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
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