By Alexandra Pastollnigg, Founder Fair Voyage
Digitalization has changed the way we travel. It enables us to book our trips online directly with locals. By cutting out the middlemen, we reduce costs and make sure that our money goes to local people. To me, that made a lot of sense.
Three years ago, I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa. Here’s what happened to my tour guide: One day, he got sick and fainted while working as a porter on the mountain. He was unconscious on the ground. It was snowing heavily. His employer – a local tour company – simply left him behind to die.
In developing countries, such incidents are rarely reported. Travellers are not aware that their travel decisions may contribute to the exploitation of human life. Gradually, over three years, I’ve come to understand how the travel industry really works.
Digitalization has led to a proliferation of platforms that promote going local. We find the cheapest prices directly online, and are made to believe that booking cheaply with a local guide supports the local community.
The industry is extremely competitive – margins are small, and there is no cost basis that can be cut easily. However, to get business through online platforms, local tour guides are forced to cut prices below more established companies. So they are forced to cut costs. The easiest way to cut costs is to exploit their own people, such as the porters on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Tour companies who are operating responsibly will always have a higher cost basis then those who don’t, and will therefore not be able to compete on platforms where price is the single most important criterion. As a result, the majority of offers available on most platforms, and certainly all the cheapest offers that we find online, are those that are in direct conflict with responsible travelling.
Sadly, this new well-intended “going local” trend that’s empowered by technology, and which is meant to make the world a better place, may actually have the opposite effect to perpetuate, if not worsen, the exploitation of human life and other irresponsible travel practices. When booking the cheapest tours, our financial savings may come at the cost of human life.
Here’s the good news: Technology also enables us to create more awareness and transparency. Once aware of how the industry really works, I believe that conscious travellers are willing to pay fair prices to support responsible companies.
That’s why my mission is to make you aware of how the industry really works, because collectively, by making conscious travel decisions, we have the power to stop the exploitation of human life in tourism.