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Responsible Tourism Policy

Sumak Sustainable Travel S.R.L. is an sustainable tourism platform. A social enterprise working with local, ethical tour operators in Latin America. Our mission is to contribute to the empowerment of local communities in Latin America by running an ethical business that allows discerning travellers to find a local operator they can trust. The tours on these platform are a combination of community-based tourism, the destination highlights and visits to special-interest places and cities. Half of the profits are reinvested into the business and the remaining half into community-led, progressive projects in Latin America, through our sister organisation Sustainable Pangea.

We have an extensive network of local tours operators in Latin America. Using this platform, you will be able to contact them so they can create a tailor-made tour for you. All the tour operators we work with have excellent credentials and a strong commitment to responsible tourism. They all follow this policy and the principles of fair trade.

Economic responsibility

Sumak Kawsay means “good living” in Quechua. It is a concept embraced by indigenous peoples in Latin America over the last two decades, that proposes a human-centred model for development. Sumak Kawsay represents the idea of caring for people, cultures and nature; a key to truly sustainable development. Sumak Travel, or “good, sustainable travel”, is a social enterprise that puts local communities and the environment at the centre of its model.

From the very beginning, fair trade principles have been at the core of our social business model. Travellers pay a fair price for the high quality and unique products and services they receive from the many community-based organisations we work with. And we ensure that as much money as possible remains in the local economy by using local suppliers, local food, and family owned accommodation or homestays. You can read more about our fair trade approach to tourism in an article we wrote for the Royal Society of Arts, and in our own blog post about our Fair Trade Adventures campaign.

As you will be booking with a trusted local tour operator, money goes straight to local people and communities, and you get a better price too. These operators use tourism to generate a positive social and environmental impact on the ground. The local communities and organisations in our network are redistributing income from tourism to create decent jobs and implement sustainable, long-lasting solutions to the problems they face. For local communities, tourism is a complementary source of income that they use to improve their standard of living and to preserve their culture and environment. To see examples, you can visit the ‘responsible tourism’ category of our blog.

Our platform is designed to help responsible and discerning travellers to find authentic, experience-rich holidays and adventures. Through our community-based ecotourism initiatives, travellers come into direct contact with local people, in a low-volume way, based on mutual respect. They eat traditional, natural food and take part in cultural and ecotourism activities. All the activities are eco-friendly and organised by the local communities, all guides are local and most of the products and services are organic and locally sourced. Please be aware that we do not sell people, culture or folklore and that – unlike some big tour operators or similar platforms – we only promote responsible, sustainable tourism.

All the tours include visits to social and environmental projects. The visits are guided (in English) and organised by the local organisations. All monies go towards the development of the projects.

To sum it up: this is fair tourism, the polar opposite of mass tourism.

Environmental responsibility

Through tourism, the local communities and organisations we work with are able to maintain their traditional way of life whilst preserving their land and local ecosystems. Sumak Travel, as well as all of our local tour operators, work exclusively with local communities, networks and organisations committed to environmental conservation.

For the tours we give priority to public transport (where available) and optimise the itineraries to reduce the carbon footprint. In some instances of course, places are too difficult to access or distances are too great, so air travel is the only option. But itineraries are nevertheless designed to keep flights to a minimum. Each one of our local partners has its own environmental programme, going from tree planting to donating to conservation projects. You can ask for more details when booking.

Local communities promote environmental sustainability (artisan fishing, organic agriculture, natural wine, land and ecosystem conservation, etc.) and live in harmony with nature. Most tours include guided visits to their environmental projects. Activities in rural areas respect the environment and are designed for a low volume of participants. In the cities we give priority to eco-friendly, family-run B&Bs, pousadas and boutique hotels.

We also promote sustainability among students and researchers through learning journeys (see below). Our ecotourism activities are designed by local communities and organisations that have a clear commitment to environmental conservation and to the responsible use of natural resources. They provide suggestions and guidelines for travellers to minimise the negative impact on the environment and use resources, in particular water, responsibly.

Social responsibility

We work alongside Sustainable Pangea, a multilingual web platform that features community-based ecotourism destinations, as well as best practices of social entrepreneurs in other areas. It also documents how local communities are innovating to promote sustainable change in Latin America.

Half of our profits are reinvested back into the social enterprise to reduce transaction costs and to increase the number of destinations. The remaining half is invested into community-led projects that are part of the Sustainable Pangea Network. These include projects to increase the number of local communities working with community-based ecotourism, to reinforce existing regional and national networks and to facilitate best practice exchanges between countries.

We offer learning journeys for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers in sustainability-related disciplines who wish to conduct research or practical work on the ground in Latin America. These tours allow them to study how community-based tourism is used as a tool for sustainable development and conservation, and how it empowers local communities and protects their cultures. Tours can be tailored to the needs and requirements of any research project. These tours include i) bilingual guided visits to social enterprises, local sustainable projects and like-minded organisations, ii) seminars, workshops and field tours with responsible tourism practitioners, social entrepreneurs, project founders and local academics and iii) meals, accommodation, transfers, city tours, cultural and eco-tourism activities. We can provide research support, before and after tours, our goal being to get students and researchers involved with local, sustainable projects.

We also offer pre-departure preparatory seminars and workshops all over the UK to build up knowledge and understanding of destinations, projects, cultures and environments. During these seminars we explore the content and structure that is of interest to the group and if necessary we can adapt the tour so students can get the most out of their time abroad. These seminars and workshops aim to raise awareness of responsible tourism practices and prepare travellers to minimise negative impact during their tour.

Short-term impact: Our travellers buy high quality and unique products and services from local communities and tour operators. Improvements to local people’s living standards, income redistribution, job creation and environmental preservation are immediate and visible.

Long-term impact: Sustainable Pangea collects information on social technologies and popular know-how used in their application, not only in the field of tourism, but in any field related to sustainable development. It is creating an insightful and quality-controlled pool of social ideas, technologies and projects, and it aims to act as a bridge between social entrepreneurs and potential partners, collaborators, investors or donors, facilitating the replication of best practices and cooperation amongst the different stakeholders.

We are both increasing the number of local communities and partners we work with, and connecting them within our network, which means we facilitate multinational collaboration. So we are not only sending responsible travellers to Latin America, but also setting up a system of best practice and knowledge exchange between sustainable tourism providers.

All of the local communities and suppliers we work with have been verified by our team or our local partners and are operating in safe, politically stable environments. Situations may change, of course, and if so Sumak Sustainable Travel Ltd will take appropriate and reasonable steps to safeguard the well-being of the travellers. On each tour page there is information about the destination such as visa requirements, health issues, etc. We also link directly to the relevant FCO Travel Advice and US Travel advice country page, where travellers can find relevant information on the social and political situation of their destination.

All tours begin with a welcome reception at the airport, train or bus station, to explain the whole tour in English, as well as other services and products included. All travellers are given a local phone number they can call in case of emergency, 24h/day, and receive assistance in English. Our local partners respond promptly to any queries or complaints. If any activity is not carried out, they will offer a full refund or propose an equivalent or better alternative.

We belong to the Tourism Concern Ethical Tour Operators Group (ETOG) and are active members of the International Ecotourism Society, MuchBetter Adventures and the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance. Alongside Sustainable Pangea we promote social entrepreneurship and sustainable development in Latin America. We also belong to several social innovation and collaboration networks, the most relevant being Socioeco.org (resource website of social and solidarity economy), Travolution.org (the global community-based tourism network), Social Enterprise UK and Impact Hub. We also have a network of sustainable development practitioners and social entrepreneurs all across Latin America.

The story behind the responsible tourism platform

Sumak Travel, or “good, sustainable travel”, is an ethical business founded by the economist Felipe Zalamea. He spent one year visiting community-based ecotourism initiatives and conducting research on innovative social and environmental projects across South America. He saw how mass tourism threatens biodiversity, damages ecosystems and causes violations of the rights of local people, in particular workers and minorities. But he also met social entrepreneurs and local communities leading sustainable tourism initiatives, acting in a transparent way and truly looking after the well-being of local populations and the environment. Between 2012 and 2017, Sumak Travel was a London-based tourism company selling and operating tours to Latin America under a social enterprise model. In 2017 Sumak Travel became a sustainable tourism platform, in order to increase the positive impact on destinations, give more control to the locals and fairer prices to travellers. In 2019 the company relocated to San José, Costa rica. Today Sumak Travel is a combination of social innovation, responsible tourism and sustainable development, while bridging the gap between ethical, local tour operators in Latin America and discerning travellers worldwide.

See our sustainable tourism destinations

Check examples of tour itineraries

Learn more about us