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Fair Trade. That’s the secret to our responsible travel policy. Fair Trade is perhaps most often associated with coffee growers in South American countries but why shouldn’t we pay a fair price for services everywhere in the world?
We always look after the people who look after you by paying a fair price for their services no matter where they are.
What’s more, we pay them promptly because the majority of our overseas partners are small businesses who appreciate early payment as it supports their cash flow.
We find that this is a mutually beneficial formula because it is often the case that what comes around goes around.
Here’s an example.
Some years ago, the value of Sterling fell to almost parity with the Euro. In other words, where a few years earlier the pound was worth 1.5 Euros, it was now worth only 1 Euro.
Realising that this was going to have a rather unpleasant impact on the price of our holidays, we contacted all of our Finnish winter suppliers who we pay in Euros and alerted them to the problem. Every single supplier responded by either keeping their prices at the same level as the previous year or even reducing them.
Basically, our partners appreciated that we have always paid them fairly and promptly and were prepared to come to our help when we most needed it. That is what our “business” relationships are all about, mutual support and it certainly seems to work for us and our suppliers.
Responsible travel isn’t just about the environment, it’s also about the communities we visit and the local, regional and national economies within the host countries. There are three specific areas where we aim to make not just a contribution but a genuinely positive difference.
Basically, we look after the people who look after you while you are on an Aurora Zone holiday and our abiding belief is that fair trade is a worldwide principle and will be applied wherever we work.
Regardless of whether our suppliers are in Norway, Iceland, Finland or Sweden, we see absolutely no point in pushing them down to barely sustainable margins.
Quite simply, we believe that paying a fair price to a local supplier is the greatest contribution we can make in any host community. Finnish Lapland is an excellent example.
In Finnish Lapland, traditional industries such as fisheries and forestry were very much the mainstays of an economy where employment opportunities have always been few and far between. However, extensive mechanisation has gradually replaced the human workforce with machines. Fortunately for the Lappish economy, tourism to the area has caught on in a highly sustainable way.
Large ski resorts such as Levi and Yllas provide plentiful employment in the winter but it is winter activities and the Northern Lights that have become a significant attraction. What’s more, to see the Northern Lights properly you need to escape the light pollutions of towns and ski resorts which means it is the more isolated and smaller tourism businesses that are benefitting from your visit. The great thing about this is that the money you spend is far more likely to remain in the local economy than go to a large chain whose offices are in Helsinki or London or elsewhere far removed from Finnish Lapland.
Well managed and sustainable tourism has become a cornerstone of the regional economy in Northern Scandinavia and we are proud of the role and the contribution we make in this important area.
The very nature of our holidays means that we work in rural areas where employment opportunities are limited. We always seek out destinations where light pollution is minimal and, almost by definition, this means places which are off, what might be considered, the well-beaten tourist track.
Very often tourism has taken over as a key economic contributor and by using local providers in more remote destinations rather than large chains in busy resorts, we keep the money within the local economy wherever we can.
The great beauty of this is that your holiday money is then spread throughout the local economy.
Your hotel or guesthouse will source staff, food, equipment and utilities from more local suppliers as will your activity providers.
There are academic models such as the Tourism Multiplier which clearly illustrate that money spent in smaller tourism establishments contributes far more to the local economy than money spent in larger resorts. Our aim is to make sure that this continues and hence contributes to the local and regional economies in which we operate.
We would be fools to ignore our environmental responsibilities especially when you consider the areas in which we operate. There are few places on the planet that are as unspoiled as the likes of Northern Scandinavia and we want to keep it that way. It is said that the air in the likes of Finnish Lapland is amongst the cleanest and purest anywhere in the world and from experience, we can’t disagree.
Essentially, the fresh air encapsulates the Scandinavia environment.
Every town, village and hamlet is engulfed in mile upon mile upon mile of pristine wilderness with perfectly white snow lying on the fells, the forests and the frozen lakes. On a sunny day, sunglasses are an absolute must because the glare from this pure white landscape can be just as sharp as in an alpine ski resort.
Our partners in these remote corners have a huge role to play in maintaining the environmental status quo. After all, this is where they live and where their children will most likely live so they have a vested interest in protecting their natural surroundings. One of our primary criteria when assessing any new supplier is the extent to which they share this vision of sustainability and over the years we have grown immensely proud of our partners’ efforts in this area.
As you can imagine, tourism and leisure activities are very, very carefully managed in Northern Scandinavia and this is one of the reasons we like to operate there. The management is particularly evident in winter when the trails are laid out with considerable care to ensure minimal environmental damage while the locals and the tourists engage in activities such as dog sledding, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling (we’ve written more on the subject of snowmobiling below).
In many of the more sensitive areas and the national parks, activities are sometimes limited and the needs of the local wildlife are given precedence.
For example, snowmobiles are not permitted in some of the more vulnerable areas whilst dog sledding is sometimes limited in parts of the country where reindeer herds are prevalent.
Naturally, we ensure that our partners comply with all local environmental regulations but we also delve a bit deeper too. We ask to see their responsible tourism policy and, far more importantly, evidence that it is being acted upon.
We also feel that our clients should be aware of their own environmental responsibilities and, knowing our clients as we do, I’m sure they are very conscious of the part they have to play. Nevertheless, we request that all our clients read our recommendations on the subject prior to travel and to this end, we are continually striving to improve our policy and take guidance from organisations such as Responsible Travel and Tourism Concern.
Of course, much of environmentally responsible travel is down to plain old common sense but there’s no harm in reiterating and reinforcing what is considered to be current best practice.
One of the most common comments we read is that motorised snowmobiles can seem inappropriate in such a silent and unpolluted area such as Northern Scandinavia.
Here’s the thing though, snowmobiles are as much a part of life in the Arctic as fuel guzzling 4-wheel drive cars are here in the UK.
With the advent of far cleaner and quieter 4-stroke engines, snowmobiles are becoming an increasingly efficient way to get around during an Arctic winter. Many of the locals use them for everyday chores such as shopping rather than drive a few miles in a big petrol consuming car. In addition, snowmobiles play a massive role in the local economy and, as one experienced guide pointed out a few years ago, “without the snowmobiles we wouldn’t have a tourism industry here”.
He is absolutely right of course. When you think about winter tourism in the Arctic there are some considerable expenses to be covered before the local suppliers can make a living. Huskies or sled dogs are the best examples. They can pull a sled through the snow and hence earn their owner an income for four or five months of the year but they have to be fed and cared for all year round. It’s an expensive business whereas snowmobiles have the same income earning time span but with a far shorter maintenance and care period.