At Secret Compass we pride ourselves in providing responsible and sustainable travel to some of the world’s wildest places. Amongst the countries we visit, we aim to allow and encourage responsible travel to countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Socotra, YemenDRC or Sudan, all of which were recently ravaged by conflict, are currently isolated by these actions nearby, or are beyond mainstream tourism due to their relative insecurity. Our approach to and expertise in risk management allow us to operate in these countries safely. These countries are in a phase of recovery or growth; we hope that contributing to tourism in these areas can provide a range of social and economic benefits to the local people.
Secret Compass operates on the following three key principles to provide a responsible and sustainable travel model:
Respect for local cultures
We nurture respect through cultural information in our handbooks, in country briefs and acting in a respectful and diligent manner when conducting expeditions. We hope to learn from other cultures rather than harm them. This includes everyone from the shepherds of the Wakhan Corridor to the Nenets of Siberia.
Where suitable we will encourage teammates to bring gifts for the local community – but ensure these are practical, useful gifts specific to the communities we’re visiting such as fishing hooks for villagers of remote islands in Papua New Guinea or good quality knives or even weighing scales for the nomadic reindeer herders of Siberia.
Protecting and empowering local communities
A key aspect of our work is travelling through and employing local people. We always aim to work directly with in-country partners and employ local guides. We have consulted on local guide training programs with Wildlife Conservation Society in Afghanistan, worked with Flora and Fauna International in South Sudan and provided advice to the Ministry of Conservation, Wildlife and Tourism in South Sudan.
We ensure there is a fair and proper agreement with local power holders, which benefits them and their people. When possible the local communities provide guides and fixers for our expedition teams, all of which are paid a fair wage and provided with the necessary equipment for the expedition.
A key aspect of empowering local communities is contributing to the local economy, allowing people to see the economic benefit of travellers. By the nature of how we operate, we use local guesthouses, home-stays and hotels, or pay for land to camp on. We also use food sourced locally from markets and bazaars, buy supplies from local people along our routes and eat in local restaurants and cafes when we are in urban areas. We will only use dehydrated trekking food if using local food is impractical or impossible. All our transport used in country is locally owned and operated. We also always use local guides, cooks and porters on all our expeditions.
Importantly, although our visits benefit the local community, we operate on a very small scale basis bringing teams to the area only once or twice a year. In truly remote locations this means we do not impact the culture or change the main way of life, or make communities reliant on our visits and therefore vulnerable to the reduction in international travel we have seen in recent years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ensuring a sustainable approach to the environment
We always tread with a light footprint in every area we travel to and always operate a “leave no trace” policy in remote regions. Working to preserve natural resources, rather than destroy them, is a key aspect of each expedition – we are careful not to contribute to deforestation, erosion and destruction of the local environment. In Madagascar we contributed to a wider initiative planting trees to combat the epic deforestation in the area.
Every effort is made to reduce and minimise the environmental footprint of each expedition; the main aim of our expeditions is to explore by non-powered means – by travelling on foot, by water or on horseback and any litter is always removed and disposed of appropriately. Other ways in which we look after the environment include using clean burning fuel to cook on and avoiding the use of plastic water bottles by purifying local water sources.
Future action plan
Whilst we are confident that our expeditions tread lightly in the human landscape, we recognise there is an urgent need to recognise, measure, and mitigate against the carbon emissions associated with our operations both as an expedition company and in our support of the television and film industry. Whilst similar in many aspects, our control over these two areas of business are very different. Moving forward, we will aim to calculate and reduce these emissions for our team expeditions and encourage teammates to offset these, while in our role in supporting the television and film industry, our main aim will be to inform and influence key decision makers, encouraging them to take on these aims themselves.
Before we can begin to offset and reduce the amount of carbon associated with our operations we must first measure what our footprint is. We are hard at work to meet the challenge of formulating a framework that allows us to accurately calculate and report our emissions.
The location of our expeditions, and the very nature of expeditions themselves, means that we must overcome the obstacles of unpredictability and partners who are often unfamiliar with the need to assimilate this data. Whilst we know there’s a long way to go, as with any journey the hardest part is overcome as soon as you’ve taken your first step.