Posts Tagged ‘local economy’

Microfinance Tourism: How to Turn Travel Cash into Microcredit

This article originally appeard on The Travel Word. To read the entire post, click here. January 2013.

What is poverty? The disturbing reasons for asking this question often look us straight in the eye when we venture into parts of the world notable for extreme wealth disparities. To Mohammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi father of microfinance and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, poverty is the lack of control over capital. His answer to poverty is to harness the entrepreneurial spirit of the poor through low-interest microloans, mostly to women.

microfinance tourism

Today, anyone can join the microfinance movement and offer capital to the poor through crowdfunding sites like the Geotourism Development Foundation or Kiva. Even more exciting for travellers is that we can now take our involvement on the road. Travellers can now connect with borrowers in person through innovative microfinance tours.

Here are some great ideas for firsthand adventures into the world of microcredit.

To keep reading, click here.


01 2013

The Dos And Don’ts Of Voluntourism

This article first appeared in Gadling. To read the original post, click here. August, 2012.

voluntourism--courtesy-of-world-uniteIn Juarez, Mexico, a group of American university students build houses. In Quito, Ecuador, medical professionals spend two weeks correcting cataracts – pro bono. In Kenya, handfuls of Hollywood stars try “making a difference” at orphanages. At the same time, these volunteers are having a travel experience. They stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and try to bond with locals. They are volunteer traveler hybrids known as voluntourists. Can they really see the world and save it too?

A rising tide of do-good travelers

“Voluntourism,” writes David Clemmons, founder of, “is the conscious, seamlessly-integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination with the traditional elements of travel and tourism – arts, culture, geography, history and recreation – while in the destination.”

To keep reading the original post, click here.


08 2012

London 2012: Are you PRO-lympics?

By Amanda Rodrigues of Show and Stay

Step aside all sightseers and those  theatre break! London 2012 is about to begin and not everyone’s excited about it…

2012 Olympic Stadium

The Olympic Special of Absolutely Fabulous earlier this week really sums up a lot of attitudes towards London 2012. When the long-suffering Saffy asked her eccentric mother Eddie if she planned on getting tickets to the Olympics opening ceremony, Eddie replied “Yes Sweetie, when is it?” Clearly agitated by her mother’s ignorance, she answered, “Mum it’s Friday! How could you have missed it? It’s been advertised everywhere!” To which Eddie replies in spectacular fashion, “It’s been everywhere for the last 5 bloody years!”

Rightly so, the golden streets of London have been awash with Olympic 2012 insignia; the media has been buzzing with scandal, gossip and anticipation; and politicians have welcomed the tremendous event with pound signs in their eyes and as a chance to show off our great nation. It can’t be denied, that whilst the likes of David Beckham, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister and Lord Coe (to name but a few) have all been very forthcoming in stressing how important hosting the Olympics will be for tourism, morale and the economy, there are still some cynics that either aren’t convinced, or may just need to be swayed.

If like Eddie you’ve been unaware of the major sporting event, or you’ve been living in a cave, this summer will see the climax of years of planning come to a head as the London 2012 Olympics finally kick off this week! Here are a few short debates to help you decide which side of the hurdle you stand on.

1 – “Hosting the Olympics will create a huge number of jobs”

True, the building of the sensational Olympic Village has indeed brought a lot of construction work to this part of London. The East End is extremely high in unemployment, and officials fear that the lack of long-term jobs will not be enough to help the struggling area in the long run. On the other hand, the huge scandal surrounding the G4S boss failing to employ a sufficient number of security staff gave the impression that CEO Nick Buckles wasn’t bothered. The fiasco was eventually rescued when Police and Army were called in to make up the numbers. While Olympic officials were grateful, it’s a shame that so many private jobs had to be given to the already employed public sector. Despite all of this however, LOCOG (London Organising Committee for the Olympic (and Paralympic) Games) do assure that even the thousands of short-term jobs that have been created will be a significant boost for the area, offering a once-in-a-lifetime work experience that will look great on anybody’s CV.

2 – “Its reminds us of what it is to be British”

It can’t be denied that 2012 really is the year to be instilled with a sense of national pride. Not only the UK, but the whole world welcomed the Queen’s spectacular Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Not to mention that the Tour de France saw its first British winner in the entire history of the epic race. And, while not quite the same success story, Wimbledon 2012 saw the noble Andy Murray become the first Briton to make it to the Men’s Singles Final since 1938! On a different note, the UK is the world’s forerunner to legalise gay marriage, and even hosted the fabulous WorldPride 2012 festival in London earlier in July, with officials saying that our great nation is the most welcoming to the LGBT community and other forms of diversity in the whole world. And finally, who can forget the colossal musical titan Adele winning SIX awards at this year’s Grammys? Now show me a cynic who doesn’t feel even a little proud.
Interesting London 2012 Olympic Facts

3 – “It’s going to cost the UK a fortune! We’re in a recession”

Again, this is also true. Some critics have claimed that the UK taxpayer has paid too much towards the cost of the Olympics, with the bill escalating into billions of taxpayers’ pounds. On the plus side, we’ve not spent nearly as much as the whopping £40bn that Beijing did when they hosted the Olympics in 2008. However, the money that has been spent will indeed guarantee urban regeneration in some of London’s poorest and most deprived areas, not to mention the long-term benefit of the provision of 5000 homes once the Olympic Village has been converted. The massive increase in tourism will definitely offset any losses as well!

4 – “London’s transport is a nightmare at the best of times”

This I can’t argue too much; congestion charges, tube strikes and traffic are the bane of most Londoners’ and out-of-towners’ travel when in the city. However, the government commissioned a channel tunnel link from Stratford to Kings Cross, increased the capacity on the Jubilee Line and extended the DLR, not to mention investing a hefty £1bn pound to spend on general improvements and repairs! And of course this will all stay afterwards as well, so stop moaning!

Whether you’re a lover of sport, a true Londoner or live out in the sticks where the realm of the Great Smoke is just a far off and distant land, you can’t deny that the excitement and hype surrounding the celebrations is intoxicating. With the wealth of British talent and imagination that has gone into making the London Olympics, there’s no doubt that this will be a huge celebration and an unforgettable event.

That said, if you still aren’t bothered, then you can always skip the East End, head over to the safety of the West End, and book a London show instead.

This post was written by the providers of London theatre breaks by rail, Show and Stay.


08 2012

Product Review: Faux North Face Jacket from La Paz, Bolivia

A North Face store? Really? Walking through the tourist district in La Paz, Bolivia, I passed by a combination of artisan souvenir stands, tour offices and, out of nowhere, “The North Face Adventure Store,” logo and all.

It might make sense, I thought, given the altitude and proximity to some hardcore Andean summits. Adventurists come from near and far looking for nearby peaks to bag. Huayna Potosi, for example, is an especially popular three-day feat.

faux North Face in La Paz 1

Bolivia is the only country in the world where McDonalds franchises pulled out completely. Has North Face really set up shop where even the Big Mac failed?

Curious, I walked into the unlikely “North Face Adventure Store” wedged between an artisanal alpaca sweater stand and an internet cafe. I started to browse.

“Do you think they’re real?” A fellow tourist looked at me and asked, North Face soft shell in hand.

I was wondering the same thing myself. “Goretex XCR” read the stitching on the cuff of the soft shell I decided to try on. “Summit Series” claimed the label on the right shoulder. And on the chest, of course, was the “North Face” logo, convincingly embroidered.

The "North Face" storefront in La Paz, Bolivia

Alongside the jackets was a rack of hiking shoes and Timberland boots. In similar outdoors shops, big brands were everywhere — Columbia Titanium, Chile’s authoritative outdoor label Doite, France’s Quechua, even Marmot. Jackets, backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, all with labels. Was any of this merchandise legit?

In Spanish, I asked the woman attending the shop. “Is this jacket really the brand it says it is?”

Looking down, she said “no, but they’re made with the same material.”

“Is it waterproof?”

The woman took an uncapped bottle of water, pressed the top against the jacket, and turned it upside down. Not a drop of water leaked through. The jacket passed her test.

The fact was, I had lost my soft shell jacket (i.e. essential travel layer) earlier on the trip, and I needed a new one. The woman in the store had a kid with her, and she could use a sale. So, I bought my “trucha” North Face jacket for 300 Bolivianos (about $42 USD). Was it worth it?

faux North Face in La Paz 2

What I like about my fake North Face jacket:

• I’m nearly convinced it is indeed made of Goretex. Light, breathable, waterproof, windproof. Everything I was looking for in a soft shell
• The purchasing episode taught me a new word in South American Spanish slang. “Trucha” (literally “trout”) is the word for anything knock-off
• It’s lined with micro-fleece, which gives it a little extra insulation
• It’s a great souvenir. I don’t know anyone else with a real fake North Face jacket from Bolivia

What I don’t like about my fake North Face jacket:

• It’s a bit crispy and stiff. Maybe it just needs to be broken in a little more
• The stitching on the seams is shoddy – the thread isn’t a good match, and it doesn’t look very high quality
• The zipper gets a little stuck sometimes
• The color isn’t awesome. It’s this mossy tree trunk shade of brown. I opted for that over bright magenta

Bottom line: If you lose an essential item of outdoor clothing while you’re in Bolivia, the fake North Face stores got your back. If you’re planning to outfit yourself entirely with “trucha” gear, however, there’s no telling how long after your trek it will last.


06 2012

Shoe Shiner Kids Guide City Tours in La Paz, Bolivia

This article originally appeared on Vagabondish. Read the full post here. April, 2012.

In a handful of cities in Latin America, I’ve heard the call of child shoe shiners. “Lustre! Lustre!” They approach me with their shoeshine kit, even though I’m wearing clearly un-shine-able sandals or hiking shoes.

La Paz, Bolivia is no different. Here, shoe shining is a go-to street profession for kids who work to get by.


Luckily for some of these lustrabotas (shoe shiner) kids, there’s a resource in La Paz just for them. It’s called Hormigón Armado, a monthly street publication and social project. Always curious about local press, I bought the February 2012 edition of Hormigón Armado from a youngster near El Prado in the city center for 2 Bolivianos (about 30 cents).

The most eye-catching page of the newspaper was an ad for Hormigón Tours, “If you want to explore the city in a different way.” For 80 Bolivianos (about $12 USD), you can enjoy a full-day city tour, guided by none other than the Hormigón Armado kids themselves. A half-day costs 50 Bolivianos ($7 USD) and 100% of the proceeds go directly to guides. The tours are in Spanish and you can get in contact by calling their local number or visiting their local office.

Keep reading the full post here


04 2012

Bolivian Highlights and Haircut Economics

In my tourism masters degree program, I took a class called ‘International Trade and Tourism,’ which turned out to be one of my favorites. A large part of our grade came from a debate on whether or not small island economies benefit from tourism specialization in the long run. Interesting stuff for tourism geeks.

Another concept that has stuck with me from that class was the difference between ‘tradable goods’ and ‘non-tradable goods’. Tradable goods, such as sugar or electronics, are produced for export and purchase with foreign currency. They will have to compete internationally. A non-tradable good is produced for the local market, for purchase with local currency, and does not compete in the global marketplace. The classic example given is a haircut.

cochabamba bolivia tukumanas

Tukumanas are a good example of a non-tradable good (and why I don't cook here)

Global tourism has a sly way of turning non-tradable goods into tradable ones. With enough tourism, a city like Cochabamba Bolivia can essentially ‘export’ non-tradables like restaurant meals and haircuts by selling them to travelers who are buying with foreign currency that they’ve exchanged. The implications are many, but this is part of why global tourism is generally considered to be a positive thing for local economies.

cochabamba bolivia orange juice

fresh-squeezed orange juice is my favorite non-tradable good to buy daily

During my three months as a tourist in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I’ve taken every opportunity within my budget to turn local non-tradable goods into exports by buying them. My data is less than perfect, but here are some estimates:

  • Average meals out per week: probably around 12 (cooking is not my gig here)
  • Average glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice from a street vendor per week: 10 (yes, some days are two-juice kinds of days)

In my final week here in Cochabamba, I decided to turn that classic textbook example of a non-tradable good into an export. I got a haircut. I figured that D’el Las Peluqueria (salon) might want to export some highlights as well.

cochabamba bolivia highlights

Highlights at D'el Las Peluqueria in Cochabamba

I’ve had a number of haircut abroad experiences, from a not-so-great cut in Mexico that framed my face like two parentheses, to some unsolicited bangs in Albania that I’m still trying to grow out. No matter the results, I like the adventure of it. I also like finding one more way to contribute to the local economy. Sofia at Del Las Peluqueria did a fantastic job on my trim and some subtle blonde highlights. This time, I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Total price: 110 Bolivianos (about $15 USD)

cochabamba bolivia highlights 2

Sofia at D'el Las Peluqueria exported some great highlights (color miel profundo)


09 2011

Albania’s Accursed Peaks Seek Blessing of Eco-tourism

This article originally appeared in Balkan Insight. To view it, click here.  November, 2010.

High in the peaks of the “accursed mountains” in northern Albania, the remote village of Vermosh is waiting for visitors.

ecotourists in the north, Theth Albania

Since 1992, Vermosh has lost half its small population to emigration. The few hundred that remain live in subsistence conditions on traditional small-scale farming, propped up by remittances sent by family members working abroad.

Conditions are harsh, especially in winter, when the village is almost cut off. But while the village’s wild geography and sense of isolation was once seen as a liability, today it is viewed as a potential asset.

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11 2010