Category Archives: ecotourism

Obstacles in Transforming Tourism Sector into a Real People Impact (RPI) Industry

Obstacles in Transforming Tourism Sector into a Real People Impact (RPI) Industry

Sustainable tourism has received a vote of confidence from United Nations. 2017 has been declared International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. It is the second time in 15 years that United Nation recognises sustainable tourism. The first recognition came in 2002, when the year was declared the International Year of Ecotourism.

That sustainable tourism is significant in the future and growth of tourism is now evident. From 2002 to 2017 declarations, the momentum to create awareness and make sustainable tourism the norm and not a niche market has been sustained. Nations, private and public organisations have developed tools or put in place systems for enhancement, implementation, monitoring & evaluation, measurement, recognition, and reporting sustainable tourism and sustainability in tourism. Some of the international organisations that have engaged include:

  • UNWTO – United Nations World Tourism Organisation
  • GSTC – Global Sustainable Tourism Council
  • IUCN – Green Destination Guidelines
  • UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
  • WTTC -World Travel & Tourism Council

The role of advocacy organisations like Global Ecotourism Network, The International Ecotourism Society, Global Sustainable Tourism Council, National Geographic, and SKAL has also escalated through conferences, awards, and development of standards. In academics, the contribution has come through curriculum development for graduate and postgraduate studies in sustainable tourism. The extensive research in this field is a further affirmation of the relevance and significance of sustainable tourism in the future and growth of tourism.

Suffice to say the engagement of these organisations, and the UN recognition has given tourism an opportunity to transform into a Real People Impact (RPI) industry. This has led to a shift of focus from simply complying with standards to enhancing visitor experience and safeguarding people and planet rights. However, obstacles remain to realising a real transformation of tourism into an RPI industry

Contrary to common belief, this year is not about creating events and celebrations with short-term focus. It is about making long-term commitments that will transform tourism to a Real People Impact RPI industry.

Therefore, if significant gains are going to be made from IYE2017, nations must put in place systems that will contribute to ending tourism as we know it. . Focus must shift to ethical people engagement. This will call for bold actions by all to confront and deal with obstacles. What are some of these obstacles

 Exclusive Tourism

Sustainable tourism will not be realised if tourism remains exclusive. Tourism has become increasingly exclusive, locking out residents and/or, host communities from places and resources. Here in Kenya, our beaches stand out. Access to beaches, which should have been public areas, have been restricted, through exclusionist systems, perpetuated by capitalist tendencies, in the name of enhancing guest experiences. The old ways of doing tourism assume tourists do not want to interact with Properly designed host and guest interaction can enhance visitor experience

Parks are other examples of exclusive tourism. History has confirmed that locking out host community’s form interacting with parks has not saved our wildlife. Reports indicate that Kenya has lost more than 40% of our wildlife in 40 years despite running efficient exclusionist park systems. Yet studies show that integrating managed livestock grazing in parks can yield positive results.

Other forms of exclusion are manifested in designs that do not consider people with disabilities. They are excluded for using or working in these facilities by the design

Unfair labour practices

It is not enough that tourism creates jobs. It must create reliable work programs that respect employee rights. Unfair labour practices is, a problem among unconscious tourism businesses. Two forms of injustices define unfair labour practices in tourism

  • Season-based employment, which deny employees benefits associated with continuous long-term employment. In areas where tourism is seasonal, companies are known to release employees, with no pay, during low season. Most employees can be described as casual labourers
  • Denial of right to belong to a union. Most employers in tourism deny their workers the right to join unions. This is made easy because a majority of their staff fall in the casual labour group and the rest are considered management.

The consequence of season based contracts and denial of rights to belong to unions is low wages and poverty. How else can tourism explain high levels of poverty in established tourism destinations, where tourism in the key economic activity?

Leakages

Persistent poverty in established tourism destinations in developing countries can also be attributed to high levels of leakages of tourism income. When there are no linkages between formal tourism sector and local economy, leakages occur. The percentages of leakages are high where there is limited capacity by local economy to deliver goods and services required by visitors. The importation of these goods and services reduces the amount of tourism income left in the local economy. As part of transforming tourism towards sustainability the overall tourism strategy of nations must provide for skills development and creation of linkages

Irresponsible Consumption

Irresponsible consumption is an obstacle to transforming tourism to a Real People Impact (RPI) industry. Irresponsible consumption patterns in tourism are characterised by unwillingness to pay competitive prices for services and products procured from local areas, buying from brokers who exploit local producers instead of building capacity of local producers to attain consistency in supply and appropriate quality. Lack of attention to supply chain may result in irresponsible consumption if goods and service are produced from forced or child labour. Worst example of irresponsible consumption involve tourism denying local people access to water by ‘acquiring” the only reliable dry-season source of water available to the community so visitors can have unlimited access while people and their animals trek for kilometres in search of water. For real transformation, consumption patterns that reduce the quality of life of local people, or threaten their livelihoods must be avoided.

According to STTA, this should be the agenda for 2017:

Businesses should make new commitments to sustainable tourism by developing strategies and plans and setting specific goals.

  • Tourism membership organisations should up their game, and extend their lobbying powers to compel their members and state to respond to call for sustainable tourism.
  • It is the year for Destination Marketing Organisations to hand over power to local communities, and residents so they can create experiences for travellers.
  • It is the year for investors to relook their partnerships and/or create effective partnership-based linkages with host communities
  • It is the year for tourism operators to review the distribution of tourism towards a more fair and equitable systems that minimise leakages
  • It is the year for public regulators to pay attention to positive impacts generated by tourism instead of focusing on numbers and revenue
  • Regulators should come up with bold and disruptive sustainable tourism strategies to secure tourism into the future
  • It is the year for sustainable tourism assessors to return credibility to certification programs by recognising and rewarding impact, not cost cutting measures and documented intentions
  • It is the year for financing organisations to include sustainability considerations in their eligibility criteria
  • It is the year to end Green-washing.

 

It is the year to end to tourism, as we know it

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#IY2017studentvoicesKe – Kenyan College Students Adding their Voices to the Sustainable Tourism Agenda

Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda (STTA), a Kenyan founded sustainable tourism organisation, in celebration of 2017, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (IYSTD2017), has designed a campaign to get student voices heard. The campaign, dubbed IY17studentvoicesKe kicked off on 25th February 2017 and will continue until October 2017.

The campaign, delivered through free inter-varsity seminars, will be held each month with a different topic being tackled at each seminar. During the seminars, a moderator gives opening remarks on the topic of the day. This is followed by an interactive session where students  engage with each other and the moderator through commentaries, views, questions, and recommendations. The sessions conclude with a set of recommendations on how to take the sustainable tourism agenda forward. Students are then invited to summarise the days deliberations in 500-600 words. The best submissions receive a sponsorship the attend the Regional Green Tourism Summit, hosted by STTA, in Nairobi, June 13th-15th.

On 25th February, the discussions centred around what sustainable tourism will look like n a decade. Among other observations, the students had the following recommendations:

  • Bad governance and leadership is a threat to sustainable tourism and SDGs
  • Relevant college curriculums will play a key role in promoting sustainable tourism
  • Tourism curriculum must include skills to promote sustainable tourism
  • Product diversification is important to achieve ideals of sustainable tourism
  • Tourism linkages should not be optional. Investors should be made to commit to minimum linkages
  • Ethical labour practices are key for development in regions that depend on tourism
  • skill development for host communities to engage in tourism is key for sustainable tourism
  • Local-hood is important in promoting sustainable tourism

At the ned of all the seminars @STTAKenya will publish a special issue of student voices in Sustainable Tourism.

Add your voice to #IY17studentvoicesKe by following @STTAKenya on Facebook and Twiiter and LinkedIn

 

Unethical CSR- Fraud or Ignorance?

 

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Unethical CSR- Intentional Fraud and Ignorance?

It is a shame to write about unethical CSR in this time and age when information is readily available on what businesses can and should do for ethical CSR. Tourism in particular has hundreds of indicators, awards and certification schemes recognising all sorts of “ethical”  or”responsible” practices. The number of awards and certifications programs and the numerous guidelines available online and through subscription gives the impression that majority of businesses understand what right even when they don’t comply. However there are CSR trends that are unethical and discouraging.

There are a few disturbing actions by businesses when it comes to CSR:

  1. Purporting to support a cause without involving the primary stakeholders: More and more many businesses are adapting labels and logos of “good causes” for a day, then take hundreds of photos and share on all social platforms pretending to be engaged, but are unable to explain their exact engagement with the cause.This happens when they fail to engage with primary stakeholders and interest groups therefore lack understanding and knowledge on how to effectively support the cause. Sometimes its deliberate to gain social capital. When  a business takes advantage of a good cause like breast cancer awareness month, or world diabetes day, or world elephant day and earth day, to attract attention of clients without having any tangible plan for the cause, this is unethicl and amounts to CSR fraud.
  2. Lack of public disclosure on what company has committed to specific CSR: Like the name clearly states, CSR is a “public-good” action. It is therefore expected that whoever engages in it will willingly disclose their investment on ‘public good”.Best practice would be to disclose the expected investment in advance and then corroborate the budget with actual investment in public reports. Few businesses are able to disclose their CSR investments before or after an intervention.  This failure to disclose is unethical and  amounts to CSR fraud
  3. Mixing funds from CSR Campaigns with business funds: Travellers philanthropy is one of the most abused concepts in tourism. Tourism businesses raise funds from philanthropic travellers for “public good” projects without having separate systems to manage the funds. These businesses end up using some of the funds to support their commercial operations. This co-mingling of funds results in CSR fraud
  4. Producing non-specific CSR Reports: Some businesses do not document their CSR activities, especially the financial aspects, systematically. Lack of proper documentation means they cannot produce effective financial and narrative reports. These kind of reports are prevents interest groups and stakeholders from asking questions. The businesses is the ultimate winner.

Suffice to say that the CSR fraud in tourism is perpetuated by awards and certification schemes that lack capacity and resources to verify claims made by businesses in award and certification application forms. Awards are behaving like  cheer-leaders who encourage the players to win but have no details on the rules of the game.

Change will be achieved through education and learning. Until then, green washing continues, preventing tourism from making an impact in the sustainable development arena.

@GonaJudy October 2016

 

 

Ten Habits of Award Winning Sustainable Tourism Businesses in East Africa

Maasai women members of CMMFTen Habits of Award Winning Sustainable Tourism Businesses in East Africa – STTA Investigates

The tourism industry is awash with awards. It is equally awash with “green-washers”. Green-washers are those businesses that make false claims about their engagement in sustainable tourism practice. In most instances, third parties have not verified their claims. This behaviour by ‘green-washers is called   and greenwashing”. As a result, it is increasingly becoming a challenge for conscious travellers to determine which awards are genuine and for conscious businesses to select partners who are committed to sustainability

Peter Gash the Managing Director of Lady Elliot Island Eco-Resort, Queensland, in an interview with Sustainability leaders, an online forum that seeks opinions of sustainable tourism leaders, states the following about award chasing businesses but who have no purpose.

“Operators need to be a bit careful with who they partner with (in terms      of choice of certification or award scheme). It is best to choose one or two     certification systems to work with and stay with them. Some people    collect them (awards) like trophies on the wall. We just treat it as a         measure of     how we are doing and where we are going           (https://lnkd.in/d54KhzM)

Awards and certification are desirable for benchmarking and measuring performance but businesses must choose carefully. Some award managing organisations are event managers; their ultimate goal is to look good (get publicity) and attract more exhibitors to their events by incorporating an award. Others are running the awards and certification as income generators. Their goal is to certify as many as possible so as to achieve their financial goals. In both these instances, the objective is not to encourage change practices. The push is now for businesses to take responsibility instead of letting awards and certification drive their agenda. In the end, “good deeds” will show, prevail, and/or ascend with or without awards.

The list of Kenya’s award winning tourism businesses is a mixed basket. It has high-end lodges/camps operated by established or renowned tourism personalities, families, or companies, community lodges and large hotels based at the Coast. This picture may mislead one to believe that being sustainable has to do with economic prowess and connections. The converse argument would be that those who engage in sustainable tourism endure. So, what is the true picture?

In a survey conducted by STTA, we established that one way to separate award chasers from those engaging in sustainability wit a purpose, is to look at the habits of the award winners. The investigation involved reviewing what award winning businesses are doing in terms of sustainability, how are they doing it, for whom do they do it, why are they engaged in sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism was used to mean tourism that cares for People, Planet, Profit, and has a Purpose. STTA added the fourth P (Purpose) to the conventional 3ps to come up with 4Ps.

Here is what STTA found out about 10-habits of award winning sustainable tourism businesses:

  1. The top management of the organisation is deeply, if not directly involved in the sustainability agenda of the company. Where there is commitment by top management, size is not a hindrance to embracing sustainable tourism or ‘doing good” and it is likely that business will directly invests its resources in its sustainability initiatives. The top management engagement translates to allocation of resources for sustainability programs and long-term commitment. Sometimes the management uses its own resources to create awareness in the organisation and to move the sustainability agenda forward. This is particularly the case in single-unit businesses where the founder is the sole decision maker. Most directors of award winning tourism businesses serve in other conservation and tourism organisations and have membership in several other organisations that support planet and community.
  1. The business is the single or largest and first investor in its sustainable tourism initiatives; but also discloses resources received from other sources. The worst form of “green-washing” is where the business totally uses external funds to support its sustainability initiatives or where its direct contribution to sustainability is less the 50% of the cost of investment in sustainability. The common approaches by tourism businesses in Kenya towards raising resources for sustainability is to mix organisational contributions, with travellers philanthropy as well as donations from grant giving organisations. Both the direct investment and donations are clearly shown in sustainability reports and other publicity material of the organisation. Safarilink is the best example of a business that funds its sustainability initiatives 100% from internal funds.
  1. The business constantly evaluates its practices through participation in awards and certification programs. Emphasis here should be on the balance between participation in awards and certification programs, and the choice of certification programs. It is important to note that most awards do not have systems for third party verification hence the judgement of performance is based on what the applicants say about themselves. Authentic award winning tourism businesses participate in awards and certification that provide for third party evaluation of claims. They also do so regularly therefore opening themselves for scrutiny from different quarters. The best example here is Porini Camps. They are the most awarded camps in Kenya. They participate in a wide range of award schemes and have also demonstrated growth through the higher levels of recognition received in the recent years including being Gold eco-rated
  1. The business is committed to long-term programs that are aimed at causing positive change. Apart from being long-term, the programs also need to be integrated to increase their viability, sustainability, and scale of transformation. Serena beach hotel has been running a turtle conservation project for 23 years. Their commitments to this project are many and varied and continue to evolve. Some of their commitments involved paying a marine biologist to support the set-up of the project; paying fishermen for protecting nests; paying fishermen for every egg that is protected to maturity; training fishermen on sustainable fishing, engaging neighbouring hotels, procuring refrigerators for the fishermen, training its own staff and offering lessons to hotel guests on turtle nest management and hatching. What started as a conservation project, has evolved to include transformation of local livelihoods, provided income for households, and educated hotel guests. This is a not a feel good project, but a do-good project. Some businesses constantly chose short-term initiatives that do not allow for proper evaluation of impact.
  1. The business has a clear purpose for engagement in sustainability initiatives. A clear purpose is derived from organisation values for the 3ps (people, planet & profit). The purpose should be clearly documented through a policy or plans or scheduled activities. It should be known to the staff members and to business partners. Staff members need to be given a chance to engage. Finally, it should show evidence of implementation through reports and other forms of communication. When a business has a clear purpose for engagement, there will never be a shortage of opportunities to engage. They go out of their way to ‘do good’’. Two businesses that stand out in terms on purpose are Safarilink and Lets Go Travel. Despite Kenya not having a certification program for tour operators and airlines, these companies have been pioneers in sustainability initiatives in their fields. Safarilink Aviation has designed ingenious ways of engaging with People and Planet projects. They have recognised destinations where they fly-into as the beneficiaries (for whom) of their sustainability initiatives. For example, for every ticket sold to Diani, they contribute a percentage of ticket cost to Colobus Conservation to save the Colobus monkey that is threatened by human development in Diani. They equally contribute to Lewa Conservancy for every ticket sold to Nanyuki. They have done this for more then 5 years. In addition, they have health and education programs, not to mention the carbon offset initiative with Mt Kenya Trust. Why would an airline do this, unless its business values recognise people and planet?
  1. The business publicly declares its belief, engagement, and support for sustainable tourism. This can be done through printed material, reports that are shared publicly and through on-line platforms and participating in activities and programs that promote sustainable tourism. It is an investment of time and treasure (money) to create awareness and share experiences with business partners, clients, and the public. Lets Go Travel is the champion of this public display of commitment to sustainable tourism. They participate in all events that promote sustainable tourism. The exhibit and every opportunity and share printed materials that publicly show their support and commitment to sustainability. Their sustainability reports are supported by figures to show the level of investment and impact. They are the first tour operator to join Ecotourism Kenya when it was founded. They are among 10 tour operators in Kenya pioneering the Travelife program for tour operators. They have won the Eco-warrior Award. Lets Go Travel is a member of several conservation organisations, including Friends of Nairobi Aboretum, Nature Kenya, East African Wildlife Society, Ecotourism Kenya, Laikipia Wildlife Forum, among others. Their people projects include feeding the needy, and the “keep her in school” project that provides teenage girls in selected schools in Nanyuki with sanitary towels.
  1. The business fosters long-term relationships with guests that go beyond selling a holiday package. In some cases the relationships flourishes into long-term partnerships that result in repeat visits and new customers through the ‘snowballing effect’. They do this by creating memorable experiences for their guests anchored on their sustainability initiatives. In most instances these businesses have well developed, well managed travellers philanthropy programmes that enable guests to support projects of their choice. In best practice scenarios, the request to support is offered after the guests have experienced and not before. Where traveller’s philanthropy is not handled properly, it can be repulsive to guests, be seen as intrusive, or become a “guilt trap” as some guests have described their experiences. Example of tourism businesses with well-established travellers philanthropy programs include &Beyond, Asilia and Cheli & Peacock. These tourism businesses have well-established foundations that support their community and conservation work. They also have systems for directly supporting the foundations.
  1. The business has a dedicated person or persons or teams responsible for sustainable tourism programs or special projects. The aim of having these focal persons or focal points (e.g. committee) is to ensure that someone takes responsibility for identification, implementation, documentation, reporting, evaluation, and communication of the initiatives. In most cases, the focal persons or teams have other “primary duties” and only attend to sustainability as a secondary duty. This approach seemed to work for a number of operators. Sometimes the dedicated person was the Managing Director, a director, or founder of the business. Examples of leading sustainable tourism businesses that have dedicated teams include Cheli & Peacock, Serena Hotels, Asilia, &Beyond, Sasaab and Turtle Bay Beach Club.
  1. The business has broad networks that encourage learning and sharing lessons. Most the award winning tourism businesses have membership in several conservation organisations and groups. Through these networks, they add their voices to advocacy campaigns and demonstrate commitment to a course. The favourite national organisations are East Africa Wildlife Society (EAWLS) and Nature Kenya. In addition to the national organisations, these businesses support other region based organisations like FONNAP, Laikipia Wildlife Forum, Watamu Ocean Trust, and many more. As a requirement, all award winning sustainable tourism businesses are members of Ecotourism Kenya. These networks enhance identity of the businesses and provide direct opportunities for giving back to the planet.
  1. The business complies with statutory regulations and is up-to-date at all times as a minimum operation standard. Some significant legislation that tourism businesses need to comply with include Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Audits (EA), tourism licensing requirements, labour laws like issuing staff with employment contracts, allowing staff to join unions, paying wages in line with or above living wage. All eco-rated facilities must be compliant before being rated.

By Judy Kepher-Gona

Is the Safari itinerary in Kenya Promoting Ecotourism

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Is the Safari Itinerary in Kenya Promoting Sustainable Tourism?

Kenya remains a top safari destination in Africa despite stiff competition from Southern Africa and Tanzania. It is widely acknowledged that the Kenyan safari received a massive boost from the movie “Out of Africa”. The safari became associated with a jeep, sun-downer, game drive in the Savannah, wilderness accommodation and romance. This image continues to be replicated in safari itineraries and packages offered by tour companies.  As part of STTA project to assess the status of sustainable tourism in Kenya, STTA evaluated the safari itinerary against  some criteria in Martha Honeys ecotourism score- card in her book Ecotourism and Sustainable tourism- who wons paradise. How “eco” are the safari itineraries?

The survey focused on the safari program and how it is offered. In doing this, we are aware that there is a growing number of tour operators who are redefining the safari itinerary by including walks, adventure activities, volunteering, culture, history, and culinary experiences. We used the typical safari itinerary (see below) for study

Day 1

  • Pick up (usually an airport or a city hotel)
  • driveto park / reserve
  • arrive at lodge/camp on timefor lunch
  • rest at camp after lunch
  • 4pm gather for afternoon before game drive
  • overnight at camp with campfire and masai dance

Day 2

  • 6am -wake up call. tea/coffee and off for game drive
  • return to camp at 8,30 for breakfast
  • rest of day in room. lunch served at 12.30
  • 4pm gather for afternoon tea before game drive (sun downer an option)
  • overnight at camp (bush dinner available at additional cost. check with reception)
  • Day 3
  • Morning game drive
  • Breakfast and depart

The Score

  1. Travel to natural destinations

The safari itinerary is 99% travel to natural destinations. It is reported taht more than 60% of tourists to Kenya go on “safari” to a conservation area. This has been enhanced by the growth of community and private conservation areas that promise to offer a different safari experience. Even tourists to the beach go on safari for a day. There are a few itineraries that combine natural areas with city-based experiences. The safari itinerary scores big on this one. However, it should be noted that Kenya is making every effort to diversify it’s tourism offer because of concerns over a ‘tired’ safari product. Transforming the safari itinerary is a challenge for the excellent tour companies that are in Kenya. It remains to be seen whether the percentage of visitors travelling to natural areas grows or shrinks in the coming years.

  1. Builds environmental awareness

We found out that whether your itinerary contributes to environmental awareness depends on the guide. In a separate study STTA has categorized guides into tour drivers, tour guides and safari guides (look out for next post on types of guides). We found out that Safari guides are good at creating environmental awareness.  These are usually accredited guides with in depth knowledge of destinations. They have had long term interaction with the destinations and will be comfortable linking wildlife viewing with environmental concerns and local livelihoods. Through guiding they are able the build environmental awareness during game drives and the entire safari. Few tour companies use safari guides because they want to avoid costs of keeping guides. Your typical tour driver looks for wildlife (big five), ticks the box and moves on to look for the next on the list. This lessens the overall quality of the experience. There have been concerns of tour drivers who ignored visitor requests to stop and view wildlife en route to lodge on day 1. They declined visitor requests on the basis that game drive times are scheduled and that they will miss lunch . Some guests have ended up seeing less on scheduled game drives than during drive for lunch on day 1. Here the record is mixed. The challemge of guiding is by addressed by the new tourism Act that now provides for a national accreditation system. Without a safari guide, the safari itinenary performs poorly against this criteria

  1. Respects Local Culture

What does this itinerary say about the culture? Basically the itinerary is about game-finding and game viewing with cultural spicing.  The spicing is the cultural dance offered after dinner. However, tour drivers always add a visit to cultural centers en route to conservation areas because of personal gain. The centers pay the drivers for making stops. Tour operators are aware that their visitors are taken to cultural villages by guides or drivers yet they refuse to add village visits to their packages on claims that they cannot guarantee quality of cultural offers in cultural villages. So culture continues to be offered in the ‘black market’ with the beneficiaries being the “tour drivers”. Here the record is very poor.

But again, some operators have founds ways to promote visits to cultural villages by partnering with the villages and using a pre-paid ticket systems to ensure the villages benefit and not the drivers. One such program in Masai Mara was funded by Travel Foundation, the UK based charity. The participating villages have reported increased revenues while the lodges have reported improved visitor satisfaction from visits the villages.

  1. Creating economic benefits for host communities

One of the direct ways to create benefits for host communities is to employ local people in tourism. Guiding is considered an area of employment for host communities. However this is not happening fast enough to make a difference. Most tour operators, especially SMEs,  often use city-based tour drivers. These SMEs, do not own tour vehicles nor do they employ guides. They engage city-based tour drivers on need basis. Apart from lessening visitor experience, they deny local people economic benefits through employment.

The other way to benefit host communities is to include community-based offers in the itinerary. This is rare. Only operators who own a tour company and have a lodge/camp will include community-based offers in their itineraries. Here we have a mixed score. (read our previous post on status of community based tourism to understand reasons given by operators for not including CBT in their offers).

Review by Judy Kepher-Gona, Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda- STTA, Nairobi Kenya April 2016

 

Going green is expensive-Why does the perception persist?

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More than 15 years ago, when i worked with experts and Kenya’s tourism fraternity to set up the eco-certification scheme for accommodation facilities in Kenya, cost of going green is one concern that emerged during every stakeholder consultative meeting. We stuck to one argument that going green was an investment and that it made “sense and cents”. We had few reference documents. We were passionate. The key reference publications at that time were a few from International Ecotourism Society. They were very useful.

We finally got over this huddle by drawing synergies between green investments and product development. It worked. Next was managing another perception. Cost of being certified is prohibitive. An operator asked- “why would i make an effort to go green and then pay someone to confirm that i am agree”. They wanted it to be a free service or paid for the certifying body or other organisations. This would be an incentive, the industry argued. We nearly lost the case for paid certification. . However, the industry empathised with the fact that Ecotourism Kenya needed funds to manage the new certification scheme. Ecotourism Kenya and the industry settled on a token fee of US$ 150 for certification. The applying facilities would cover the cost of accommodation for assessors. Over the years, Ecotourism Kenya has faced challenges when revising the fee upward.

From 2015, i became  involved with another process to develop green guidelines for tourism destinations in Kenya. The same debates have emerged. The destinations perceive that it will be costly to comply with the proposed guidelines. The cost of certification is yet to be discussed. But I am sure it will be contested. Is this a Kenyan problem?

In 2016, like in 2002, i am trying to reflect on the arguments presented by operators against paying for certification and those who perceive green investment as costs, to understand where the challenge lies. I can resonate with the question raised in 2002 by the Kenyan operator who did not see the logic of being charged for assessment of their green investments. Of course nothing is free, if the operator does not pay for it, someone else must pay for it. Who is this someone else? Government? Development NGOs? Environmental rights organisations? UN Organisations? All these have been floated as potential financiers. Are there examples where any of these organisations that are meeting cost of green certification in tourism?

The persisting perception that going green is a cost and not an investment remains disturbing. What is the source of the concern? Is it how we frame the certification tools? Or is it the checklist of best practices? Or standards? In 2002, i believe the concerns were fuelled by how we we framed the questions in the certification tool. The questions expected specific responses, not a range of actions.  There were also few examples of best practices, so the checklist was borrowed from developed world. It was even more challenging to point to standards. Kenya had just enacted its first environmental law (EMCA1999) and there were no local standards for water use and management in hotels, or electrical equipment like washing machines and air conditioners,  or black water management and many more. Much has changed since then and opportunities for going green are many  and clearer. This is supported by research and technology. But the issue of cost persists. Is it the nature of tourism investments? Maybe not.

Tourism in Kenya is dominated by many small and medium enterprises. Trends show that there is growing participation in certification and awards. As such it can be argued that the growing participation in certification schemes and awards are driven by these small and medium enterprises. Does that mean they can afford to invest in green? Or are they getting their way by tapping into ‘low hanging options” for green.    There must be two categories. Those who invest and those who “innovate investment in green”.

What is the challenge?

How authentic are those Sustainability credentials?

samburu elephants

“Authentic sustainability credentials should reflect in the health of a destination and wealth of the host communities. I strongly believe we cannot have a healthy ecosystem without a wealthy community”- @GonaJudy

Everyone has jumped into the sustainability bandwagon. Some have faked it (green washed)  until they made it. Good news. Others are still faking it (Green washing). The sad thing is that they are receiving attention. The numerous awards and certification programs have not helped.

I have always had a problem with certification and award programs that don’t provide for field assessment of applicants. They have encouraged armchair sustainability champions who hire PR experts to complete their certification and award applications and to create amazing sustainable tourism policies  for businesses whose directors have never passed a resolution on sustainable tourism. The staffs too are clueless on the concept. There is no plan.

Yet with each passing day, media is awash with winners of this and that sustainable tourism award. At this rate we may end up with a growing list of sustainability operators but not commensurate positive impact on destinations (both ecological and socio-economic).

I know of hundreds of award winning destinations and operations in Africa. Most of these destinations are wildlife conservation areas and the operators are based in these conservation areas. Their award winning practices revolve around benefiting host communities and supporting conservation of iconic species. So why is Africa loosing its big mammals and cats at such alarming rates despite many awards won by tourism operators for supporting conservation? Why do host communities in wildlife dispersal areas in Africa still kill wildlife in retaliation from human wildlife conflicts yet everyone is winning awards for benefiting communities from sustainable tourism? Which brings us to another question. Will sustainable tourism save destinations? That’s for another day

One may argue that there is nothing wrong with ad hoc sustainability actions provided they are meeting a desired outcome. True, but how do you explain the disconnect between the winning trends for businesses and the continued losses for biodiversity and dissatisfaction of host communities (common good)? 

“What you don’t measure, you can’t manage.” This quote summarises my belief that a truly credible sustainable tourism operation must have sustainability plan, have a goal and targets, have a monitoring and reporting system. These plans should be measurable in terms of investment and impact. It is the transformative value of these plans that should be considered during awards and certifications, not un-coordinated actions of kindness that make the business look good. Short cuts will benefit the businesses but not the people and places we depend on for tourism

The quest for sustainability in tourism needs to shift gear from rewarding activities to rewarding impact. And every claim must be assessed!