One unexpected lesson we’ve learned building Anou’s online store is just how many customers find us before — or after — a trip to Morocco wanting to buy directly from artisans. We used to put any visitor on TheAnou.com in touch with artisans in the community, but we ended that as soon as people started showing up extracting discounts and their guides started taking commissions from artisans.
Instead, we thought the more sensible way to address this demand was to partner with socially conscious tour agencies and operators. We could provide them with all the information required so their clients could visit the artisans in the Anou community in person — something that we can attest there is a huge demand for. In return, partner tour agencies would help us explain the values of the Anou community to their clients during their trip. Most importantly, these tour agencies would not take commissions for any sales their clients made from artisans within the Anou community. We ended up pitching this idea to ten socially focused tour agencies in Morocco.
But this led us to another unexpected lesson: just how difficult it would be to pull off. All but one agency gave us an immediate no. According to several of these agencies, many guides supplement their standard pay with commissions and would never agree to giving them up. This partially explains all those awkward experiences customers had with their guides on their trip to Morocco. Moreover, as per Moroccan law, tour agencies in Morocco hire guides or drivers as contractors, not as full-time employees. So even if the tour agency wanted to agree to our conditions, they wouldn’t have the ability to hold their contractors accountable.
One tour operator, Journey Beyond Travel, agreed to at least meet with us to discuss the challenges in realizing such a partnership. The owners, Thomas and Fazia, had a lot of knowledge to share on the topic because their guides had already rejected their efforts to eliminate the practice of commissions from their business years ago. The owners said their motivation in trying this was because commissions negatively affected the experiences their guests had on their trips. They also felt that the commissions didn’t line up with the ethics of their business. Despite all of this, they were still pretty hesitant to address this topic again with their guides and drivers.
But what makes Thomas and Fazia different from other owners we talked to was that they had an impressive understanding of how things in Morocco work on the ground mixed with an unyielding desire to build a great tour agency that gives back to Morocco and their clients. This might sound like a marketing shtick, but when you consider that Thomas was a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco and Fazia is just about to complete certification in sustainable development, well, it all just kind of fits together. Perhaps then it wasn’t so surprising when they decided to go all in and see if they could find a way to work with Anou.
Over the last several months, Thomas and Fazia took the time to meet with all of Anou’s artisan leaders in person to learn about the needs of the artisan community. Similarly, they explained to the artisan leaders the needs of their guides. Throughout it all, they tried to find a middle ground that could work, which included ideas like increasing pay for their guides (which is already well above normal market pay). These efforts all culminated in a meeting last month where Kenza Oulaghda of Association Tithrite (http://www.theanou.com/store/13) presented Anou and our proposal to the guides of Journey Beyond Travel. The guides were initially skeptical of the agreement but Kenza, with the support of Thomas, Fazia and Aicha (JBT’s cultural coordinator, who previously was a program assistant for Peace Corps for ten years), was able to win the support of all of JBT’s guides and drivers. Their approval of this agreement is truly unprecedented and we believe it will serve as a significant first step in ensuring that artisans can benefit from tourism in Morocco.
As such, we’re incredibly excited to announce Journey Beyond Travel as the Anou community’s first official tourism partner. From here on out, we’ll be recommending any guests to our site who want to visit artisans within the Anou community to Journey Beyond Travel (Full Disclosure: Anou will receive no commission for anyone we forward to them). We are now working on developing a comprehensive guide that will enable JBTs guests to select which Anou artisans they’d like to visit as part of their tour in Morocco. And of course, 100% of the money from any purchase you make during your trip stays entirely with the artisan.