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Sustainable tourism not only protects the people and places of the world that we love to travel to, but also delivers a more enriching and flavoursome experience and preserves these destinations for future generations.
When travelling around Myanmar we attempt to tread as lightly as possible, gently engaging with the local communities and wildlife. Engines are turned off when not in use, rubbish generated is disposed of appropriately, and mutual respect is encouraged through sensitive and informed cultural interaction with local communities.
In May 2018 we became the third tour operator in Myanmar to achieve Gold Standard Certification from the Travelife Organisation, which recognises excelence in sustainable tourism. In December 2018 we were named Best Responsible Tour Operator at the Myanmar Responsible Tourism Awards.
Our efforts to be an environmentally sustainable tour operator begin at the office. Our policies range from simple practices such as encouraging employees through stickers and signs to conserve energy by switching off appliances in the office and utilizing duplex printing and recycled paper when documents have to be printed for internal use. Eco-friendly tips and suggestions are placed on the noticeboard and disseminated internally in the office.
The coffee and tea provided in the office is all Myanmar produce.
We collect used plastic bags to be taken en masse to the nearby village of Dala where they are made into jewelry and accessories by the workshop Chu Chu. Our food waste is separated from all other waste and passed on to the Yangon-based social enterprise Kokkoya Organics, to be used as fertiliser on their farm. Waste paper, bottles, and cans are collected by the social enterprise RecyGlo monthly to be processed responsibly. RecyGlo also creates a quarterly waste audit for us, they have provided us with waste and recycling bins, and conducted a waste reduction training session for our team in 2018.
Waste generated and water and energy consumed in the office is recorded on a monthly basis. In 2018 we intend to reduce these significantly. We have not yet set measurable targets for this reduction, but plan to do so soon.
For both internal travel and for clients, the carbon produced per person per flight is calculated. Using the tools on MyClimate.org we carbon offset each flight, with the money accrued donated quarterly to the organization Trees for Myanmar. (Clients have the choice to opt out of this scheme.)
We do not work with and discourage engagement with companies and organizations that we know to practise or promote the maltreatment of wildlife. Our team is informed about animal welfare through training systems such as that on Travelife. We have created Guidelines for Visiting Elephants Camps, to be considered by Sampan staff, clients, and partners. We strive to keep up-to-date with animal welfare and tourism developments by reading reports and attending workshops.
When visiting any of Myanmar’s 21 designated Protected Areas (PAs), Sampan Travel works in line with the guidelines and principals set out in the Myanmar Ecotourism Policy. We support the principals of eco-tourism and strive to promote and work with destinations and organisations practicing the principals of eco-tourism.
Finding environmentally sustainable transport options is a hard task for any tour operator that wants to conduct responsible travel. We attempt to offer transportation that causes little damage to the environment while at the same time not losing quality. If our guests are happy to sacrifice a little comfort in order to travel more sustainably (eg. taking a bus or coach instead of a car) they are encouraged to speak to their Sampan travel advisor and we can accommodate this.
We attempt to support local enterprises as much as possible. The Sampan Travel Welcome Bags that each guest is presented with upon arrival are made by the Phoenix Association, a self-help group in Myanmar by and for people living with HIV. The gifts inside are from the various Myanmar-based enterprises such as Pomelo, Hla Day, MESO, Amazing Grace, Pann Nann Ein, and a selection of others. We also give each guest a card holder with restaurant, café, and bar recommendations; these card holders are recycled from plastic by the organization Chu Chu.
We promote and take our guests to shops selling handicrafts from local artisans. When safe, comfortable and practical, we encourage our guests to eat from locally run restaurants. Our guides are similarly encouraged to promote local business and enterprises so to prevent economic `leakage` out of Myanmar.
Through our guides, partner agencies, and upon the Green Heroes page on our website, we allow those guests of ours who wish to make a monetary or material donation to a particular cause, project or organization in the country to do so in a responsible and informed fashion.
Sampan Travel abides by the workers` rights of the Myanmar Labour Law. We employ local staff and invest in their ongoing training. Our team regularly attends workshops and seminars on tourism so to increase their know-how and capacity. English language classes are offered. As stated in our Internal Regulations, Sampan Travel does not discriminate against current or potential employees on the grounds of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexuality. Regular appraisals and feedback sessions with management engenders a familiar and open forum for discussion, debate, complaint, and suggestion.
As a company, once a month Sampan staff visit different charitable oganisations operating near our office to make a donation and spend time with those working there. Aside from the donation, this allows us to make relationships in our wider community, learn from them, and not forget those that are more vulnerable than ourselves. In 2019 we will begin to additionally donating our time, by volunteering somewhere once a month.
We no longer offer visits to schools or orphanages as part of our itineraries. Nor do we offer short-term, unskilled voluntourism placements. We understand that the vast majority of people requesting to visit schools and orphanages do so with the best intentions. However, not only can these visits be disruptive to the children’s learning, but more worringly the commercialization of orphanages through ‘orphanage tourism’ in other Southeast Asian countries has lead to the maltreatment of the children that these orphanages purport to be helping. Guests that are interested in donating to or helping young people in Myanmar, are encouraged to speak directly to their Sampan travel advisor or to have a look at our Giving Back page.
Sampan Travel is a member of The Code and is an official supporter of the ChildSafe Movement. Both organisations are helping us put in place policies and practices that protect children from exploitation. Our employees either have already received or will soon receive training to become ChildSafe Agents. We have written a Child Protection Policy to ensure that we are proactive and effective in our efforts to safeguard the welfare of children.
In support of gender equality, Sampan enthusiastically works with organisations dedicated to the empowerment of women, such as Yangon Bakehouse. We do not take part in activities or use suppliers that discriminate or exploit women, children, or minority ethnic groups.
Staying the night in a monastery has fast become a popular thing to do in Myanmar. Although it is indeed a wondrous experience, we have heard from some monks that the continual presence of foreigners – and especially female foreigners – can be uncomfortable. Many tourists do not realize that it is against the rules of conduct (the thei kha) of the Buddhist order in Myanmar (the sangha) to sleep under the same roof as a woman. Because the monks will rarely themselves deny accommodation to those who ask, we take it upon ourselves to urge caution and the upmost respect if and when requesting to stay in a monastery overnight. We ourselves try to avoid including such overnight stays in our itineraries.
We place a huge emphasis on cultural exchange as a means to truly experience and better understand a country. For this reason we provide Burmese language phrase cards to our guests upon arrival. Additionally, we give ethnic language phrase cards featuring Shan, Pa’O, Jingphaw (Kachin), and Poe (Kayin /Karen) to clients travelling to regions in Myanmar where these languages are spoken. These have been created in collaboration with the social enterprise Third Story Project, an organization creating books for children on peace and child rights in over 30 ethnic languages spoken in the country.
On our website, in our itineraries, and through our guides, we attempt to present not a postcard picture of Myanmar but a circumspect and comprehensive rendition of the country. Our online magazine, Slow Travel Myanmar, was recognized for this in the first ever Myanmar Responsible Tourism Awards in 2017. To this end, we also provide all guests with a comprehensive list of books we recommend (“Sampan’s Favourite Reads”) for those visiting Myanmar.
We provide our clients with the useful and accessible Dos and Don’ts for Tourists in Myanmar to help them avoid committing unintentional faux pas. This, coupled with our ‘Guidelines for Guides’, helps our guests respect the destinations they visit, the people living there and the cultures present. This includes things such as sensitivity when taking photographs and how to behave in and around sacred sites.
This Sustainability Policy is sent to the suppliers and partners that we work with in Myanmar, to ensure that they are aware of the standards that we aspire to, and to encourage them to adopt similar standards if they have not already done so. Sampan Travel avoids engaging with suppliers and partners that actively work against the spirit of the Sustainability Policy. However, patience is necessary considering that knowledge of sustainability and sustainable tourism is not widespread in Myanmar. Sampan Travel is committed to work with other responsible companies and organization in raising the sustainability standards of the Myanmar Tourism industry as a whole.