22 August 2016

Ecotourism and Responsible Travel In Mongolia - A Few (Useful?!) Tips!

Ecotourism, ethical travel, sustainable travel or responsible travel. What do you call it? Does it impact on the way you choose to travel? Are they just current trending 'buzz' words? Is it just a marketing sales tool used by the tourism industry?
However you feel, it is an important part of my philosophy behind EL. Why? I firmly belive that this is about our responsibility to Mongolia. Travel can, and should be, a positive experience for both you, the visitor, and for Mongolia – its natural environment, people, culture and traditions. I believe that travel has to be beneficial to all concerned - what's unimportant is the name you choose to give it. 

Another current buzz word is being 'mindful'. Mindful of the way we travel. Which basically comes down to being considerate. It doesn't necessarily mean an entire change of attitude as a traveller. It can come dow to some simple choices. 

Think How You Explore

Walking, biking or on anything with four legs have to be the best ways. All mean you notice the smaller details rather than everything passing by in a quick haze. 

 Yes, here in Mongolia, Khovsgol Nuur and Gobi Gurvan Saikhan are rightfully popular short loops. But, consider how you experience them. Don't just arrive and depart in and out on a domestic flight and miss out on the in-between places. 
From 2017, as well as the biking and hiking trips we offer, each EL vehicle will carry one mountain bike. As a completely free service. Why? It gives the opportunity for those that want to to go and explore the smaller details.   
Biking in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Mongolia

Travel Mindfully

Yes, our EL Mongolian experiences are heavily reliant on our Furgon vehicles. And yes, they cover a lot of distance and drink a lot of fuel. Not exactly sustainable huh? But, I still firmly believe that traveling by land through Mongolia can be one of the most fulfilling and memorable experiences with absolute freedom to visit the most off the beaten path spots.
So. The fabulous Mongolian drivers (my 'boys') that form part of the EL team are encouraged to make their vehicles as fuel efficient as possible - any additional fuel payment left over at the end of a trip they get to keep. This is in addition to their pay and annual bonus. 
But. It's still travelling by vehicle. So. All our vehicles carry a small mobile kitchen. This means we can break up the journey.  It means we can offer more freedom and flexibility as we’re not reliant on anyone else to provide meals. It also means we can have picnic lunches en-route so as we prepare them, our guests can be exploring the local landscapes or sitting and taking in the view. 

Picnic lunch in Mongolia's Gobi Desert
For itineraries that include domestic flights we try for our guests to drive one way  - taking in those in-between places that I keep mentioning! 

Search Out The Local Accommodation Options

In Ulaanbaatar, we don't have one fixed hotel we recommend. I provide all guests with details of as many centrally located options as I can. Mongolian owned businesses dominate that list. 
Even better has to be staying with local hosts or friends. From 2017, we will be offering our own version of Airbnb here in Ulaanbaatar where those interested can spend a day or two with a female member of the EL team in their family home. During the day you'll be free to explore (and join our free city walking tour of UB). During the evening, Selenge will accompany you - and show you what a typical evening is like for a UB citizen.
Give Back To The Local Community

 But what does this mean?
It’s hard to travel without creating at least a bit of carbon footprint. Trees are great - they're basically like lungs for the planet (no, I'm not a biologist, can you tell?!) so find an organisation that allows you to plant a free or fund a tree being planted on your behalf.

Tree planting in Mongolia's Middle Gobi

Planting trees in Mongolia's middle Gobi

Alternatively, take time to visit a local community organisation. One where you can help to make a difference (not by offering to teach English to children for an hour but by doing something practical that the community actually needs doing - such as sticking stamps on envelopes. Always remember that  the needs of the communities must be put first rather than our own desire to just ‘do good.’).
If you want to be of help consider joining us on helping to fund the new learning centre at the Nogoon Nuur community space located in the ger districts of Ulaanbaatar. It's not yet built but I'm encouraging our guests with the help of our EL trip assistants to choose Mongolian children's books that they then donate in person. Sometimes it can be about the small things.
A new website is in the pipeline but if you're interested in EL and the way we travel then please have a look at my current EL website for inspiration on Mongolian holidays and travel experiences. I look forward to welcoming you!