Our Responsible Travel policy

Policy aims

Aims

Blue Plum Escapes is a small, fully licensed, UK based tour operator. We offer small group, guided, active tours in rural regions of Serbia, a little known corner of South-eastern Europe, where the untouched nature offers wonderfully varied and captivating scenery, a paradise for cyclists, walkers, and outdoors lovers alike.

Behind Blue Plum Escapes are Neda, a professional yoga instructor of Serbian origin, and Christophe, a cycling and hiking enthusiast. We have joined the intimate knowledge of the region with the passion for great outdoors to help preservation of rural communities in Serbia in a sustainable and responsible way.

Our aim is to maximise the positive impact of our trips on people who travel with us and on the people, communities, and places we visit. We meet personally all our local suppliers and first develop a mutual understanding and friendship based on common values about responsible and sustainable development of rural areas.

The economic, environmental and social responsibility is in the heart of our philosophy.

Our aim is to make a positive contribution to the local economy. We hire local guides, craft makers and artisans. During our tours we visit local restaurants and cafes, source ingredients form local markets for picnic lunches, use small family owned accommodation and local transport providers. Also, we donate a percentage of our profit to a chosen local charity helping children with special needs.

We are committed to environment protection. We travel in small groups, practice “reuse, reduce and recycle” policy and support our suppliers to implement similar initiatives. We encourage our guests to limit water consumption during our stay. We ensure that a responsible code of conduct in National Parks and protected nature reserves is respected at all our trips.

Our aim is to promote positive human exchange, mutual respect and understanding between guests and local people. We provide opportunities for genuine interaction with the local people. We encourage our guests to learn about local culture and habits, learn how to prepare traditional dishes, make craft objects and learn a bit of Serbian language.

We aim to provide more than a holiday for our guests. We would like our guest to return home inspired by people and places they have visited, touched by encounters they have experienced. We hope that those who travel with us will take a little piece of Serbia in their hearts as the most precious souvenir from the trip.

Mission Statement

Our mission is to bring visitors to rural areas of Serbia and help provide the much needed income to local communities.

Typically for a developing country, Serbia has been experiencing strong population decline in rural areas. Rural exodus has been continuously aggravated by decades of economic and political turmoil. As a consequence, young people have been leaving the countryside in search of a better life. Sadly, for many, this search has ended in long-term unemployment, low-paid work, and insufficient income for a decent life the cities. The abandoned rural communities, with aging or disappearing population, remain as a nostalgic reminder of wasted opportunities.

We hope that the income the local communities make from our visits will represent a strong incentive for young people to stay or return to rural areas. We also hope that this initiative may attract young families to start a new, more fulfilling life in the countryside.

We believe that introducing the concept of responsible tourism in rural communities in Serbia may help reduce depopulation of rural areas, generate means for sustainable development and provide an opportunity for young people to fully realize their creative potential.

Economic responsibility

We are fully aware of the economic impact of our trips. Our commitment to positively contribute to the local economy includes:

  • Using local guides, arts and crafts teachers and other professionals - We employ local people to guide the tours and to run our crafts and cooking workshops. Local guides offer intimate knowledge of the area which provides more personal experience to our guests. Workshops provide an opportunity for guests to feel the traditional way of life. At the same time this is a strong incentive for local crafts makers and artisans to continue their work, and a possibility to gain extra income form selling their products. We hope that this will motivate younger local people to learn and thus preserve skills which are slowly vanishing.
  • Paying fair wages – We are well informed about the local minimum wage and industry standards and we do our best to exceed these whenever possible;
  • Supporting local craft makers and artisans – We encourage our guests to choose locally produced souvenirs and other items they may need to buy during their stay;
  • Supporting local farmers – We choose to eat in restaurants supplied by locally sourced ingredients, and to buy ingredients for picnic and packed lunches at local farmers’ markets;
  • Choosing to stay in small and family owned accommodation – We stay in small family run guesthouses, or in the case of larger hotels, non-chain locally owned establishments that employ local workers;
  • Choosing local transport providers private and/or public depending on the tour organisation.

Financial Aid

In the South Serbia, which is the least developed region in the country, the financial help dedicated to those in need is very thin. We feel that in developing countries, where the public funds are insufficient, the children are likely to be the most vulnerable members of the community. We donate 5% of our profit to the Association for Children with Special Needs in Aleksandrovac, a small town near which one of our holidays is based. We are continuously looking for ways to increase this help.

Environmental responsibility

We are committed to environment protection, both on our trips and in our office.

During our tours we endeavour to minimize the negative impact of our trips on environment by:

  • Travelling in small groups – group sizes (4-10 people) are determined by what is appropriate with regards to the specific area we are visiting;
  • Choosing only locally produced and, whenever possible, organic ingredients;
  • Choosing suppliers who practice "reuse, reduce and recycle" policy, providing information about such practices to all our suppliers, and encouraging implementation of those practices whenever possible;
  • Supporting all water saving practices even in areas where water supply is sufficient to ensure saving the energy used in sewage and clean water processing. We encourage the accommodation owners to save water by washing towels and bed linen when required rather than too often. We advise our guest to save the water by taking shorter showers, turning off the water while soaping or brushing teeth, requesting changing the linen when necessary.
  • Choosing to walk, cycle and use public transport whenever possible. At the same time we ensure not to use places on the local transport necessary for transportation of local people. Areas we visit will often have a very limited public transport system.
  • Reducing waste - In Serbia, especially in rural areas, the infrastructure for waste disposal is limited and recycling facilities often do not exist. We encourage our guests to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging (bags, bottles) and to bring their own reusable water bottle on the tour; the tap water is drinkable and of a good quality in Serbia.
  • Appropriately disposing of our own waste during the trips – we make sure our groups never leave any waste behind; special care is taken in protected natural reserves and habitats.
  • Respecting the rules of conduct in protected areas and wildlife, such as interacting with animals, picking plants, smoking, taking photographs, making noise, disposing of the litter including food waste.
  • Encouraging a voluntary action where appropriate – For example, during walks in nature reserves, where the guides and guest are provided with bags to collect few pieces of litter on the way and dispose of it at the end of the walk, leaving the environment cleaner than they found it.
  • Visiting Natural Parks and Protected Nature Reserves - We directly and indirectly, support environment protection by paying entry fees to parks and visitors sites and using local services such as regulated accommodation and guiding services in protected areas.

Our office is based in our home where we have adopted an environment-aware lifestyle. More specifically, during the work related to our travel business, we:

  • Recycle all printer cartridges;
  • Avoid printing and print double-sided whenever possible;
  • Reuse one-sided printed paper for notes, sketches, and drafts;
  • Recycle all the paper and other recyclable waste;
  • Minimise the use of products which produce non-recyclable waste, such as unnecessary packaging;
  • Use only organic and fair-trade coffee and tea;
  • Use only reusable dishes, cutlery and kitchen towels;
  • Use only eco-friendly certified cleaning products;
  • Use recycled and biodegradable products, such as toilet paper and natural soap;
  • Use energy saving light bulbs;
  • Turn off all the equipment when not in use;
  • Reuse all electronics (phones, printers, computers and computer related items) and dispose of the unusable objects appropriately by taking them to the dedicated recycling centre;
  • Find usable office, and other suitable furniture in charity shops and recycling centres;
  • Donate all unwanted furniture to charity shops;
  • Actively use car-share, bike-share and public transport services wherever available, at home and during our trips.
  • Avoid the use of printed brochures. All information about our tours can be found on our website.

Social responsibility

We ensure that our trips are organised with respect to local communities and the way of life. Our commitment to preserving local culture includes:

  • Providing information about the social and political situation in Serbia, with a list of links to online blogs written by foreigners currently living in Serbia, in order to present a balanced view of the country.
  • Informing guests about the significance of local customs, traditions, and habits in order to foster respect and avoid causing unintentional offence.
  • Dressing and behaving appropriately at religious sites even if other visitors do not.
  • Following strictly visitors’ code of conduct at historical and archaeological sites.
  • Hiring directly the local guides with an in-depth knowledge of the area and local cultural heritage.
  • Encouraging and initiating interactions with local people and actively promote mutual understanding and respect between the guests and the hosts.
  • Encouraging guests to ask for permission before taking photos of people and their possessions.
  • Providing a list of useful phrases and words in Serbian to all guests. Furthermore, on some of our trips, we provide simple language instructions, encouraging our travellers to learn a bit of the local language and use it in practical situations. For example, guests learn to write a list of ingredients during the cooking workshops and use it for shopping at the local market.
  • Providing opportunities to visit traditional crafts makers and artisans (weavers, potters, wineries, honey producers), and organising crafts and cooking workshops where visitors can learn new skills and exchange with local people.
  • Choosing accommodation in restored original houses and reconstructed “ethno-villages” preserving the traditional architecture of the region.

Travellers Code of Conduct

Serbia is very similar to other European countries in terms of what is considered as appropriate behaviour and dress code. However, there are certain points specific to the country. Our Travellers’ Code of Conduct provides essential guidelines which will ensure your stay is enjoyable and enriching experience.

Serbia is generally safe for travellers. Street crime rates in cities are much below European average even in dark or remote parts of the city areas. Before your trip we will provide information about the latest social and political situation in Serbia, with a list of links to online blogs written by foreigners currently living in Serbia, in order to present a balanced view of the country. We will also provide a list of basic words and expressions in Serbian language.

Environmental Issues

Environment Protection

Please reduce water consumption by taking shorter showers, turning off the water while soaping or brushing teeth, requesting changing the linen when necessary. We advise the accommodation owners to save water by washing towels and bed linen when required rather than too often. Even in areas where water supply is sufficient, water saving practices ensure saving the energy used in sewage and clean water processing.

When visiting protected areas and wildlife, follow instructions of your guide and strictly respect the prescribed rules of conduct regarding interacting with animals, picking plants, smoking, taking photographs, making noise, disposing of the litter including food waste.

Take your litter with you and dispose of it where appropriate. If in any doubt please talk to your guides, they will always be able to advise you about the best practices.

Economic issues

Support local economy

We encourage you to purchase locally produced souvenirs and other items you may need during your trip. The rural areas we visit will often have a very small number of shops. By supporting their business you are supporting the survival of the local community. Your guide will provide information about local craft makers, artisans, and farmer’s markets. Bargaining is not practiced.

Cultural issues

Dress code

General dress code is similar to that of any European country. During the visits to a place of worship, a church or a monastery, bare legs and shoulders are not acceptable. Some religious sites will have their own rules, such as head cover. Most religious sites are used to visitors and will have the dress code visibly displayed at the entrance. Many will provide a piece of material that can be used to cover legs, shoulders or head.

Site visits

Please follow strictly visitors’ code of conduct at historical, archaeological and heritage sites and buildings. These rules are similar to those in other European countries. If in any doubt ask your guide for advice.

Home Visits

Serbs are very hospitable and will go to great extents to make you feel welcome. They happily invite even complete strangers to their homes. During a short visit, you will always be offered a coffee, some fruit preserves or honey, a cold drink, and often a local alcoholic drink – a strong fruit brandy called “rakia”, or wine. Fruit preserves, juices, brandy and wine are mostly homemade. Hosts will normally insist that you try their products but if you do not wish so you can politely decline the offer with a smile.

Greeting

Normally, you greet others by saying hello, with or without a handshake. Cheek kissing is habitual only among friends and family members.

Food

Serbian cuisine is delicious exciting mix of Balkan, Turkish and German influences. Most of the food you find at markets is locally produced. During the summer there is a wonderful choice of all sorts of fruits and vegetables. In urban areas one can eat at any time of day or night, with many small restaurants and bakeries never closing their doors. During our tours we spend most of the time in rural areas where we eat in local guesthouses and taverns.

Interaction with local people

In rural areas people are warm and hospitable. They are genuinely happy to see you and exchange with you. They are curious to know where you come from and eager to show you what they know and have in their region. We encourage interactions with local people. Your guide will help you with translation.

Language

Serbian belongs to the group of Slavonic languages. There are two alphabets, Cyrillic and Latin, and both are equally used. It is generally fairly complicated for foreigners, with hard consonants and open vowels often difficult to pronounce. We will provide a list of basic expressions and words. Local people appreciate it very much if you try to say anything in their language and are well amused by foreign pronunciation. This may be a great way to start a conversation and show that you are open to learn and experience unusual situations.

On some of our tours we offer language instructions where you can learn how to make an order in a cafe, ask for your bill, shop at the local market, or give basic information about yourself.