Are township tours responsible?

Posted by on Jun 25, 2012 in Design Capital 2014 | No Comments

Iain Harris, founder of Coffeebeans Routes, creators of travel experiences around the stories of Cape Town, told me that the key is in our language.

He says “The thing about sustainability is, changing the language we use is also quite important. How is it that township tours can be branded as responsible, if townships are something that should never have been created in the first place. What’s responsible is an experience that looks at how we unbundle the notion of township, and what that township delineation of space means. So things like responsible, having to really interrogate that, is part of our sustainability programme. In the context of Cape Town, what does township mean, and what’s the future, how does the city integrate, what are the design processes for that and how do we as a tourism entity, when we are taking guests on an experience of township, how do we bring all of that into the experience, so that they’re really thinking about it.”

Iain continues, “So it’s like corporate social responsibility and corporate social investment. So many tour operators will talk about how they “give back”. What are you giving back to? Does that suggest that you’ve been “taking from”? So the language of give back, and people always ask us, if you’re visiting people of a township, how do you give back? And our response is but you’re suggesting then that we are taking away. But that’s not the premise of what we do. It suggests that at the end of the month we have a party for people or give a percentage. But in the model when you say “what are you giving back?” what you’re suggesting is that we’re making a whole bunch of money at the expense of those people, and then they can have something back. And that very idea, which you’re thinking is the right approach, is highly problematic for us. Because in our model, everybody gets paid an amount of money that’s negotiated, that’s agreed upon, and that’s fair, and sustainable. So this “give back” idea is premised on there being an abusive relationship, and we’re saying this is problematic language, let’s look at the internal operations of things and try get away from the notion that somebody who’s on top has to give back to somebody who’s below, that’s bad business planning.”

So the change and their relationships are built into the value chain, rather than being tacked on at the end.