Love them or hate them, bicycles offer a unique form of transport. More efficient than walking, bicycles allow you to get from A to B faster than by foot, but simultaneously ensure that you are very much participating in life as it happens, rather than being blocked off from it in the confines of a car. This is precisely why the AWOL bicycle tours are such a success. Furthermore, they are a fine example of responsible travel and answer the question, What is Fair Trade Tourism?
Setting off through the township in the morning, our guide Zwai, a local in the Masiphumelele township, leads the way to a crèche run by a selfless woman, who cares for upwards of 20 children despite not receiving any governmental assistance. This is where some of our tour money goes. We listen to their singing and then tear ourselves away. We cycle down the sunny road, smiling at women washing clothes and old men perched on doorsteps. We wave at children congregated outside the community library, and once inside marvel at the newly built computer lab.
After visiting a sangoma, we tour the maize of the tin shacks in the informal section of Masiphumelele, where toilets are communal and electricity is for those close enough to the formal section of the township to share with a neighbour, or for the extremely ingenious. Despite the lack of formal infrastructure though, we are greeted with broad white smiles and catch glimpses of neat, respected living spaces beyond the tin walls.
We end the tour at a local eatery, where copious meat is braaied before our eyes and later served up on clattering tin plates with pap (a maize porridge) and finely chopped salad slathered in mayonnaise. The ambience is loud and bustling and the smells are overwhelmingly good – a bit like the tour itself.
The best part of the tour though is that it is run by AWOL Tours, a tourism business certified by the Fair Trade Tourism organisation, champions for the responsible travel cause. The organisation is intrinsically linked to the larger Fair Trade concept and operates throughout Southern Africa.
So, what is Fair Trade?
At its core, Fair Trade is a movement which works towards fairer trading partnerships for products such as coffee, chocolate and wine. It advocates transparency between traders in developing and developed countries with the goal being to help producers in developing countries receive a better deal for their commodities.
Producers who work with Fair Trade organisations have better access to global markets, improved working conditions and greater remuneration for their work. One of the most basic ways in which this is done is by teaching farming communities in developing countries how international trade works. For example, traders are far more likely to buy from an organised community effort than individual farmers because it saves them time negotiating and buying in larger quantities is more efficient and reliable than buying small amounts from various sources.
How does Fair Trade extend to Tourism?
The Fair Trade Tourism organisation works by certifying travel businesses according to a strict set of requirements which ensure that the people providing the skills and expertise are the same people receiving the benefits of doing so.
The certification programme is based on these 6 principles:
Fair Share: everyone in the business should get their fair share of the profits in proportion to their contribution.
Fair Say: everyone involved in the tourism enterprise has a say in issues concerning them.
Respect: host and visitor show respect for the environment, cultures and human rights. Some things included under this umbrella are conservation of natural resources, AIDS awareness and promotion of gender equality.
Reliability: tourism services should be safe and reliable for hosts and guests.
Transparency: tourism business should be accountable with regard to their profits and losses, ownership of their business and all participants should have access to information concerning them.
Sustainability: tourism business should strive for a long lifespan through endeavours such as the responsible use of resources and support of historically disadvantaged entrepreneurs.
Fair Trade Tourism certificates are awarded to an array of businesses within the tourism sector and by spending your money with those businesses, you are automatically using your power as a consumer to support responsible travel and do good. Surely there has never been a better reason to go on holiday!
You can find out more about the Fair Trade Tourism organisation on their website, www.fairtradetourism.org.za.