friendly attitude of everyone made me speechless.

With nothing to worry about – altitude nor the clients, I was tension free.  I was more like aKalam in china small spoiled kid kept in middle of the toy shop. The views, walk itself, greenery, shopkeepers, locals, guides and participants are all still rolling over my head. For everything I give a BIG THUMBS UP.

On completion of the Great Wall Walk, covering 50 KM in 5 days, we advanced towards Central Beijing. Beijing was other place I always want to visit. Olympic 2008 stadium, watching aerobatics, visiting the square which could hold millions of people at once, the Forbidden  City which is renowned and famous and Temple of Heaven were all the highlights which I felt lucky to see.

I could easily make it that it was my holiday, as I felt very emotional leaving Beijing and departing with my friends, which normally does not happen with me.

Lastly, I am very grateful to CHARITY CHALLENGE and to everyone who supported me (Simon A and B, Carmel, Jo and David) to fulfill my desire to walk on the Great Wall and visit Beijing.”

Kamal we salute you! Thank you for your continued energy and experience looking after our clients in Nepal.

If Kamal’s dream has inspired you to trek on the Great Wall of China, then please click here.

To keep up to date on all our challenge news, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

CAA to crack down on unclear websites and brochures

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has warned it, along with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), are reviewing travel companies’ websites and promotional material to check they are providing “clear, transparent and timely information” on the holidays and flights they are selling. In a statement the CAA said this is aimed at making sure the industry is “fully aware of its responsibilities under existing consumer legislation”.

Charity Challenge has campaigned from day one (way back in 1999) to provide clear and transparent pricing for its participants and charity partners, specifically, including all known air taxes at the time of launching a challenge. Many challenge companies do not include known air taxes and simply pass them off as surcharges a few months before departure. This is misleading and whilst the challenge appears cheaper, it is only deceiving the clients (or the charity) who have to pay later!

The CAA said key points of the guidance include a reminder of:
•    All unavoidable and foreseeable charges for flights must be included in the headline price – this includes taxes, fees and any other mandatory charges such as a booking fee.
•    Information on the financial protection arrangements for the booking and other key information must be made clear to consumers.
•    Terms and conditions relating to a booking must be clearly available and easy to understand.

Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the OFT’s Goods and Consumer group, added: “Booking a holiday should be simple. People should be able to make a clear choice and should not be surprised by hidden charges or conditions after they have booked. Our guidance makes life easier for consumers by leaving the travel industry in no doubt about its responsibilities.”

The full guidance is available online here and a shorter version for quick reference is here.

To see more information about the array of amazing challenges we have, please visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, please subscribe to this blog. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

2012 – a very Responsible year!

I’ve been trying to look back on some of the things that we have achieved over the last year in our efforts to always act sustainably, responsibly and ethically, and give back to the local communities that welcome us so generously on all of our challenges. It was only when I started looking through everything that has happened that I realized what a long year it has been! From our Essex2India cycle ride with Lydia Bright and Denise Van Outen, to launching the business in Canada and landing two Canadian exclusive challenges in 2013 with UNICEF and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, not to mention the team changes with the leaving and hiring of several new staff members… 2012 seems to have passed in a blur!!
Looking back has been useful; because it has given us all a chance to plan forward… we can see what we have achieved, and what there is still left to do. With that in mind, here are my top 5 Responsible Tourism highlights of 2012. Enjoy!

5. The Rainforest Alliance conference
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to go to a conference hosted by the Rainforest Alliance, celebrating their 25 years. I wrote about the conference in my blog shortly after, but what impressed me the most (and why it deserves to be in my top 10) is that the conference went right to the heart of what sustainability will mean for future economies, focusing in particular on South American and African countries. It showed the important part that western businesses play in supporting other economies… not through charity, but through buying ethically produced goods and on the understanding that this benefits everyone involved.

4. Building schools in Brazil and Nepal
Little known fact about Charity Challenge – most of our business used to be made up of running Community Challenges for exclusive charity or corporate groups, all with the aim of contributing to schools, homes and other building projects, in the developing world. Sadly the call for these types of challenges decreased as the more adventurous trips to Kili and Everest took over, but this year we sent two groups out to Brazil and Nepal to contribute to building projects in some of the poorest areas of the countries. Significant progress was made, with houses being re-roofed, proper windows put in, ceilings plastered and walls painted, not to mention the houses that were completely started from scratch. Everything is done with the help of a proper construction supervisor, group leader and trained crew – to make sure the houses are well made and sturdy.

3. Climate Care and ‘Carbon for Water’
This year we made a payment to Climate Care of just over £23 000 to offset our carbon emissions. Since 2007 we have offset over 10 000 tonnes of fuel, which is the equivalent of taking more than 3000 cars of the road for a year… hmmm fresh air! The money goes to fund carbon reduction projects like the Kenyan project Carbon for Water. This short video will tell you more in a few minutes than I could explain in the next ten pages, but in short, the project distributes simple gravity fed water filters, providing safe water to 4.5 million people in Kenya. It was recently featured in the Guardian, and we are incredibly proud of having contributed to it.

2. Local project support
For each participant that takes on a challenge with us, we make a donation to a local charity or project that works and concentrates aid in the country that the participant is travelling to. This is a long-term commitment of ours, and one that deserves to be at number two on the hit list! Projects who have thanked us and benefited from the support are as wide ranging as the International Porter Protection Group for our Nepal and Stok Kangri trips (IPPG); a small orphanage in Romania for our Trek Transylvania; Community Projects Africa for all Kili adventures and the Sumatran Orangutan Society for our Sumatran Jungle Trek. To read more about the projects that we support, click here. Needless to say we are pleased and proud to have supported so many this year.

1. The Deepen Rai foundation
A sobering note on which to end the round up, but a fitting end nonetheless. We sadly lost one of our most amazing and talented guides this year, Deepen Rai. He has led many, many of our Stok Kangri and Everest Base Camp challenges, and he sadly died in a plane crash while taking a group of British trekkers from another UK tour operator. We had thought to set up a fund in his name, and by cooperating with the other operator in question we have contributed a great deal, with the help of some extremely kind donations from YOU. We are still in talks with Deepen’s wife regarding where the money should be used. Deepen was the sole earner, and he had a wife and children who depended on his income, as well as helping to support a project in the Himalayan region of Nepal. The money will continue to support them, although it still cannot replace the loss of a husband and father.

So a year of ups and downs, providing lots of food for thought. I haven’t even mentioned World Responsible Tourism day on the 7th November, but that’s another story. It has been, on the whole, a good year, and we are looking forward to some exciting things ahead for 2013 so watch this space!

From all at Charity Challenge we wish you a very Happy, Healthy and RESPONSIBLE Christmas period!!

Supporting our Porters!

So, as Christmas comes upon us and Jack Frost is nipping at Great Britain’s communal nose, I thought a little festive cheer was in order from the outside world. It has long been built into Charity Challenge’s policy on Responsible Tourism, that for each person taking part on a challenge, we will make a donation to a local project or charity, with the aim of contributing and giving back to the communities that have welcomed our trekkers. Of course, Responsible Tourism is about the environment, preserving culture, respecting behavioural norms etc… however I’ve always felt that our kind of adventure tourism owes a debt to the local staff that we employ in country. These are people who take on the challenges that our participants have trained and fundraised so hard for, but the difference is that they do them every day, for a living, working hard to make our challenges as unforgettable experiences as possible. Imagine climbing to Everest Base Camp. Incredible. Now imagine taking on the climb EVERY WEEK. With 20kg strapped to your back. Setting up camp, cooking and looking after a group of adventurers, far away from your family at home.

The incredible feats performed by our porters inspire our choice to send our Everest Base Camp and Stok Kangri donations to the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG). Just last month we received a letter from them confirming that this has been the right decision. We have sent, over the last 2 financial years, a total of £2613 to the charity, and their letter has iterated exactly how the money has been put to good use, and the incredible importance of donations to the continuance of their work.

In association with Community Action Nepal, IPPG have been building a medical rescue post and porter shelter where porters can have access to cooking facilities, warm blankets and a place to sleep within the shelter. They are in the process of building a similar outpost in a neighbouring valley, and both provide medical treatment to the lowland porters who are generally poorly equipped for high altitude. One of the greatest problems facing porters in Nepal is that they can be abandoned by their trekking group if they are sick, and made to descend alone where they will not be paid for their work. They also often carry a weight that far exceeds the regulations, although IPPG are stamping down hard on this.

It’s always great to get feedback about the projects that we support, so if you have any comments then  do get in touch with us. To read more about what IPPG do, and how this money supports their daily work, visit www.IPPG.com.

To learn more about all our charity challenges, and find out how else we get involved with Responsible Tourism you can read our Responsible Tourism policy here, and you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com . To keep up to date on all our challenge news, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

25 years of the Rainforest Alliance… where will they go from here?

Recently, I was lucky enough to go to a conference celebrating the Rainforest Alliance’s 25th anniversary. I’m not usually the person in the office who looks after our relationship with the organisation, so learning about what they had achieved since their beginnings in 1987, and their visions for a sustainable future, was a welcome learning experience for me. The list of invitees was impressive, including several big shots within the corporate world of Kraft, Nestle, Marks and Spencer and Costa among others, and left me with the impression that I was rather a small fish in a big pond (or a small tree in a large Rainforest…).

To give you a potted history of the Rainforest Alliance’s work through the years, their main aim in the beginning was to conserve biodiversity by transforming land-use practices and changing consumer behavior. Their system of Certification of farms and forests – RA helped to establish the Forest Stewardship Council. Think you don’t know the FSC? Check your orange juice packaging, or the toilet roll you buy. Their logo is instantly recognizable, once you know where to look – has led to tangible benefits for ecosystems and human populations. In the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, the ape population density is significantly higher in FSC certified forests. That’s a win for ecology! Elsewhere, yields in certified cocoa farms are higher than in non-certified farms, which have lead to an improved productivity of 30-40%, and therefore an increased income. This incentivizes farmers, who have better access to healthcare, higher pay and a better quality of life.

I could go on and on. That would, however, mean glossing over the more uncomfortable subject of the work that is left to do. Recently the Rainforest Alliance launched their ‘Follow the Frog’ campaign (watch the below hilarious video for the finer details), which directly targets consumer attitudes towards responsible buying. Ie, what can WE do, actively, and what should we do? Is it reasonable to believe that, instead of buying your usual coffee/tea/chocolate, if you purchase a bag of coffee with a Frog on it the world will suddenly undergo a significant change? I’m not sure about that. But what if 50 people did it? And then 100? These are the kind of large-scale behavior changes that can engender positive repercussions.

If there is one thing that I learned from the conference, it’s that big businesses such as the aforementioned powerhouses have a responsibility to offer the right things, rather than expecting customers to buy them. I rather enjoyed the thoughts of one of the ladies on the panel, who impressed upon her audience that the value of kindness was going to be good business in the future. Consumers are tending towards better products, better service, a better ethos, and going away from the value of ‘more’ that was so predominant in the Noughties. So why not transfer this sentiment to tourism too?

Indeed, surely kindness should be one of the most important values in an industry that connects many millions of people across the world each year, forcing disparate cultures into contact and bringing many tourists into the world’s most fragile ecosystems. As a tour operator, we hold a role of great responsibility within the industry, and it is our duty to ensure that our expeditions benefit the host communities so that these destinations retain their natural and cultural treasures for future generations to enjoy. The tourism section of Rainforest Alliance is small but growing. To be a member of the international community of tour operators, TOPS (Tour Operators Promoting Sustainability), we signed an agreement committing to encourage our suppliers out in country (lodges, hotels, restaurants etc) to become verified and to give priority to certified and verified suppliers always. It is, admittedly, really difficult to police and enforce this, but like the directors and officers at companies such as Costa and Marks & Spencer, we realize that a big change is necessary to get long-term results.

I have had many things to think about after the conference, as both an employee of an organization whose mantra is to be responsible, and also as a consumer whose duty it should be to buy responsibly. Perhaps the best thing I learned was the phrase ‘Net Positive’ (never heard that before). It means that we are striving not to be ‘less bad’, not just to dilute negatives with one positive action, but to strive to produce 0 carbon; 0 waste; to buy food that you know has come from sustainable sources, whether from Waitrose or from your local butcher; to research your holidays and ensure that they are being operated responsibly; to try and make real, verifiable changes to human life with your actions.

No pressure then!

To learn more about all our charity challenges, and find out how else we get involved with responsible tourism you can read our Responsible Tourism policy here, and you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com . To keep up to date on all our challenge news, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.