Meet The People: Going native on your travels

Tourism can help indigenous communities. But do they really want us there, asks Mark MacKenzie

Heading off the beaten track to meet indigenous peoples in remote areas has been popular since tourism began. In recent years, the American travel industry has come up with a catchy new phrase to describe experiences based on interaction with such communities: ethnotourism.

And, according to a new report last week by Euromonitor International, an industry body that tracks trends in the global tourism market, our increasing interest in ecologically minded or "responsible" holidays could lead to a massive upsurge in ethnotourism in Britain in the next few years.

Research by Mintel, reported in this month's issue of Green Futures, a magazine dedicated to sustainable living, shows that more than 450,000 Britons took holidays with an environmental component in 2005, a figure set to rise to 2.5m trips by 2010.

"An increasing number of countries [that are home to indigenous groups] are waking up to a type of tourism that not only protects the environment but also benefits indigenous peoples," said Michelle Grant, Euromonitor's travel man- ager for the Americas.

A good example, says Ms Grant, is the Chalalan eco-lodge project, located in the Madidi National Park in Bolivia, which receives around 15,000 visitors a year. Chalalan is owned, managed and staffed entirely by the Quechua-Tacana people and funds health and education services for a community of 500 people.

Central and South America is something of a political football in the debate. Over the past two years, the World Bank has paid out $9m (£4.6m) to communi- ties to help fund ethnotourism programmes.

But some fear growing interest could prove counterproductive, putting communities ill-equipped to cope under pressure as operators strive for a search for a USP in an increasingly crowded market.

"Ethnotourism covers a vast array of peoples," said Fiona Watson, campaigns co-ordinator for Survival International. "The Masai of Kenya are quite savvy and have been well-disposed to receiving tourists for years. At the other end of the scale, there are rainforest communities with little or no experience of the outside world."

All too often, explains Watson, indigenous projects are established without consultation with the community. "There are plenty of unscrupulous guides prepared to pay off one leader who happens to speak a European language. As a visitor, you have no way of knowing that you're not enjoying the support of the whole community."

Work by Survival International has found the number of "uncontacted" indigenous groups is likely to be far higher than previously thought, as many as 100 communities spread around the world. So how can you be sure your operator is taking steps to ensure the community you visit isn't getting a bum deal?

"When choosing to travel, we would recommend asking to see the tour provider's travel policy," says Nigel Winser, executive director of Earthwatch. "It should outline how local communities benefit from visitors and, crucially, how they are involved in the decision-making process."

Watson fears that as the ethnotourism market expands, some operators may turn a blind eye to the fact that many isolated people don't want contact. She cites the example of the Sentinelese people who inhabit North Sentinel island in the Andaman chain; when the Indonesian government flew a supply helicopter over the area in the wake of the tsunami, the local community fired arrows at it.

"The Brazilian government has a department called the National Indian Foundation, dedicated to the affairs of Amazonian Indians," says Watson. "And there is a section for uncontacted groups. They have been doing this for years but they still make mistakes. It's a challenge for operators to be sure their projects are responsible."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits