21 Feb The Snow Leopard Trail – How We Made it Sustainable
Trails Angels, an Austrian travel specialist, and Ennovent partnered with the Austrian Development Agency to establish Fair Trails Himalayas in Nepal. Fair Trails leads the development of sustainable trails in the Himalayas that create impact by driving regional development, supporting local communities and promoting conservation along the routes.
As the first trail – the Snow Leopard Trail (jointly designed with Snow Leopard Conservancy, Third Pole Consultancy and Mountain Spirit) – is now open for people to explore, we chat with Guenter Mussnig from Trail Angels to document the trail design process for Fair Trails Himalayas.
Trail Angels as a company are focused on the development of sustainable tourism, but so far, it has been focused mostly in Central Europe. This is the first time they are working on trails in the Himalayan region. Guenter says, “I have personally traveled to Nepal many times as a climber and trekker. I have often wondered how we could participate in projects that benefit the Himalayas too. It worked out well with funding from the Austrian Development Agency, and with Ennovent’s partnership support.”
Guenter further explains the three pillars behind sustainable tourism that Trail Angels operates on – the trekking routes should fulfill the highest standards of ecological, social and economic sustainability.
With these pillars in mind, Fair Trails Himalayas started with its first trail – the Snow Leopard Trail. “Fair Trails Himalayas was designed in areas with low tourism impact so that we could start with a good base for sustainable tourism.”, says Guenter, “While the staff of our certified trekking agencies is locally based and skilled and of course benefitting from our sustainable business model, for the customers our programs differ in a very special point: accompanied by a profound domestic expert, they get involved in our funded projects combined with an in-depth lifetime experience. For the Snow Leopard trail, we have two experts who are wildlife researchers from the Third Pole Conservancy, as well as local residents of the trail area in Manang.”
Guenter says, “When we started with the Snow Leopard trail, we wanted to focus on conserving the snow leopard through the trail’s development. During the course of the trail design, we realised that while funding for protection and research of the snow leopard is available, what is lacking is the support for local people to help reduce instances of human – leopard conflict resulting from habitat loss and fragmentation that is underscored by climate change and development. Local herds are endangered by the snow leopard which in turn affects the livelihood of the local people.’’
Thus, a special project was born – to install special Foxlights to avoid snow leopard attacks on herds during the night in the villages surrounding Manang and assist the living of local people. Third Pole Conservancy is helping us implement this part of the project.
Fair Trails Himalayas as a concept is reverse tourism – the client has to adapt to the destination; the destination will not adapt to the client. “For the Snow Leopard Trail, we start small with only two or three dates per year. This will always be a group tour in expedition-style”, explains Guenter. What makes a Fair Trails tour life-changing is the presence of a local expert. Tashi Ghale, a field biologist for Third Pole Conservancy, is one of the local experts who helped us design the trail and will also join the groups to provide insights into the place. “If you go without Tashi, you will risk not seeing – and more importantly, not understanding anything”, says Gunther.
The trail also has several other criteria to ensure it is sustainable. Fair Trails follows a strict ecological standard for waste management to ensure no open fires are burnt and focusing on the training of the staff to improve environmentally-friendly habits. Wages for all staff and porters are 10% higher than the industry standard. Fair Trails also ensures maximum insurance protection for all staff involved in the trail and makes sure that all stay during the course of the expedition happens in local lodges or homestays, to optimise regional income. Additionally, since a lot of clients come from Europe, Fair Trails compensates for the carbon footprint caused by air travel using Climate Austria.
And importantly, 5% of the revenue directly goes into the small project fund to assist people living in the villages surrounding the trail. “Our clients know that if they sign up for a tour, they also support a special project”, says Guenter.
The Snow Leopard Trail is now open for registrations. Head here to know more and sign up.
Photographs courtesy of Trail Angels.