The busi­ness case for re­spon­si­ble tourism Cal­abash Tours is a not your av­er­age tour com­pany. Its co-founder and di­rec­tor Paul Miedema is pas­sion­ate about em­pow­er­ing peo­ple and giv­ing back to the com­mu­ni­ties his com­pany works with. This is ev­i­denced by the

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do­ing good for oth­ers be good for you too? For Cal­abash Tours, a Port El­iz­a­beth-based com­pany that runs day tours and short cul­tural tours in the Eastern Cape, the an­swer is a re­sound­ing yes.

“We’re a small com­pany so I know about cash flow dif­fi­cul­ties,” says co-founder and di­rec­tor Paul Miedema. “But if we hadn’t en­gaged in re­spon­si­ble tourism and em­bed­ded it into the fi­bre of our busi­ness, I don’t think we would have sur­vived for the last 19 years.”

Be­sides found­ing Cal­abash Trust, an NGO, in ad­di­tion to the tour com­pany, be­com­ing cer­ti­fied with Fair Trade Tourism in 2005 was an im­por­tant step; not just for the la­bel but be­cause it helped the com­pany find its blind spots, un­der­stand the lim­i­ta­tions of its prac­tice, and up its game.

“It’s an as­pi­ra­tional goal to be per­fectly re­spon­si­ble but none of us will ever be,” Miedema ad­mits. “You have to keep mov­ing for­ward all the time.”

When work­ing in poor com­mu­ni­ties, Cal­abash takes what Miedema calls an “as­set­based ap­proaches” by first iden­ti­fy­ing what a com­mu­nity can of­fer be­fore talk­ing about what it needs. They also iden­tify three types of poverty – of mind, of pocket, and of spirit – be­fore re­spond­ing ac­cord­ingly.

“In most of the nar­ra­tive in South Africa, where town­ship or ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties are in­volved, the only poverty spo­ken about is poverty of pocket,” Miedema says. “This shapes a kind of im­bal­ance. Be­cause peo­ple are eco­nom­i­cally poor, there’s an im­pres­sion that they don’t have much to of­fer or that they only want tourism be­cause they’re needy. That’s not our ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Pro­tect­ing the planet

Many com­pa­nies don’t know where to be­gin where re­spon­si­ble prac­tice is con­cerned. But Miedema be­lieves that they over­com­pli­cate the process. For ex­am­ple, be­cause all busi­nesses gen­er­ate waste, and be­cause recycling isn’t com­pli­cated, this is a sim­ple and mea­sur­able place to start.

“We were chal­lenged in that we’re a tour op­er­a­tor,” he says. “We did what­ever we could to mit­i­gate our emis­sions, but we also had to have a pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact. And if you know town­ships, you know the en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion that hap­pened be­cause of our coun­try’s his­tory. It’s a bad sit­u­a­tion to be­gin with.”

Cal­abash fo­cused on per­ma­cul­ture and op­por­tu­ni­ties for de­vel­op­ing sus­tain­able liveli­hoods. It bases its work in town­ship schools, es­sen­tially turn­ing them into small ur­ban farms.

“We do a lot of rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing be­cause we’re in an area where there’s un­pre­dictable rain,” he says. “In the last year, we in­vested more

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