Andrew Purvis, Deputy Travel Editor at The Telegraph, and his family travelled on holiday to São Tomé and Príncipe with us last summer and found out what it’s like to be a kind traveller…
‘I’ve recently returned from Príncipe, the neighboring island of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea, and there’s a new idea forming in my head: kind travel. As a journalist, my job is to evaluate holidays objectively in terms of service, facilities and value for money, and in Príncipe I found myself doing just that. In one hotel the shower tray leaked, flooding the bedroom. At breakfast, the waiter failed to ask if I wanted coffee and had to be reminded each day. A minibar leaflet trumpeted the various blends of Nespresso available, but in reality there was one. I tutted and harrumphed and made notes about poor service.
Then, as I bothered to get to know the local managers, receptionists, waiters, guides and drivers, a picture began to form of just how young tourism is on the island. Two of the hotels I stayed at were a year old or less, and it’s true to say that the newly trained staff had not heard of a shower tray, let alone a Nespresso machine, until a few months ago. Nor did they speak a word of English. One manager told me how the names of everyday utensils – knife, fork, spoon, glass – had been written in English on adhesive labels attached to those objects, so Portuguese-speaking recruits could learn them.
Príncipe is a desperately poor African island with a rural economy – but tourism has the potential to change that. What I saw was the beginning of an experiment in sustainable development, starting with a blank canvas, which should be wholly supported. In that context, does it really matter that a soap dispenser was empty or that the papaya ran out at breakfast? Some people believe it does, and I used to be one of them. Now, I’m inclined to think that allowances should be made for fledgling enterprises in developing countries, and that people in tourism should be judged by their attitude and willingness to help rather than the urbanity of their ways. Our young waiter made mistakes, but when we decided to engage rather than criticise, asking him about his life, his confidence soared and he developed almost a swagger.
That’s what I mean by “kind travel” – attempting to understand a country’s culture and issues, seeing the broader context and suspending judgment on the things that matter less. It makes for a happier, more relaxed holiday, too.’
Visit Sao Tome and Principe with us…
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I really agree with Andrew on this. Kindness is so important: if you want British or US standards, and are not prepared to accept anything else then…stay in Britain or the US! We should not ‘talk through our wallets’ (as I like to call it) and instead concentrate on helping tourism develop gently. And we should also be kind because we represent our country and should strive to be ambassadors every moment of our stay.
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