Too often large tour companies looking to maximize their profits ignore or harm local people and the environment throughout the world. All-inclusive resorts pay their overworked employees low wagesand massive cruise ships pollute the very waters they promote as pristine and untouched

But what if you could travel knowing that you were contributing to generate a positive social and environmental impact on your destination?

Sumak Travel was founded in London in May 2012 and acted as a tour operator for 5 years until May 2017. During this period, the social enterprise specialised in creating tailor-made tours for discerning travellers wanting to connect with local people and nature in an authentic and eco-friendly way. The tours combine three elements: community-based tourism, conventional tourism operated in a responsible way and exciting off-the-beaten path destinations. The main market was the UK but it organically expanded to the US and Canada. We grew from 4 to 18 countries in Latin America, and our tours have frequently been featured on major media outlets like The Guardian or Nat Geo Traveller UK.

In maintaining the belief that mass tourism damages biodiversity and sometimes has an adverse human rights impact against locals, we transitioned earlier this year from direct tour provider to an ecotourism platform that links discerning travellers with our trusted, local tour operators. While still valuing our small business model that can afford to focus all its attention on the prospective traveller, we believe this transition into a marketing platform allows us to give more control over to the host communities and local operators, therefore increasing our positive impact.

Local communities use tourism as a source of complementary income so they can improve their living standards, preserve their ecosystems and cultures, and defend their land and rights. Community-based tourism (CBT), our speciality, is a tool for sustainable development acting in four dimensions: economic (decent jobs, fair trade, community funds, local linkages, infrastructure improvements), social (capacity building, reduction of migration to cities, access to public services such as health and education), environmental (nature and wildlife conservation, reduction of deforestation and extractivist activities, climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy, renewable energies) and cultural (self-esteem, revalorisation of ancestral traditions and rural identity, gender equality). Currently 200+ local CBT initiatives are part of our offer and there are 1,000+ in our network (and growing).

On the other side of the coin, when a traveller treats local communities and the environment with respect, that positive impact is reciprocated into a memorable and satisfying holiday. This can entail taking rural tours with indigenous communities where they get the chance to share in meals and stories with hosts, rather than getting just close enough to snap a quick picture and leave. We know that when we use tourism to improve the standards of living for rural communities in Latin America, it allows them to keep their cultures intact and their standards of living at a higher level. That is why all of our local partners follow the principles of fair trade and our responsible tourism policy, which encompasses our mission of empowering local communities while providing an interesting and fulfilling journey for our travellers.

Coffee workshop near Salento in Colombia (pic by Zaia)

In aligning with Social Enterprise UK’s commitment to ethical business models, we are proud to promote sustainable and responsible travel throughout the Latin American region. Offering more than 100 sustainable tourism destinations, from well-known places such as Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands to hidden gems like Chiloé Island in Chile and the Lost City in Colombia, our tours allows travellers to enjoy a diversity of offerings. Specialised tours, nature hikes, homestays, are just some of the activities we offer to give them a vehicle in which to get deeper into the sense of history and culture in a given place.

Our unique social enterprise model is allowing us to expand our network of partners who follow our same sense of responsible tourism and make sure that our clients are in good hands every step of the way.

Guardian articles:

Homestays in Argentina: how ethical holidays are protecting a way of life

Colombia’s Lost City: lore of the jungle

Ecuador’s Yasuni park: where oil vies with tourism for the rainforest

Meet the Mayans: a tour of the real Yucatán, Mexico

Recommended blog post:

Community-based tourism in the Colca Valley: Building together in Coporaque, Peru

Ethical Tour Operators Group – Promoting ethical tourism worldwide

Ethical Bloggers Promoting Ecotourism in Costa Rica – Campaign Summary



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