Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

2018 AITO Project PROTECT

Association of Independent Tour Operators’ (AITO) Project PROTECT recognises the important role that destinations play in the future of the travel industry. The aim of this project is to encourage sustainable tourism and to nurture the destinations for tomorrow's travellers. The PROTECT acronym stands for People / Resources / Outreach / Tourism / Environment / Conservation / Tomorrow. This project is led by Professor Xavier Font of the University of Surrey and each AITO member has to publish an annual pledge and report back through a Testimonial at the end of the year on how they got along.

The Mountain Company's 2018 Pledge is as follows:

"Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” This is part of the Leave No Trace philosophy encouraging people to minimise their environmental impact when exploring the great outdoors. At The Mountain Company we want to go further by picking up rubbish found along the trekking trails and around the campsites. We have received client feedback that rubbish is a big problem and this unsightly mess has detracted from their holiday experience. By picking up litter this activity will make the environment cleaner and will help to maintain the natural beauty of the Himalaya and Karakoram mountains.

In 2018, we will ask each trekker booked onto a trip with us to pick up one kilogram of rubbish. During 2018 we will have approximately 200 trekkers travelling with one of our groups in Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and India and we will therefore pick up at least 200kg of litter."

The Mountain Company's 2018 Testimonial sent to AITO Project Protect reporting on how we got along with our Pledge is as follows:

"In 2018 the Mountain Company’s groups removed 320kg (average 1.6kg per person) of rubbish from the Himalaya. We have also incorporated rubbish collection and disposal into our standard operating procedures for our destinations of Nepal and Bhutan.

In 2018 we decided to build upon our 2017 pledge by collecting more rubbish from the trekking trails and campsites of the Himalayan countries. Our groups removed 320kg of rubbish from the Himalaya and this works out at an average of 1.6kg per person booked onto trips with us in 2018. We have also looked into better methods of extracting our own rubbish from the mountains and this year for our Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan we used ponies to pack out 65kg of our waste to the road head. 

We also wanted to reinforce the importance of rubbish collection and disposal to our trek guides and crews by incorporating this approach into our operating procedures so this will be standard practice for The Mountain Company groups in future years. I have noticed a change in attitude to rubbish collection among our trek crew from guides through to porters. The trek crew have picked up a large proportion of the rubbish collected this year and have set a great example to our trekkers. Our guides and cooks have frequently walked around the campsites to collect the rubbish scattered around and discard along with the waste generated by our group.

The feedback from most of our groups during debrief meetings in Kathmandu has been very positive and they enjoy being part of this project to help keep the mountains clean. Here is an extract from one of our AITO reviews: “Great! Five-stars! The Mountain Company is an amazing tour operator. Environmental friendly by participating in cleaning up the trails and promote environmental friendly practices.” by SnoMo, 5 Dec 2018

Over the last two years we have been pleased to notice an improvement in the environment on the Himalayan treks. We also seen more focus and attention on this issue from organisations based in these countries such as the Bhutan Tourism Council and the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee in Everest region of Nepal having both organised clean up expeditions. However with increasing numbers of visitors to these remote places there is still much to be done to improve the environment."

Thanks for everyone's help and support with our AITO Project Protect in 2018 and 2017.

Roland Hunter

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