The Mountain Company’s hardship fund is supporting trek teams in Nepal and Bhutan whose jobs are at risk because of coronavirus. TTG speaks to founder Roland Hunter to find out more.
While working from home and self-isolating certainly isn’t ideal, spare a thought for the world’s tourism-dependent communities whose lives are in disarray because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Thankfully there are already agents and operators mitigating the effects of the loss of tourism-generated income on communities. Enter cultural tour, treks and expeditions specialist agency The Mountain Company, whose hardship fund is raising money for mountaineer guides and their families in Nepal and Bhutan.
The Mountain Company also lent support to Nepalese tour guides back in 2015 after an earthquake that left nearly 9,000 people dead and many trek guides out of work.
“With Covid-19 and the cancellation of our Nepal and Bhutan spring seasons this year, we knew we needed to support our guides as we did in 2015,” says Roland Hunter, the agency’s founder.
“Most guides in that part of the world are freelancers, and if the work dries up, they are not going to be bailed out by the government.”
The Mountain Company’s mission is to raise 25,000 Nepalese rupees (about £175) for each of its 21 guides living in Nepal and 11 in Bhutan.
“I contacted our DMCs in Nepal and Bhutan and asked them to send me a list of the guides and cooks, and to send a suggestion of how much [money] they would need to tide them over,” says Roland.
“Before we paid our customers back for their cancelled holidays, we emailed them to explain that the guides needed work, and said that if anyone would like to contribute to the hardship fund, we would retain some of the money and distribute it to them.”
Thanks to this proactive approach, which also included a newsletter and a social media post to its 1,628 Facebook followers, The Mountain Company has raised £8,910 and will pay out £270 to 23 trek staff.
This is not the first time The Mountain Company has spearheaded an inspirational charity campaign. A member of Aito and a supporter of its Project Protect – an initiative founded in 2017 to help promote sustainable tourism practices among the organisation's members – The Mountain Company has been placing funds in an emergency kitty since 2019.
“Aito members are encouraged to come up with one project a year. Our project in 2019 was to sell Buff scarves – hiking accessories that can be used as a facewrap or hat,” says Hunter. “We made a bespoke design with a prayer flag and our logo, which we paid for and then sold to clients for £20, raising £5,000 in total.
“The funds were going to be used to help guides if they were sick or injured, but we've not had to dip into [that money] yet. We’ll be ready to distribute [the money] if the autumn hiking season is cancelled too.”
Hunter urges other suppliers and agents to support communities whose livelihoods are in peril due to coronavirus, if they can.
“There are a lot of people working in tourism that will struggle, whether it's feeding their families or paying rent. Our businesses couldn't run without [those people]. It didn't take a lot of time for us to set up the hardship fund. It's a matter of reaching out to your clients and asking them. We’ve already had great feedback from ours.”